Page last updated at 16:30 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Council job 'a poisoned chalice'

Christine Laird
Mrs Laird is accused of "fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation".

A former council boss being sued for nearly £1m has said she was the victim of an "orchestrated hate campaign".

Christine Laird, 52, said she was "repeatedly and publicly criticised and undermined" in her role as managing director of Cheltenham Borough Council.

The authority is suing her claiming she was guilty of "fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation" by withholding medical history on her application.

She denies any wrongdoing in the case at London's High Court.

'Accurate information'

Mrs Laird, from Tewkesbury, is being sued for nearly £1m by the council, which says she withheld details of her history of depressive illness when she applied for the post of managing director.

Mrs Laird applied for the job in February 2002. She was absent on full pay from June 2004 and left the job in 2005.

Mrs Laird claimed the appointment was "unconditional" - with no mention of a medical report being required - and that she subsequently gave accurate information about her past.

In a long and detailed witness statement, Mrs Laird said her previous brief bouts of depression or stress were related to bereavements in her family or uncertainty about her employment and finances.

It is my view that the council actively or negligently misrepresented themselves as a go-getting organisation when they were not
Christine Laird

She believed she had always enjoyed good health and said it was the council's own conduct towards her that eventually rendered her permanently unfit for work.

"Nothing in my previous experience of working at a very senior level for a number of local authorities or my past experience in the private sector prepared me for the vicious hate campaign to which I was subjected at CBC [Cheltenham Borough Council] - a campaign that I believe was politically orchestrated and intended to secure my removal from a statutory appointment," she told Mr Justice Hamblen in London.

"Indeed I think it entirely possible the current legal action is simply a continuation of that hate campaign," she told the court.

'Relishing change'

"Based upon what I know now, I consider the claims made in the council's advertisement were actively misleading and did not reflect the council's true position.

"Indeed, it is my view that the council actively or negligently misrepresented themselves as a go-getting organisation when they were not."

In complete contrast to "relishing change" as claimed in the recruitment documentation, many of the commitments made during the recruitment process were actively resisted or reversed within a matter of months of her appointment, she said.

The job turned out to be "a poisoned chalice", she added.

The case continues.



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