Page last updated at 20:00 GMT, Monday, 16 June 2008 21:00 UK

Diocese worker unfairly dismissed

David Johnston
David Johnston was awarded 14,500 compensation

A former press officer for the Diocese of Liverpool has won his case for unfair dismissal against his bishop.

The Reverend David Johnston was sacked after he called Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones, a liar at an internal grievance hearing.

Mr Johnston, 56, claimed he was forced out of his job because the bishop disapproved of his divorce.

The employment tribunal in Liverpool ruled he had been unfairly dismissed and awarded him 14,500 compensation.

Mr Johnston, of Chorley New Road, Horwich, Greater Manchester, was sacked from his job last year after a Sunday newspaper wrongly reported he had begun an affair and left his wife for a colleague, Diane Pendleton.

I was concerned about the implications for the diocese of a bishop who didn't like Liverpool
The Reverend David Johnston

He told the tribunal the bishop was working "behind the scenes" to have him removed and claimed he had publicly lied about giving him and Ms Pendleton support.

Discussing evidence from the case, Mr Johnston said he had made the comments confidentially in the context of his grievance and they were being taken out of context.

"Apart from the issue of lying, these matters were not a surprise anyway as I had discussed them with senior members of the diocese, because I was concerned about the implications for the diocese of a bishop who didn't like Liverpool," he said.

In 2006 Mr Johnston told the bishop that his 33-year marriage to his estranged wife Margaret was over.

The Right Reverend James Jones
Mr Johnston worked for The Right Reverend James Jones

However, it was only after the marriage ended he began the relationship with Ms Pendleton, who worked with him in the diocese communications office.

An article appeared in the People newspaper in November 2006, which Mr Johnston described as "a piece of salacious gossip", and for which he eventually received an apology.

Days after the story was published, the bishop issued a statement to the Church Times saying he would be discussing Mr Johnston's future with him and he had given the couple advice.

But during a grievance hearing the following March, Mr Johnston told the Liverpool Diocesan Board of Finance the bishop had not given advice or support.

The comments were relayed to the bishop and Mr Johnston was suspended without explanation.

He was eventually sacked in September last year, his employers claiming that his views made his job as the bishop's PR representative untenable.

After the tribunal found in his favour, Mr Johnston was given the choice of compensation or reinstatement to his 31,500-a-year post.

Bishop James was, is and will continue to be a key voice in and excellent ambassador for the city
Liverpool Diocese

He picked compensation and was awarded 19,379 but had 25% deducted for his "intemperate" choice of words when criticising the bishop.

Mr Johnston said: "The decision is a victory for the little people."

A spokesman for the Liverpool Diocese said: "While we are disappointed, we accept the tribunal's decision.

"It appears that our processes were in some way deficient and we are looking into this as a matter of urgency."

He added that the bishop's work over the last 10 years "showed an outstanding level of commitment to our city and diocese."

"Bishop James was, is and will continue to be a key voice in and excellent ambassador for the city and diocese of Liverpool," he said.

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