A REPORT BY ANITA MERRITT FOR CORNWALL LIVE
A Cornwall media director has been found personally liable to pay money owned to employees after he spent £1 to purchase a news organisation they were made redundant from before he acquired it.
A judgement delivered today at an employment tribunal concluded the former boss of the View From series, Peter Masters, chairman of Truro City Football Club, who made all staff redundant on January 4 due to the titles ceasing publication, was not liable for claims of staff still awaiting pay in lieu of notice, redundancy money and arrears of pay.
The decision heard at Exeter Combined Court stated that as media director Duncan Williams had bought the titles, which cover areas of Dorset, Devon and Somerset, on January 16, all right, powers, duties and liabilities had transferred to him rather than his limited company.
Mr Williams, who did not attend the two-day hearing, had stated he only purchased the intellectual property rights for the brands.
The 28 claimants will now attend a further hearing next March to determine how much money is owed to them. If Mr Williams declares bankruptcy, claims for money will be transferred to the secretary of state.
In July 2017, Peter Masters, owner of Cornwall-based Sunday Independent, announced the acquisition of the eight papers in the ‘View From’ series.
In January, Mr Masters, the sole shareholder, sold the Your View series to Mr Williams for £1, and resigned as director.
Evidence was given to support Mr Williams's intention to continue the business.
Employment judge Nicholas Roper said Vibe Marketing Group Ltd, which Mr Williams is the director of, was a ‘shell company’ and nothing more than a trading name. It means he is legally the employer and personally responsible.
He concluded Mr Williams is personally liable for claims of unfair dismissal and statutory redundancy payment. He is jointly liable with Vibe Marketing for pension deductions.
Liable for a further claim of unlawful pension deductions from July 2017, which saw payments taken but not put into a work pension scheme, is Vibe Marketing.
One of the claimants is making a claim of unfair dismissal in December 2017, before the publication ceased printing, stating no verbal or written reason was provided.
Mr Williams runs independent news and marketing service the Poole Post. He is also a commercial development consultant with News Group Ltd and a director of Vibe Marketing.
Mr Williams launched a crowdfunding bid, with a target of £85,000, to revive the series of closed weekly newspapers.
At the time of the takeover, Mr Williams said an “accountants audit” would take place before any long-term decisions were made about the future of the publications.
The View From titles serve Beaminster, Bridport, Dorchester, Lyme Regis, Weymouth, Seaton, Honiton and South Somerset, while Pulman’s Weekly News serves Axminster.
The series was previously based in Lyme Regis.
Speaking after the tribunal, Mr Williams said: "I have no intention of going bankrupt. I was taken aback by the judge's decision as I had been told beforehand that this was a preliminary hearing to clarify issues that took place at the Westcountry newspaper group long before I became involved with it.
"I am appealing the Exeter court's decision and I am not seeking intervention from the Secretary of State."