Report for Devon Live by Anita Merritt
A media director who bought a weekly newspaper for £1, just 12 days after redundancies were announced, has been refused permission to appeal an order to pay a six-figure sum to employees.
The Court of Appeal has thrown out an application by Duncan Williams against a decision which found him personally responsible in September 2018 for money owed to former staff members of the View From series.
A previous hearing at Exeter Combined Court ruled he was liable for claims of staff still awaiting pay in lieu of notice, redundancy money and arrears of pay – rather than the Lyme Regis-based papers’ previous owner Peter Masters, who owns the Sunday Independent.
Initially he was ordered to pay £16,500, but the final settlement is now a six-figure sum.
At the tribunal it was heard Mr Masters made all staff redundant on January 4 due to the titles ceasing publication.
Mr Williams bought the titles, which cover areas of Dorset, Devon and Somerset, on January 16, and 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.
He 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 originally launched a crowdfunding bid, with a target of £85,000, to revive the series of closed weekly newspapers.
There are 28 claimants still awaiting payment following the tribunal and attempted appeal.
Lead claimant James Coles told Hold the Front Page many who contributed hundreds of pounds towards barrister fees have still received nothing.
|James Coles, former Deputy Editor|
James, former View From deputy editor, said: “It’s hard to believe it’s been more than two years since the demise of the View From. But what I really can’t get my head round is how Duncan Williams is still thumbing his nose at us – and last year’s tribunal decision.
“If he can’t pay, why doesn’t he do the honourable thing and declare himself bankrupt? At least then, we could go to the government and claim the statutory monies awarded to us by the tribunal.”
Mr Williams has claimed 10 of the View From ex-employees have each received redundancy payments from the Insolvency Service.
Mr Williams told Hold the Front Page : “I will continue speaking with The Insolvency Service and if it is the case that all of the limited company debts to its employees are to be shouldered by myself as an individual director then the Sunday Independent Ltd can be placed into prompt administration without these being carried into the long awaited final audit.
“The digital publishing subsidiary company ETCH Creative has always remained solidly within the Sunday Independent Ltd and since technology development and research in this area has obvious value to future regional media revenue generation, a buyer will be sought during the administration process.
“It has been a long and protracted case and I have always had greatest sympathy for the employees of the Sunday Independent, of which of course I am one.
“Like one of the claimants, I am also a trade union member and the original endeavour was, as we all know, a genuine attempt to introduce Crowdfunding as a means to have regional newspapers part-owned by their own journalists and communities.”
When asked about the final debt owed, Mr Williams told Devon Live: "The final figure of debt is now around £180,000 split evenly between myself and digital agency ETCH media, which employed approximately half of the original claimants, and which always remained within the Sunday Independent Limited.
"The brand IP of View From was transferred out into my name as an individual only because it was used as a form of personal security guarantee against the Crowdfund investment taking place. It is now owned by the venture capital team behind the Crowdfund.
"However, it was this former action that made Exeter Tribunal Judge Roper make myself personally liable for staff redundancy under TUPE regulations."