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Diocesan rebuttal of union criticism over Sharpe case

03 February 2011

by a staff reporter

AN ACCUSATION of filibustering, made by the clergy union Unite, has provoked a strongly worded res­ponse from the diocese of Worces­ter.

The Revd Mark Sharpe, former Rector of a group of parishes in the Teme Valley, is seeking “very sub­stan­tial damages” for unfair dis­missal. First, however, he must show that he was an employee of the dio­cese, not merely an office-holder, which is the present condition of the clergy.

A tribunal hearing in Birmingham on Monday was adjourned at the last minute, because, Unite said, “the Church submitted thousands of pages of legal documentation to the vicar’s legal team just days before the hearing.”

The national officer for the not-for-profit sector of Unite, Rachael Maskell, said: “The way the Church have filibusted [sic] over the case of Mark Sharpe is a disgrace. The Church has had nearly three years to make its disclosures in this very serious case, and waited, cynically, to just a few hours before the proceed­ings to unleash mountains of docu­ments on the tribunal, ensuring that Mark and his lawyers have no time to study these papers.”

A spokeswoman for the Worcester Diocesan Board of Finance and the Bishop of Worcester, Sam Setchell, de­scribed Unite’s accusation as “highly inaccurate and extremely misleading”.

“The tribunal did not make any criticism at all of the Bishop of Wor­cester or the Diocesan Board of Finance at Monday’s hearing. More­over, it is simply not true that thousands of new documents were pro­duced to Mr Sharpe or his solicitor in the days or hours before the hearing.

“The documents relevant to the tribunal case were disclosed in good time in advance of the hear­ing.”

Unite omitted to mention that there had been four applications from Mr Sharpe to postpone the hearing last week, Ms Setchell said, “all of which were refused by the employment tribunal”. The diocese’s legal team turned up in court on Monday to find no representative from Mr Sharpe’s team. So far, the judge has given no reason for allowing an adjournment.

The diocese disputes Mr Sharpe’s charge that there was a “culture of bullying” in the diocese, and that his bishop did not protect him from a “campaign of harassment”.

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