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£74,000 legal bill for racist claim worker

PUBLISHED: 17:47 04 March 2009 | UPDATED: 16:15 25 August 2010

COUNCIL bosses are demanding a single mother pay £74,000 in legal costs after her claims of racial harassment and victimisation were thrown out at an employment tribunal.

EXCLUSIVE

COUNCIL bosses are demanding a single mother pay £74,000 in legal costs after her claims of racial harassment and victimisation were thrown out at an employment tribunal.

Pat Gravell, 47, from Bexleyheath won her claim for unfair dismissal against Bexley council at a tribunal in West Croydon but her three other claims for whisleblowing, victimisation and racial harassment were dismissed.

At a hearing on Tuesday, the council's barrister Matthew Sheridan demanded the homeless advisor pay the £74,000 taxpayers' money they spent in legal fees. Ms Gravell, who has been representing herself since the case began on October 3 last year, said she is "scared s***less" about the judge's decision and would have to spend the rest of her life paying the costs back.

She said: "The figure is so astronomical, it is just numbers. They could have employed me for three years for that figure so what a waste.

"I feel annoyed that they used £54,000 of tax payers' money on barrister's costs alone when they have their own legal team.

"They deliberately racked up the costs to use it as a leverage to make people feel they have to drop their claims.

"That amount would dwarf the maximum amount I could get for unfair dismissal."

As exclusively revealed in the Times in March 2007 Ms Gravell claimed she received racist jokes and texts from a colleague including one mocking the deaths in Hurricane Katrina using the word n*****.

Her dismissed claims included accusing colleagues of breaking rules and accepting hospitality from property owners in exchange for 'good tenants'.

The council offered to settle out of court with Ms Gravell several times but she thought she had a strong case and felt "she had to go through with it".

But Judge Christopher Baron threw out the other three claims on February 3 after ruling her evidence should be given in private.

A spokesperson for Bexley council said it would have been inappropriate for the authority to be represented by an in-house solicitor as they were also a witness at the proceedings.

They said: "The council has a duty to the borough's council tax payers to attempt to recover any costs it has incurred in defending these unsubstantiated and misconceived claims."

marina.soteriou@archant.co.uk

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