Employment Tribunal, Croydon

When Mark Shenton was dismissed as critic from the Sunday Express last December, it was the talking point of the theatre industry, particularly after he blogged for The Stage about the sensational reason for and the manner of the dismissal. Next week, his case against his former employer will be heard in a five-day employment tribunal in Croydon.

I know well what Mark has been through over the past eight – long – months, not least because my own unexpected dismissal from WhatsOnStage occurred just a fortnight after his and my tribunal hearing will take place in September.

As I don’t wish to prejudice either case, I will not comment at this stage, but I will be there in Croydon next Tuesday to support Mark. And today I reprint the following press release issued by his legal team. Good luck, Mark!

Theatre critic claims unfair dismissal against ‘hypocritical’ Sunday Express over gay web pics

Billionaire Richard Desmond sacked a theatre critic after finding out that decades-old nude pictures of him had appeared on a paid-for gay website.

Richard Desmond, owner of the Express newspapers

Richard Desmond, owner of the Express newspapers

Openly homosexual Mark Shenton, 51, was accused of bringing the Sunday Express into disrepute as a result of naked pictures of him being discovered on a paid-for gay website.

Mr Shenton will be seeking compensation for unfair dismissal at London South Employment Tribunal in Croydon from Monday 18 August, in proceedings that are expected to last five days.

The Sunday Express critic of 11.5 years said that its editor, Martin Townsend, told him the pictures were an embarrassment for the publication and its reputation.

But Mr Shenton said they could only have been obtained by someone who paid to gain access to the site – and accused the paper of hypocrisy as it is owned by Richard Desmond who owns several adult TV channels.

He insists that a malicious complainant tipped off the Sunday Express about the images – an act of ‘revenge porn’ which, his employers did not deal sympathetically with.

He says the images were taken in San Francisco some 15 years ago by a friend he lost touch with but Mr Shenton claims he did not know of the existence of the website, had not given permission for any photographs to be uploaded onto it, and was not aware of its contents.

Mark Shenton, @ShentonStage

Mark Shenton, @ShentonStage

He now alleges that his employers did not carry out a fair disciplinary procedure, a fair investigation, failed to permit him to be accompanied, and failed to conduct a fair, unbiased hearing into the allegations against him.

Mr Shenton alleges that he was unfairly dismissed on 4 December 2013 and discriminated against on the grounds of his sexual orientation.

The Sunday Express claims that the theatre critic lied to them about the fact he knew the pictures were on the website, but he disputes this.

Representing the claimant at the employment tribunal, employment law specialist Arpita Dutt, a Partner at BDBF LLP, said: “We believe that the dismissal of Mr Shenton was a callous step to take against a loyal, hard-working member of staff of 11 years’.

“The dismissal of Mr Shenton was a callous step to take against a loyal, hard-working member of staff of 11 years” – lawyer Arpita Dutt

“Furthermore, Mr Shenton believes he has been the victim of an act of ‘revenge porn’ – when explicit images of ex-partners are used to cause them harm. Rather than support him, the Sunday Express compounded the actions of this malicious complainant by dismissing him despite the pictures being historic, published without his consent and not being publicly available through basic web searches.

“Mr Shenton suffers from depression. The Sunday Express Editor and HR Director had no regard for his mental health, and his anguish regarding his treatment has still not abated. It was a role that was critical to and shaped his identity, a role which he loved. He has not been able to find a comparative role to replace it.”

The critic joined the Sunday Express in April 2002. Before taking up his Express role, he worked for the Press Association from 1990.