Grenfell director dismissed while on sick leave, tribunal hears

By Dan Peters | 20 April 2021

A council director who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after working on the Grenfell Tower response was dismissed while on sick leave, an employment tribunal has heard.

The tribunal was told Rachael Wright-Turner reported paranoia, burnout and a mental health breakdown as a result of her ‘lengthy traumatic experience’ working with survivors as tri-borough director of commissioning for children’s services, working across Kensington & Chelsea, Hammersmith & Fulham and Westminster.

She is claiming she was unfairly dismissed as director of public service reform by the chief executive of her new employers Hammersmith & Fulham LBC, Kim Smith.

The dismissal came while Ms Wright-Turner was on sick leave, during which time her probation was extended by three months, which she said triggered a panic attack.

She said: ‘This letter told me that I wasn’t going to be returning.

'That’s what that letter meant.

'It was clear to me that Kim was getting rid of me.’

Ms Wright-Turner, who was routinely doing 12-hour days, said she had told colleagues before she went on sick leave that she was ‘feeling quite burnt out, tired and stressed’.

The tribunal heard that Ms Wright-Turner was taken to hospital by colleagues after she experienced Grenfell flashbacks as part of a ‘PTSD episode’ on a post-work trip to the pub.

Ms Wright-Turner told the tribunal that in the wake of the disaster she had ‘flashbacks’ and suffered from a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) attack.

The council’s legal team has suggested that Ms Wright-Turner performed poorly in her new job, which she started in November 2017 after delaying the move so she could continue to help Grenfell victims.

Dijen Basu, QC, representing the council, accused Ms Wright-Turner of ‘chucking cash’ at potential applicants to take jobs with Hammersmith & Fulham, and of conducting ‘sham’ and ‘superficial interviews’.

He claimed senior officers found a ‘department in chaos’ after she went on sick leave, adding: ‘You were just making up fantasy jobs.

'This was a six-month hiring and spending spree to reward your old chums.’

Ms Wright-Turner denied this but admitted lying to Ms Smith about accepting a trip to Amsterdam to speak at an EY event.

She conceded that before she started the new role she had ‘significant concerns’ about the ‘inexperience’ of Ms Smith and the ‘way she related to her senior leadership team’.

Ms Wright-Turner suggested Ms Smith had not personally wanted to hire her and that ‘we were in an arranged relationship’ but added: ‘On balance, it was worth giving it a shot.

'I felt it was the right thing to do.

'I assured her I could deliver and I did deliver.

‘I was passionate about it. It was a great job.

'I really wanted to do it.’

Giving evidence this week, Ms Wright-Turner’s former boss at Kensington & Chelsea, Barry Quirk, described her as a ‘creative problem-solver’ and said Ms Smith was ‘well-respected’ among chief executives.

The tribunal continues tomorrow.

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