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HELP estoppeled in its tracks?

AFTER the HELP-dominated Letchworth town council lost the employment tribunal case brought by former staff members, many have been wondering what the term 'estoppel' means.    
  Eight months before the case was heard, the judge said that estoppel might apply. This would have stopped HELP from withholding payments from its staff: the council would have been 'estopped' from denying its liability. 
   In commercial agreements, when a person makes a promise and intends the other person to rely on the promise, the first person is stopped from denying that promise later.  
   That applies even if the person making the promise did not mean to make it, or if it was a mistake, or if they should not have made the promise in the first place. 
   In law, the fact the council has held elections and new people were in charge is immaterial. Staff contracts are with the council, not individual councillors.
   Estoppel should have been taken seriously. It means that even if the previous administration had been in the wrong (which they were not) the staff would still have succeeded in their case.
   Defendants using their own money would have carefully considered the risk of continuing to defend the case at that point; they would certainly make sure they fully assessed the risk, and that anyone else who was going to be responsible for the decision understood it.
  It might be argued that estoppel is a difficult concept to grasp, although it is relatively straightforward if explained properly. But any lawyer would – or should – understand it.
Cllr George Ritchie
   The only witness for the council was former HELP chairman George Ritchie – who is a lawyer. Ritchie was in court in January to hear what the judge said about estoppel. He made a report to the council’s personnel committee in February. 
   Ritchie’s report did not advise the council that the judge had raised estoppel. Ritchie did not set out that estoppel might operate or explain what it might mean.
   In his report, Ritchie also told his colleagues that the council had applied for costs. He did not advise the council that costs are very rarely awarded in employment tribunals. Making an application for costs carries absolutely no assurance whatsoever that the application will succeed. That was not explained in Ritchie’s report either.
   He stated that witness statements were struck out. That was queried at the council meeting in March by Town Council Supporter Sue Johnson. As a result of her intervention, the relevant orders were circulated to all council members. 
   They make it clear that there was no order for strike-out. The first HELP resignation came two days after the order was circulated to the councillors.
   The council minutes record that the decision to continue to fight the case was taken on the basis of  Ritchie’s report.  

HELP running scared?

A SCATHING reaction to backdoor efforts by Letchworth's ruling HELP group to bring down the council are being reported by the Comet newspaper here and here.
   No-one should be surprised. Over the last few months, HELP has lost all credibility because of its outrageous treatment of the six former female members of staff.
   The council reneged on staff contracts, and HELP supporters sent them abusive emails and hacked the old councils website with pornographic images. Now running scared, HELP is seeking to force the issue rather than face being kicked out of office.
   That's because townspeople are increasingly warming to the idea of a positive council that works in partnership with the Heritage Foundation to support and promote the town – which HELP has singularly failed to do.
   The only thing HELP has managed to do is lose hundred of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money, most of it spent on lawyers and none of it on community projects.
   Instead of risking another election, HELP is now looking for any underhand method it can find to thwart the democratic process: that's because it only narrowly won the last election – in most of the seats the voting split was 48-52% on a turnout of just 38% – and it fears a severe kicking next time round.