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Theatre critic Mark Shenton loses unfair dismissal case

Mark Shenton, critic and contributor to The Stage

Mark Shenton, former theatre critic of the Sunday Express, has lost his employment tribunal against the paper for unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination.

The tribunal ruled that Shenton “was not an employee within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act” and that consequently it had “no jurisdiction to hear the claim for unfair dismissal.”

Shenton, a regular contributor to The Stage, was sacked by the Sunday Express in December 2013 when naked images of him from an American website were forwarded by a third party to the paper’s editor, Martin Townsend.

Express Newspapers claimed the images brought the paper into disrepute and dismissed Shenton – who denied knowledge of the website – after eleven and a half years in the post.

The tribunal noted that while Shenton had failed to establish his status with Express Newspapers as an employee rather than a self-employed contributor, Townsend and group HR director Julie Fullilove had “conducted an unfair process” in terminating his contract and that “they withheld information [and] gave inconsistent accounts of the reason for the termination.”

Shenton told The Stage: “The inconsistent reasons given for my firing was my supposed dishonesty in not telling them about the existence of the pictures online when they were first brought to my attention, and a suggestion that they had the potential to bring the company into disrepute.”

He added: “Given that I didn’t know they were online at all when they were first presented to me, I could not have lied about them. As for disrepute, it is widely known that Express Newspapers is owned by Northern and Shell, who have extensive pornographic interests of their own.”

The tribunal noted that Express Newspapers had paid to bypass the American website’s pay wall to search for other images of Shenton but ruled that Northern and Shell’s “interests in the pornography industry” were not relevant to the case.

A spokesman for Northern and Shell said: “After going through this robust legal process we are very pleased that the tribunal has found in our favour on all counts.”