Fired for botched repairs while sick in hospital bed

6th March 2009 at 00:00
Head's disciplinary hearing went ahead although he was being treated for suspected heart attack - and his union rep was absent

A merseyside headteacher has been sacked over substandard building repairs at his school while he was in a hospital bed being treated for a suspected heart attack.

Kevin Cooney, head of Garswood Primary in Ashton-in-Makerfield, Wigan was travelling to a disciplinary hearing last month when he felt a tightening in his chest and was rushed to hospital. He was discharged the same day after doctors said he had suffered a massive anxiety attack.

Two days later, Mr Cooney, who had recently been seconded to the National College for School Leadership, was told by letter that he had lost his job and invoiced for Pounds 400 which had been paid to him in error.

St Helens Council fired the primary head without his union representative being present because he was involved in another case that day.

Mr Cooney told the The TES: "I still can't believe the way I have been treated - it's just outrageous. I just can't believe they would treat someone like this without hearing their side. I have been a public servant for more than 18 years, and then they take it all away from me. I'm still in shock."

The 59-year-old was suspended for nearly a year last March after school repair work he had signed off failed to meet health and safety standards. He was kept on until last February on full pay before eventually being struck off for "gross negligence" and "gross misconduct".

The repair work was commissioned by Garswood's board of governors, but Mr Cooney was suspended after it became clear that it would cost more than Pounds 20,000 to rectify the problem.

Mr Cooney, who lives in Liverpool, said the damage to his reputation had upset him most.

Before his suspension, in his role at the NCSL Mr Cooney had been a three-day-a-week week regional leader for the North West, working with 33 local authorities in the area - including St Helens - to turn around failing schools.

He has now lodged an appeal and vowed to take the issue to the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary.

Alec McFadden, Merseyside president of the Trades Union Council, is acting on behalf of Mr Cooney and is calling for a public hearing into the case.

"I think the way this has been handled up to now has been staggering," Mr McFadden said. "My client has an unblemished record and was classified as a 'superhead' helping to work with other, less successful schools.

"I'm astounded that they would carry on and dismiss him when he is extremely ill and I am covering another case."

St Helens Council, which has fired two heads and two teachers in the past 12 months, confirmed that it had dismissed Mr Cooney but stated it would be "inappropriate" to comment at this time.

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