South East Wales

Welsh National Opera oboist was unfairly dismissed

Murray Johnston
Image caption Murray 'Sandy' Johnston lost the employment tribunal in 2010

The Welsh National Opera unfairly dismissed its former principal oboist, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Murray "Sandy" Johnson, 63, was sacked in 2008 after 34 years because his playing was judged to be a risk to the orchestra's reputation.

But a previous ruling that he was fairly dismissed has been overturned because the disciplinary procedure he was put through for perceived artistic failings was "procedurally unfair".

Compensation will be assessed later.

In 2010 an employment tribunal ruled he was fairly dismissed but that has now been overturned by appeal judges.

During the tribunal, Mr Johnson had claimed he was bullied by former musical director Carlo Rizzi.

It heard his career began to wane following a personality clash with Mr Rizzi, who had a "16-year vendetta" against him.

But the WNO had argued the sound of Mr Johnson's instrument did not blend with the rest of the orchestra.

'Procedurally unfair'

At the Court of Appeal hearing, Lord Justice Maurice Kay said it was "inevitable" that it would be found that the disciplinary procedure Mr Johnson was put through for perceived artistic failings was "procedurally unfair".

Image caption Carlo Rizzi, the WNO's former conductor, and Mr Johnson had long-term difficulties in their relationship, the court heard

The appeal court heard that after long-term difficulties in Mr Johnson and Mr Rizzi's relationship, Mr Johnson had satisfied assessors, including the then musical director, that his "intonation and emission of sound" were acceptable during auditions.

However, he continued to face criticism of his perceived shortcomings in "ensemble" situations and the "blending of sound" between his instrument and the orchestra.

He was dismissed after the WNO said that aspect of his playing could not be tested by audition with a pianist to accompany him.

The court heard the WNO claimed to have followed its disciplinary procedure but did not comply with its agreement with the Musicians Union, which was designed to protect musicians from "too subjective an assessment" of their artistic performance.

Lord Justice Kay said: "To subject Mr Johnston to the handbook disciplinary procedure, minus the requirements of oral, written and final warnings, was procedurally unfair, even if the concern was to save him from additional stress.

After ruling that the disciplinary procedure lacked the element of objectivity that would have made it fair, the judge concluded: "It was not a reasonable response to the problem that had arisen... I consider that a finding of procedural unfairness is inevitable".

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