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21 November 2011
Professional gardener Joe Hashman has accused his former bosses of discrimination after he lost his job at a garden centre as a result, he claims, of his anti fox hunting beliefs. Mr Hashman alleges that he was dismissed by his pro-hunting employers upon the discovery that he had helped convict celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson Wright of hare coursing charges. Mr Hashman was passionate in his support as Tony Blair's Labour government sought to ban fox hunting and has been an influential hunt saboteur since the age of 14.
The 43-year-old has been granted permission to take his claim to an employment tribunal following a landmark ruling from a judge who said his views on fox hunting should be placed on the same legal footing, and therefore afforded the same protection, as religious beliefs. Should the case prove to be successful, it could well pave the way for a series of copycat claims from disgruntled employees who are of the opinion that they have suffered or faced discrimination in the workplace as a result of their personal views on all manner of subjects.
While giving evidence, Mr Hashman stated that his dismissal in September 2009 came about two days after covert video footage he had filmed had helped form part of the successful case against Dickson Wright over her attendance at an illegal hare coursing event.
Mr Hashman stated that he was 'blissfully unaware' that the owners of Orchard Park Farm, near Gillingham, Dorset, were keen supporters of the South and West Wiltshire Hunt upon taking the job of creating a demonstration garden. Similarly, Sheila and Ron Clarke, owners of the centre, were unaware of his history of sabotaging hunts when the offer of employment was made, the tribunal was told.
Mr Hashman claims he was 'picked on' and unceremoniously dismissed following his appearance on Jeremy Vine's BBC Radio 2 show, during which he outlined his part in the Dickson Wright case.
“I believe now that my involvement in relation to hunting issues and ultimately my philosophical belief was the reason for my dismissal”, Mr Hashman said.
“On September 1, 2009 there were two convictions at Scarborough Magistrates’ Court under the Hunting Act, which I was directly responsible for. One of those convicted was celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson Wright. I wrote a personal blog about this and also on that day appeared on the Jeremy Vine Show, which discussed the convictions. I believe that those connected with Orchard Park knew, or came to know, of some or all of these matters at some point leading up to my dismissal."
Mr Hashman believes that the sudden death of Andrew Prater, a close friend and employee of the Clarkes and the hunt's terrier man with whom Mr Hashman had clashed with previously at protests to stop fox hunting, also played a part in his dismissal. He alleges that he was sacked on the same day Sheila and Ron Clarke attended Mr Prater's funeral. Mr Hashman claims that he telephoned Richard Cumming, Orchard Park's managing director, who confirmed that a combination of Mr Prater's death and his actions in the Dickson Wright case had provoked 'firm action' from his bosses.
Orchard Park Farm refutes the allegations and claims Mr Hashman was dismissed due to his garden not making enough money, rather than his desire to save foxes, while Mr Cumming claims he was unaware of Mr Hashman's involvement with Dickson Wright and that the centre did not 'have it in' for him.
Mr Hashman is said to have been particularly shocked by the suddenness of his dismissal as he was under the impression he was embarking on a 'long term project' upon his hiring in March 2009. The hearing at Southampton Employment Tribunal centre continues.
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