A Dorset-based businessman has been found personally responsible for thousands of pounds owed to almost 30 former employees of a series of West Country newspapers which closed down in January.
View From newspapers, which was based in Lyme Regis, Dorset, was closed down on 4 January with all staff made redundant due to “falling revenues”, former owner Peter Masters previously told Press Gazette.
Masters had bought the titles six months earlier in July 2017 after previous owners Capital Media Newspapers went into administration, and has now been found not liable for claims by former employees.
Duncan Williams, a director of West Country media company Pulman’s Weekly News Group, bought the View From brand from Masters for £1 on 16 January with the aim of relaunching the titles.
Williams has since sold the company on to Michael Banks, a businessman based in Portugal.
Twenty-eight former employees claim they are owed a total of around £250,000 in pay in lieu of notice, redundancy money and arrears of pay.
A two-day employment tribunal held at Exeter Combined Court this week heard that as Williams had bought the titles, all right, powers, duties and liabilities had transferred to him, Cornwall Live reported.
Williams (pictured) has previously said he believed he had only acquired the intellectual property rights, such as the brand names, when he bought the newspapers and was not aware of outstanding staff payments.
However, Masters, owner of the Sunday Independent and Cornwall Today and chairman of Truro City FC, told Press Gazette that Williams bought the company as a going concern.
Williams confirmed to Press Gazette today that he has been found personally liable for claims of unfair dismissal and statutory redundancy payment.
He has been made jointly liable with Vibe Marketing Group, of which he is a former director, for pension deductions while Vibe is liable for a further claim of unlawful pension deductions from July 2017, when payments were taken but not put into a work pension scheme.
According to Cornwall Live, employment judge Nicholas Roper said Vibe Marketing Group was a “shell company” and nothing more than a trading name, making Williams legally the employer and personally responsible.
Williams, who did not attend the tribunal, told Press Gazette he has begun the process of appealing the judge’s decision.
He said that Vibe had been a franchise for providing digital advertising and marketing services, but emphasised that he is no longer a director.
Twenty-seven of the claimants were made redundant in January, while another is claiming unfair dismissal without a written or verbal reason a month earlier.
The next hearing will be held in March to determine how much money is owed to each of the claimants.
The View From newspaper series included eight free weekly newspapers serving Dorset, Devon and Somerset, and three local magazines.
The View From Blackdown Hills was purchased by Tindle newspapers from View From Publishing in 2009 and retained the original name. The free paper is still in print.
Picture: Duncan Williams