By Dominic Ponsford
The Sunday Times is a "ruthless, but professional place" according to sacked former Insight team reporter David Connett, who has won £30,000 after successfully claiming unfair dismissal.
Connett lost his job last year when the paper disbanded its famous Insight investigations unit and brought the operation under the control of the main news desk in order to save £300,000.
An employment tribunal ruled that management showed "a complete disregard" for proper procedures in the way it dealt with Connett.
The 44-year-old journalist has worked across Fleet Street on the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, The Observer and The Independent as well as another stint on The Sunday Times in the mid-1980s.
He joined the Insight team as a freelance reporter on 11 June 2003 and became a full-time "casual" employee on 1 August 2003.
The tribunal heard that this meant Connett was paid by handing in a weekly "green docket" and that it meant he did not have the benefits of a staff contract — but was still given six weeks paid holiday.
Connett also said there was an agreement that a notice period of three months applied.
The tribunal ruled that, contrary to the case put forward by The Sunday Times, Connett’s rights with regard to unfair dismissal started on 1 August 2003.
Connett was told by managing editor Richard Caseby on 28 June 2005 that he was losing his job, as was fellow reporter Michael Gillard.
The tribunal chairman criticised Sunday Times management for not giving Connett advance warning of this meeting, for not informing him that he could be accompanied into the meeting and for not taking the proper steps to explore alternative employment.
The tribunal chairman stated that Caseby had wrongly presented Connett with "a done deal" and she also said management had shown "a complete disregard for proper procedures and failed to take proper advice despite having access to both human resources and legal advice".
However, she added: "I am satisfied that the claimant [The Sunday Times] did not act maliciously in the way that it conducted the dismissal, but that it was based on a mistaken understanding of the claimant’s employed status."
The tribunal heard that Connett had initially been offered a pay-off of £18,000 by The Sunday Times.
Connett told Press Gazette after the hearing: "I feel completely vindicated. It really wasn’t about the money — I could have made more money if I’d settled out of court. It was about the fact that they do not treat people right.
"The Sunday Times is a ruthless, but professional place, but the way I was treated was amateur hour. What went on there completely flew in the face of the law. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand what modern employment law is all about.
"This decision has major implications for the way they treat casuals at the Sunday Times and News International."
Of the decision to disband the Insight team last year, Connett said: "I thought it was misguided but if they are under financial pressure and I understand why they did it.
The Sunday Times managing editor Richard Caseby said that Connett’s decision to take then case to a tribunal was "costly and pointless exercise".
He said: "We treated him as a casual because he had no contract and no terms and conditions. An ex-gratia payment was a generous way of dealing with him."