Belfast Telegraph

Euromillions winner tells of sacking assistant by text in dirty dishes row

By Lauren Harte

Euromillions jackpot winner Margaret Loughrey has admitted that she sacked a former employee by text message in a dispute over dishes.

Ms Loughrey - who won £27m in December 2013 - was giving evidence yesterday to an industrial tribunal during a case taken by her former assistant.

Patrick Joseph Breslin (34), from Strabane in Co Tyrone, claims he was unfairly dismissed by the 53-year-old and that he was the victim of sexual discrimination. Mr Breslin, who worked as a general assistant to Ms Loughrey from March 2016 to June 2016, also claims that he did not receive a written reason for his dismissal.

Mr Breslin started working for Ms Loughrey on a casual basis for five days a week and she offered to rent a house for him that she owned on Bridge Street in Strabane, with a view to him buying it within a few years.

She retained a set of keys to use the kitchen and washing facilities while the kitchen in her home was undergoing renovation work.

The tribunal heard that Ms Loughrey gained entry to the property while Mr Breslin was at work, moved his religious statues into compromising and inappropriate positions, before texting him pictures of them on her work phone.

Under cross-examination, Ms Loughrey insisted the photos were taken "as a joke", saying, "I don't think it was inappropriate. It was meant as fun. Patrick Breslin was in on the joke".

When it was put to her that she had ridiculed the statues by referring to them as "puppets", she replied: "I don't remember - it's a long time ago."

The tribunal also heard that days before his dismissal, Mr Breslin had been to Ms Loughrey's home for dinner and had taken away the dirty dishes to wash and return them. Denying that she had ended Mr Breslin's employment abruptly and for no reason, Ms Loughrey replied: "Paddy didn't come back with the dishes on the Friday. He didn't turn up for work. If he came into work on the Monday, everything would have been fine and it would all have been forgotten."

Ms Loughrey told the tribunal that she had given Mr Breslin, who had been long-term unemployed, a job, a place to live and taken him on "an all-expenses holiday to Egypt".

"Paddy was an employee and seemingly a good friend, which is absolutely not true. I have learned my lesson and I will never let an employee into my life again as a friend," she added.

Ms Loughrey has detailed in previous media reports how she gave much of her lottery money away and was determined to help her local community. She said she believes Mr Breslin's claim is financially motivated. Mr Breslin has strongly rejected the idea he is driven by money and said his former boss had put him "through hell".

Mr Breslin's lawyer outlined that he was a devout Catholic who attended daily Mass, went on pilgrimages and prayed regularly. But, she said, Ms Loughrey mocked his religious devotion and criticised men in front of him, describing them as "useless", claims which are denied.

She added that Ms Loughrey's actions had created "a humiliating, offensive and tense" work environment for her client.

Ms Loughrey accused her former employee of not paying any rent on her property but this was disputed and the tribunal was told that Mr Breslin had repeatedly asked her to sign housing benefit forms so that money could be paid, which she hadn't done.

Mr Breslin's legal representative previously outlined that in June of 2016, Ms Loughrey sent him a text telling him "to f-off and get back to his own house and sign back on to benefits".

It was put to Ms Loughrey that she has denied being a volatile and angry person, although the tone of the text messages sent to Mr Breslin would suggest otherwise. She replied: "I was never inappropriate as an employer ever. Paddy was never humiliated by me."

However, Mr Breslin's legal representative said the harassment continued after he stopped working for Ms Loughrey, and that he went on to seek what was described as "emergency protection from harassment" against her.

Employment Judge Browne said the panel would consider written submissions from both parties and give their judgment in due course.

Belfast Telegraph

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