Belfast Telegraph

I never told lorry driver to break law, transport boss tells tribunal

Dismissed: HGV driver John Hurson
Dismissed: HGV driver John Hurson
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

A manager at a Co Armagh-based food transport company has told an employment tribunal that "at no time" was one of his former drivers "asked to do anything illegal".

David Malcolm was giving evidence on the fourth day of the hearing in Belfast.

The case is being taken by John Hurson (49), who raised issues of "illegal driving practices" in a text message sent on Thursday, November 30, 2017.

The HGV driver is claiming constructive dismissal by Agro Merchants Group Ltd, which has a branch in Lurgan.

Mr Hurson alleges that he suffered detrimental loss by reason of a public interest disclosure.

His flagging of alleged illegal practices was later investigated by Tesco, which forced the haulage firm to introduce changes.

He has referred to a series of text messages he received while he was in Luton on the date in question, instructing him to carry out four collections before getting a ferry from Cairnryan to Larne.

Mr Hurson said this was not possible within 15 hours and claims he was expected to drive back to Lurgan, despite exceeding his legal driving limit.

He said that when he arrived at Luton on the Thursday evening he had to wait for over an hour to get his fresh food delivery unloaded.

When this didn't happen due to no available slots, he drove to an industrial estate to wait for another driver and swap trailers.

The other driver was due to take Mr Hurson's load back to the previous site for disposal and give him an empty trailer to go on to his other collections.

When questioned by Mr Hurson, who is representing himself, Mr Malcolm said the claimant could have left his delivery at the industrial estate and picked up an empty trailer, which was "always on site".

Mr Malcolm said this would have meant Mr Hurson "could have done the jobs he was meant to do".

"He had until 10pm on the Saturday to get all the jobs done.

"At no given time had Mr Hurson been asked to anything illegal," Mr Malcolm added.

Mr Hurson disputed this and said he was due to finish that week's work on the Friday.

Barrister Barry Mulqueen, representing Agro Merchants Group, said it was the firm's view that the claimant's waiting time at Luton had seemed "excessive".

Mr Hurson rejected suggestions by Mr Mulqueen that he "deliberately dragged things out" at Luton and "wasn't too bothered that evening about doing things quickly" as he "wanted to get home early" on the Friday.

Mr Mulqueen said it appeared that Mr Hurson had been "lying with his feet up on the lorry's dashboard while texting his employer to say he couldn't do any more pick-ups". Mr Hurson replied: "I arrived at an extremely busy place at a very busy time with no slots available to unload.

"I couldn't force them to speed things up - I was under their instruction."

Mr Hurson has claimed that his flagging up of what he said were illegal practices was followed several days later, on December 2, by an alleged assault on him by Mr Malcolm.

Disciplinary proceedings ended with Mr Malcolm being given a final written warning after he accepted the allegation of a physical altercation.

Mr Malcolm said this had been "a very serious matter for a man in my line of business".

The tribunal continues.

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