Belfast Telegraph

Sacked worker says £27m lottery winner boss ‘drove him close to suicide’

 

By Rebecca Black

A former employee of Euromillions jackpot winner Margaret Loughrey - who won £27m in December 2013 - has revealed working for her drove him "almost to the brink of suicide".

Patrick Joseph Breslin (33) from Strabane became emotional yesterday as he told an industrial tribunal how he "went through hell" and feared being turned out on the streets as his friend-turned-employer mocked his deep faith and made disparaging comments about his gender.

He worked as a general assistant to Ms Loughrey from March 2016 to June 2016 before being dismissed by text message.

Mr Breslin has lodged a claim against Ms Loughrey alleging sex discrimination, that he was unfairly dismissed and that he did not receive a written reason for his dismissal.

Barrister Richard Smyth, acting for Ms Loughrey, told the tribunal that Ms Loughrey had given Mr Breslin, who had been long-term unemployed, a "hand up" by offering him a job, a place to live and taking him on holiday to Egypt.

He went on to claim that the incidents detailed by Mr Breslin were meant to be humorous and Ms Loughrey had believed them to have been taken in jest at the time.

He added that his client believes Mr Breslin's claim is financially motivated because Ms Loughrey is well known to have won the Euromillions lottery.

Ms Loughrey (52) from Strabane has detailed in media reports how she gave much of her money away and was determined to help her local community.

The case opened before an industrial tribunal panel yesterday, chaired by an employment judge.

In an opening statement, Mr Breslin's legal representative outlined that his client 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".

Mr Breslin had been long-term unemployed and had suffered from depression, anxiety and PTSD in March 2016 when he started working for Ms Loughrey on a casual basis. He worked from 10.30am each morning to allow him to attend Mass, and Ms Loughrey had made arrangements to collect him from Mass each day.

By May 2016, Mr Breslin had been preparing to move house when Ms Loughrey offered to rent a house for him that she owned on Bridge Street in Strabane.

She retained a set of keys.

There was a disagreement during yesterday's tribunal hearing over whether Ms Loughrey had been given permission to enter the property to use the kitchen and washing facilities while the kitchen in her home was undergoing renovation work.

Mr Breslin insisted she had not been given permission, while Mr Smyth contended it had been agreed.

An incident was described to the tribunal during which Ms Loughrey gained entry to the property while Mr Breslin was at work, moved his statue of the Virgin Mary into an inappropriate position and then texted him a picture of it.

Mr Breslin said he was deeply hurt and offended by the action, but felt as if he couldn't say anything to her because he did not have a tenancy agreement in place and felt vulnerable.

His lawyer went on to tell the tribunal that in June, Ms Loughrey sent him a text saying: "Get back up to the big house and sign on."

"I was told to f-off and get back to my own house and sign back on to benefits," Mr Breslin told the tribunal.

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

Under cross-examination by Mr Smyth, Mr Breslin agreed he and Ms Loughrey had been friends for more than three years before he started working for her.

He also agreed that Ms Loughrey had offered him a "hand-up" by giving him a job and was motivated by a desire to help him.

He said that initially she had been a friend, as well as a good employer and good landlady, even buying new furniture for the house.

He also agreed that there had been other Catholics working for her.

Mr Breslin went on to sign a contract as an employee in May, but then he said things changed.

"Everything changed the day I signed off benefits and on to the work contract," he told the tribunal, adding that from that point, "Margaret was in control of where I worked and lived."

When asked why things changed, Mr Breslin responded: "Only Margaret can answer that."

Mr Smyth put to the tribunal that Mr Breslin is "motivated by compensation and money" and is trying to make the situation sound worse.

But Mr Breslin responded: "I suffered because of this, put me through hell and to suggest that I would do that would be against everything I believe in.

"It's just not something I would do."

Mr Breslin described how he had tried to talk to Ms Loughrey about the comments that had made him uncomfortable, but insisted that she became "louder and more volatile".

"She would say, who pays your wages, not those puppets (in reference to his religious statues)," he told the tribunal.

"You need to choose between God and Margaret."

Mr Breslin went on and became emotional as he detailed: "I was driven almost to the brink of suicide.

"The abuse, humiliation was unreal.

"I was in an impossible situation where I didn't know if I was going to be put out on the streets.

"I was afraid of her, I was afraid to speak up."

Ms Loughrey denied making many of the remarks and while she agreed she took the photograph of the Virgin Mary statue in an inappropriate position, she insisted it was done in jest and she believed it had been taken in the same spirit.

She has not yet given evidence to the tribunal.

The tribunal is expected to resume in January to hear evidence from two witnesses.

Belfast Telegraph

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