Pilot sacked after safety complaints: Executive jet captain wins maximum compensation for unfair dismissal

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AN EXECUTIVE jet company whose clients have included Steven Spielberg, Sir David Frost, Lord Sainsbury and the architect Sir Norman Foster, unfairly sacked a pilot four days after he complained that the firm was flouting safety rules.

An industrial tribunal has ruled that Captain Stuart Creighton- Clarke, 49, was unfairly dismissed by Lynton Aviation, which charters and manages executive jets and helicopters from Kidlington, near Oxford, and Denham, Uxbridge.

Mr Creighton-Clarke has also accused the Civil Aviation Authority, the industry watchdog, of failing to identify breaches in safety procedures. But despite the pilot's vindication at the tribunal in Reading and an excellent professional reputation, he has been out of work for more than 16 months and the compensation he was awarded does not even cover his legal costs.

Mr Creighton-Clarke claimed that he was unfairly dismissed in October 1992, after he complained, on behalf of five other pilots, to Christopher Tennant, the chief executive of the Lynton Group, the American company that owns Lynton Aviation.

The complaints involve allegations about breaches in safety regulations. They included a claim that rules limiting the hours a pilot can work were ignored. At the tribunal, the pilots said that, in some cases, they were told to falsify documents, putting down days off which they had not received so that regulations on rest periods were not broken. In one incident, an aircraft flew with one of its two batteries dangerously low, the tribunal was told. Both batteries must be fully powered in case of a total electrical failure.

Mr Creighton-Clarke, who has been a pilot since 1968 and was a flight safety and combat survival officer in the RAF, also said that pilots were afraid to complain about the alleged abuse of regulations and work conditions because they feared they would be sacked for speaking out.

Mr Tennant denied there had been any safety problems. The Lynton group claimed that Mr Creighton-Clarke was aggressive, rude and disruptive and had made one expenses claim improperly. In one case he is said to have shouted at a stewardess, in another he argued about a flight route.

Mr Creighton-Clarke denied these allegations and the industrial tribunal dismissed them. In the written decision of the industrial tribunal, published last week, the chairman, Charles Winter-Taylor, said: 'The tribunal is not satisfied that the true reason for the applicant's dismissal was that claimed by the respondent. Further, the tribunal is not satisfied that the accumulation of incidents could justify the applicant's dismissal.'

Mr Winter-Taylor also questioned why the company had not sacked Mr Creighton-Clarke immediately after the alleged breaches in conduct, but only after he had complained to the chief executive. He said: 'If the applicant's conduct was such that the respondent considered that it resulted in the respondent ceasing to have sufficient trust and confidence in the applicant, then why did Mr Tennant not summarily dismiss the applicant?'

Mr Creighton-Clarke, from Micheldiver, near Winchester, Hampshire, was paid the maximum of pounds 10,410, but this will not cover his solicitor's fees. He said: 'This is a travesty of justice - even with this result, which totally vindicates me, but I'm out of work for doing the right thing.'

A CAA spokeswoman said: 'We are not aware of any flight safety implications that we are responsible for in this case and at this stage we are taking no further action.'