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Tribunal awards maid £7,500 in 'real-life Downton Abbey' case

Rebecca Gonsalves
Thursday 25 November 2010 01:00 GMT

This autumn the nation was gripped by the Machiavellian scheming at the heart of ITV period drama Downton Abbey. We collectively railed against the duplicity of lady's maid O'Brien and her partner in crime, footman Thomas, breathing a sigh of relief when their employer the Earl of Grantham closed his ears to their malicious rumour-mongering.

A modern day Downton-esque tale of conniving colleagues came to a head yesterday, when a princess was ordered by an industrial tribunal to pay £7,500 compensation to a former maid who fell victim to a "below stairs" plot by jealous colleagues.

Until she was let go in April, Susana Danio, 34, was a domestic help at the Chelsea home of Princess Marie-Chantal for two years, acting as occasional nanny for her five children. In a statement to the tribunal, Ms Danio claimed: "Senior staff were jealous of me. After three months my salary was increased. The princess knew I did my job well. It was all about envy and jealousy from senior staff. They made up stories, gossip and lies to brainwash the princess."

London born Marie-Chantal, 42, the heiress daughter of US duty-free billionaire Robert Miller, is related to the British royal family through her marriage to the city financier Prince Pavlos of Greece, the son of exiled King Constantine. A socialite and businesswoman, the princess owns an eponymous chain of children's fashion boutiques with outlets in London, Paris and New York and is the author of a children's book The Frog Prince.

Ms Danio sought £10,000 in damages from her former employer, claiming it took six months to find a new role after she was fired for alleged dishonesty. The princess did not appear at the tribunal, choosing to admit unfair dismissal through her lawyers instead. After the hearing, Ms Danio, who has lived in the UK since 2004 and has held numerous posts, said: "I was accused of stealing clothes, sleeping in guest bedrooms, not listening and being rude."

Acting for the princess, Andrew Sugarman claimed that Ms Danio should only receive the equivalent of six weeks' pay, arguing that she should have found employment sooner.

Judge Angela Stewart at the central London tribunal awarded the claimant £7,442, saying: "We order the respondent to pay the claimant for being unfairly dismissed. The circumstances were that the claimant was dismissed and had serious and grave allegations of misconduct brought against her, including dishonesty. The tribunal concluded that even though the claimant got a written reference she would still have had to explain about her dismissal and what had happened about her position in the previous household."

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