Newcastle Sheriff sacking 'harsh' after razor blade allegations: findings

THE allegations were extraordinary – that a Department of Justice employee allegedly planted a razor blade in a Newcastle Court toilet and blamed another employee when it was found, only weeks after he was alleged to have allowed a young man into Toronto Court with a razor blade in his wallet.

But they didn’t happen.

The Industrial Relations Commission has ordered the Department of Justice to pay former Sheriff’s Officer Craig Paulson 13 weeks’ pay by July 21 after he was sacked following a Department investigation into 42 allegations against him, including the alleged razor blade incidents.

Commissioner John Murphy criticised the investigation in 2014 that substantiated 34 allegations against Mr Paulson - including the alleged Toronto razor blade incident - after serious questions about evidence used to support the Toronto allegation, and after three Department employees linked to the allegation did not give evidence at Mr Paulson’s unfair dismissal hearing.

At the hearing the Department also dropped an allegation Mr Paulson blamed another employee for allegedly planting a razor blade in a Newcastle Court toilet, after Mr Paulson strongly denied any knowledge of such an incident and the Department investigation failed to substantiate a razor blade had been planted.

Mr Murphy found some allegations against Mr Paulson amounted to misconduct, including being rude and aggressive to three more senior employees and hanging up on one of them, working in a secondary job with Corrective Services NSW without approval, and failing to fill and maintain employment and vehicle forms despite repeated requests and directions.

Other proven allegations, including failing to securely lock Broadmeadow Children’s Court overnight on two occasions, was not misconduct but a performance issue, Mr Murphy said.

In a decision published on Monday after a hearing in March Mr Murphy found the “low level of seriousness” of the proven misconduct meant Mr Paulson’s sacking was “harsh” and his dismissal was not justified.

But Mr Murphy accepted a Department of Justice submission that Mr Paulson could not be reinstated, and rejected Mr Paulson’s submission that he had been bullied, harassed, persecuted and discriminated against by the Department and former work colleagues.

While Mr Paulson might have “genuinely felt” he was being persecuted, he “presented in the witness box as a difficult, defensive and sometimes truculent personality”, Mr Murphy found.

“It was also apparent from his demeanour in the witness box that the applicant harboured a deep seated antipathy towards the Department and, in particular, those employees who, as far as the applicant is concerned, had been part of a campaign of persecution of him,” he said.

Mr Murphy found there was “nothing illegitimate or unfair” in calling on Mr Paulson to respond to the allegations raised.

The unfair dismissal hearing included evidence from a Department investigator who confirmed she did not speak to any of the people Mr Paulson suggested would speak on his behalf.

She agreed her investigation was confined to people who had “grievances” against Mr Paulson because others in the Sheriff’s office declined to be interviewed.

She also confirmed she substantiated the allegation that Mr Paulson blamed another employee for the Newcastle Court razor blade allegation despite the main witness – the employee who was allegedly blamed – declining to make a statement.

The Department investigation substantiated the Toronto razor blade allegation despite the evidence including an image from a scanning machine showing a razor blade in a wallet, with no date, time or location.

Closed circuit TV footage that Mr Paulson said would prove his version of events at Toronto Court could not be produced to the unfair dismissal hearing, despite footage from other courts being available.

Mr Murphy found it would be “impracticable” to reinstate Mr Paulson to his Department of Justice position, despite finding his dismissal was not justified, and ordered he be paid 13 weeks’ pay.