Caretaker Sacked After Accidentally Giving Away £5 Million Artefact
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A caretaker was sacked for unwittingly giving away a Tudor artefact worth £5 million after dismissing it as ‘rubbish’, an employment tribunal has heard.
Brian Wilson, a former live-in caretaker at the Grade II-listed Seighford Hall in Stafford, was fired from his job in November 2020 after employers discovered that he had let a visitor walk off with a 460-year-old woodwork carving bearing the royal coat of arms of Queen Elizabeth I.
Mr Wilson claimed he thought the oak overmantel was riddled with woodworm and dry rot and that giving it away saved him from burning the artefact himself at a later date, The Mirror has reported.
Mr Wilson said that he had mistakenly dismissed the antique carving as 'rotten', and had placed it in a pile ready to be burned before 'prospective buyer' Mr Potter spotted the item and asked to retrieve it.
Mr Wilson, who had worked at Seighford Hall since 1998 before he was dismissed last year, told the employment tribunal that Mr Potter spotted the item after turning up one day and asking to ‘have a rummage through the fire pile’.
"I let him have it, as far as I was concerned it was less rubbish for me to get rid of," he told the tribunal.
After sitting on the item for over a year, Mr Potter was on the verge of chopping the piece up and using it as scrap, but was stopped at the very last second by a passerby who happened to be an expert in Elizabethan history, who explained to the man that the piece was extremely valuable and could be worth a lot.
Mr Potter then took the item to a local auctioneer who claimed that the item was a 'sensational' find, adding that it was in 'excellent condition for its 400-plus years' with 'minimal damage'. It was then valued to be worth up to £5 million.
Upon hearing the news, Mr Wilson attempted to cover his tracks by claiming that the item had been stolen, along with a tractor and two fireplaces he’d also sold off in the same period, but was rumbled after police said that there was no crime reference number linked to either of the cases he had allegedly reported.
Wilson was subsequently dismissed by his employer for ‘gross misconduct’ after failing to attend a disciplinary hearing relating to the ornament’s disappearance, but subsequently ending up winning his employment tribunal after a judge ruled that this was unfair dismissal.
He was also awarded over £4,000 in lost pay.
Employment judge Kate Hindmarch said: "I have identified procedural failings in that the First Respondent (Seighford Hall Nursing Home Ltd) did not make sufficient attempts to notify the claimant (Mr Wilson) of the disciplinary process and therefore he was offered no opportunity to attend the disciplinary hearing and offer his explanation for the alleged misconduct.
"The claimant admitted he removed this historic artefact from the hall and admitted letting a Mr Potter take it. The claimant suggests the overmantel was in very poor repair, however he accepts as a listed building, proper consent needed to be given for removal of artefacts and that the condition of the overmantel revealed after its recovery (and its value) do not support a contention that it was in poor repair."
Meanwhile, Mr Potter has still been unable to find a prospective buyer for the woodcut, and recently turned down an offer of £1.9 million for the piece.
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Topics: UK News