Edinburgh Mela's ex- director awarded £67,000 for unfair dismissal

A FORMER director of the Edinburgh Mela has won his claim of unfair dismissal and been awarded £67,000 compensation.

Monday, 10th June 2019, 6:04 pm
Chris Purnell has won his tribunal case

Chris Purnell dramatically quit his role in charge of the Capital’s multicultural festival in March 2016, citing a “total breakdown of trust”.

He alleged the Mela board was controlled by a small group with no regard for the opinions of other board members, advice of the staff or independent professional voices.

Mr Purnell took the Mela to an employment tribunal, which has now upheld his claim of constructive dismissal.

The Mela - a Sanskrit word meaning "gathering" - dates back to 1995

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The tribunal heard how an independent review had criticised the Mela board’s “weak membership and poor performance” in 2010, the year before Mr Purnell arrived.

The tribunal said Mr Purnell’s relationship with the Mela chair, former Labour councillor Shami Khan and vice-chair Foysol Choudhury, began to deteriorate in October 2015 after Mr Khan decided to call a board meeting while Mr Purnell was on leave. Mr Purnell claimed he was subjected to increasingly “angry and aggressive” phone calls when he tried to persuade him to delay the meeting.

Mr Purnell also said he was accused of disrespecting and insulting board members, told he was exceeding his authority and excluded from meetings.

He claimed Mr Choudhury told him he should “watch himself” and “remember who pays his wages”. And he said Mr Choudhury also criticised his body language and told him “directors come and go” and that he should not be taking credit for the success of the Mela and “acting as if he was doing the board a favour”.

The tribunal said Mr Purnell had given his evidence “in a straightforward and measured way” and it was “entirely credible”.

It added: “In contrast, the manner in which Mr Khan and Mr Choudhury gave their evidence was often unsatisfactory. Both showed a reluctance to answer simple questions directly.”

The tribunal said Mr Khan and Mr Purnell met the Mela’s funders, the city council and Creative Scotland, on March 1, 2016 and Mr Khan was shocked when Mr Purnell told them of a “culture of resistance” and “key skill gaps” on the board and staff morale at an all-time low.

Mr Purnell said it was in the best interests of the Mela that he told the truth when asked and everything he said he had already told Mr Khan and been ignored. The tribunal ruled an email then sent to Mr Putrnell by the Mela amounted to a fundamental breach of contract.

The 2016 Mela was cancelled but the festival went ahead in scaled-back form in 2017 and 2018. The council has invited tenders to run a multicultural event this summer.