Gardener 'Sacked Over Hunt Views'

A professional gardener has told an Employment Tribunal he was sacked from running a demonstration vegetable patch at a garden centre because of his anti-fox hunting beliefs.

Joe Hashman, who has written two books on gardening, was employed by the Orchard Park Garden Centre in Gillingham, Dorset, in March 2009 to set up and maintain the vegetable display plots.

But in September that year, Mr Hashman was dismissed after he was involved as a witness in two hunting prosecutions and following the accidental death of a local pro-hunting figure.

The 43-year-old from Shaftesbury told the Southampton hearing that he had a good relationship with the garden centre managing director Richard Cumming and he believed he had been employed on a long-term basis.

But he said he felt that his position became less secure when Mr Cumming informed him that the majority owners of the garden centre were neighbouring farmers Sheila and Ron Clarke.

He explained that the Clarkes' farm manager was Andrew Prater, whom he had clashed with during hunting protests.

Mr Hashman said:

''I told him that our relationship was not a friendly one because he was a passionate hunt supporter and I was an equally passionate opponent.

''I told Mr Cumming that I had been assaulted by Mr Prater in the past at hunting events.''

He added that he felt that he had been reassured by Mr Cumming and said:

''Mr Cumming and I agreed that our common ground in respect of gardening rose above the hunting issue.''

But in July 2009, Mr Hashman was a witness at Scarborough Magistrates' Court for a prosecution of two landowners charged under the Hunting Act 2004 having covertly filmed their activities for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

He went on to write about this on his internet blog as well as criticisms of the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Agricultural Show for its ''hunting influences''.

It was at this show that Mr Prater died in an accident and it was on the day of the funeral (September 3 2009) that he was asked not to return to work, Mr Hashman told the tribunal.

And two days previously, he had been a witness for another court case in Scarborough involving the celebrity chef Clarissa Dickson-Wright.

Mr Hashman said:

''I wrote a personal blog about this on September 2 and also on that day appeared on the Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Show which was discussing the convictions.''

He added:

''I believe that those connected with Orchard Park knew, or came to know, of some or all of these matters dating from July 2009 at some point leading up to my dismissal.

''I believe now that my involvement in relation to hunting issues and ultimately my philosophical belief was the reason for my dismissal.''

He said that he was later told that his vegetable patches were axed for financial reasons, but he said:

''I believe this was a justification that was thought up after the event and was not the real reason my contract was terminated.''

Mr Hashman, who is claiming discrimination, said that he believed that he had been employed on a long-term basis stating that he had been given plants to grow for the following season, including mangold-wurzels, for a hurling competition at the garden centre.

He said that following his dismissal:

''Mr Cumming suggested that I enter the biggest one anyway 'under a different name and we'll make sure you win it'. By reply I said, 'I don't think so'.''

Mr Hashman told the hearing that he had successfully claimed for unfair dismissal from another position as caretaker and groundsman for Shaftesbury Town Council.

He explained that for that role one of his responsibilities was winding up the town hall clock and clearing out the pigeons that nested in the clocktower.

He said a complaint was made against him by a ''known hunt supporter'', Chris Ashurst, who worked as a pest controller and had been brought in to deal with the pigeons.

Mr Hashman said:

''He made a formal complaint that we had had an altercation and that's what started the whole chain of events (leading to his dismissal).

''The tribunal found it was unfair dismissal.''

The hearing continues.