'Whistleblowers ousted from housing firm'

First published in News by

William Sutton Homes, landlord to thousands of tenants in Hertsmere, has been rocked by a management row which sparked a trio of departures.

Two board members, former chairman Kerry Pollard and housing expert Marianne Hood, have been sacked, and chief executive Paul Eastwood resigned last week.

Both board members, who were paid part-time staff, claim they were ousted because they criticised the way parent company Affinity Sutton operated.

Furious Mr Pollard, the former Labour MP for St Albans, said: "I challenged something that was being done and as a result I was removed."

He also has concerns about the future welfare of tenants.

Mr Pollard was dismissed in April, but has not spoken out until now, following last week's dismissal of Ms Hood and the resignation of Mr Eastwood.

The saga began in April, shortly after Ridgehill Housing Association merged with William Sutton and changed its name. It is still based in Elstree Way, Borehamwood.

On April 19, Mr Pollard, who joined Ridgehill's board in October 2005, questioned the way Keith Exford, chief executive of Affinity Sutton Group, carried out an appraisal of Mr Eastwood without consulting Mr Pollard, as per agreed procedure.

On April 25, Mr Pollard was told by Affinity Sutton he was being removed from the William Sutton board, before fellow board members had discussed it.

Mr Pollard said: "I had no appraisal, no evidence at all of anything wrong with my performance."

He then asked the Housing Corporation, which monitors housing associations, to look into the matter. No conclusions have yet been drawn from its report. He continued: "I'm anxious to make sure no other housing association gets itself into a trap. It's about total central control.

"I think there will be a degradationof service and that will happen fairly quickly."

Shocked at the treatment of Mr Pollard, Ms Hood, an expert on tenant involvement, also referred the matter to the Housing Corporation. Last week, she was dismissed from the board following a vote in which all but one fellow board member asked for her to be removed.

Members had penalised her for acting as a whistleblower, she said.

Shortly after Mr Pollard's dismissal, Affinity Sutton sent a letter to the Housing Corporation stating that the William Sutton board supported Mr Pollard's dismissal.

However, Ms Hood said this was sent before the board had met to discuss the situation and she knew that, at that point, four out of seven members did not support the dismissal.

She said: "I don't know what evidence was given to the investigation. I would now be very worried about what on earth is going on here. Is William Sutton about to disappear?"

A spokeswoman for Affinity Sutton said Mr Eastwood's departure was amicable. She could not comment on Ms Hood's situation because she is taking her case to an employment tribunal.

Regarding Mr Pollard, she said there was an independent investigation which was unequivocal' in clearing the organisation.

Mr Eastwood declined to comment.

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