The claimant in CRO Ports London Ltd v Wiltshire was a supervisor at a stevedoring company. For many years there had apparently been a practice whereby employees overrode an oversensitive safety sensor when using a crane to lift containers. This practice had been operated for many years without an incident until, one day, a container fell off the crane after the sensor was overridden. This could have caused a fatal injury if it had fallen on anyone.
The claimant, whilst appreciating the seriousness of the incident, apparently did not think he would be dismissed because he considered that the practice had been condoned by the employers and he had more than 20 years' unblemished service. He therefore took full responsibility for the accident, despite the fact that he had not initiated the override on that occasion. He admitted that he had previously supervised similar practice, knowing it was dangerous and in breach of health and safety rules, but did not mention during the internal process his contention that it had been condoned for years.
The claimant was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct and successfully made a claim for wrongful and unfair dismissal. The Tribunal found that there had not been a reasonable investigation and that the claimant had been made a scapegoat for the employer's failure to identify the dangers of the practice.
The EAT allowed the employer's appeal. A case in 1984, RSPB v Croucher, establishes that where the employee admits misconduct, the employer will not usually have to conduct an investigation, unless, for example, new matters come to light or there is some doubt as to the employee's motives or the admission. Given the employee's admissions, and the employer's genuine belief in his misconduct, it was hard to see why it was not within the range of reasonable responses for the employer to decide it was unnecessary to carry out further investigation. The EAT also commented that the Tribunal was wrong to have concluded that further investigation would have highlighted other factors which put the claimant's conduct in context such that a very different view of his culpability might be taken; the employer had no evidence of this at the time.