The boss of a leading recruitment firm secretly claimed for rent for his lover’s flat, ski holidays and champagne dinners on expenses without his ex-wife’s knowledge, a tribunal heard.
John Mortimer bought luxurious gifts and trips across Europe until a senior executive met with his former spouse and company co-founder Angela, who the company was named after, and blew the whistle on what he said were potentially illegal claims.
Mr and Mrs Mortimer had founded Angela Mortimer Plc – which now has offices in London, Paris, Brussels and New York – in 1976, but the couple divorced in 2011 and since then their relationship had been ‘strained’, the central London tribunal heard.
Director Davide Mele told Mrs Mortimer he believed her former husband – the chairman and chief executive of the company – had been wrongfully putting in expense claims for 20 years and may have been breaking the law.
In May 2018 he arranged to have a meeting with Mrs Mortimer at the exclusive 5 star Café Royal in Soho, London.
At the secret rendezvous he showed Mrs Mortimer files and receipts detailing Mr Mortimer’s list of expense claims from the previous year.
These included two private skiing holidays in France as well as a £4,000 rent payment for his lover, Verity Stokes, in Birmingham, the hearing was told.
John Mortimer (pictured) bought luxurious gifts and trips across Europe until a senior executive met with his former spouse and company co-founder Angela, who the company was named after, and blew the whistle on what he said were potentially illegal claims
His claims led to Mrs Mortimer calling an external group of accountants for help at the publicly listed firm.
She told them that she had detected a number of errors including some of Mr Mortimer’s expenses which she said were personal, not business.
At the secret rendezvous Mr Mele showed Mrs Mortimer files and receipts detailing Mr Mortimer’s list of expense claims from the previous year. These included two private skiing holidays in France as well as a £4,000 rent payment for his lover, Verity Stokes (pictured), the hearing was told
In response, Mr Mortimer then sent an email to all his employees stating that he was aware there were ‘perfectly legitimate queries’ about his expenses.
He gave an explanation for various claims and said, ‘However, you were right to query the amounts. Next time, don’t whine, check it out!’
An employment tribunal made no finding as to whether the claims were illegal but said ‘Mrs Mortimer repeatedly sought advice from external accountants concerning the rules for allowable expenses’.
The controversy surrounding Mr Mortimer’s expenses was laid bare at a hearing after Mr Mele sued the company for unfair dismissal from his £65,000-a-year job.
He had worked as Director of International Operations for Angela Mortimer Plc, but after more than 20 years with the firm he was let go after it was decided there was no longer a need for the role he performed in the business.
Mr Mele had claimed he was sacked because he had blown the whistle on Mr Mortimer’s expense claims.
Mr Mele had access to the firms’ accounting system and discovered that Mr Mortimer had been submitting claims for thousands of pounds worth of personal expenses.
Mr and Mrs Mortimer (pictured) had founded Angela Mortimer Plc – which now has offices in London, Paris, Brussels and New York – in 1976, but the couple divorced in 2011 and since then their relationship had been ‘strained’, the central London tribunal heard
Mr Mele said in his testimony that he believed Mr Mortimer had been wrongfully putting in expense claims for the past 20 years.
He said: ‘I was very suspicious that what was happening was illegal.. Handwritten, no VAT, I think this might be criminal.’
The tribunal heard that over the next four months the relationship between Mr Mortimer and Mr Mele broke down and the two men had ‘differences of opinion’.
In October, Mr Mele met with Mrs Mortimer secretly once again, this time at her home and revealed a list of expenses from 2016 – 18.
On the list were £3,600 of opera tickets in Salzburg and Glyndebourne, a spa hotel in California, shooting days, fishing trips to Helsinki and Russia and lobster dinners.
There was also an array of expensive wines, artworks and champagnes including Euro 734 spent on Perrot Batteux and Bergeres-Les-Vertus.
Added to this was a number of bookings for two at luxurious hotels across Europe.
Mr Mortimer sent an email to all his employees stating that he was aware there were ‘perfectly legitimate queries’ about his expenses
The tribunal heard that when he was confronted by his ex-wife, Mr Mortimer said the expenses were being used as a ‘perennial plaything when you want to chew a bit of me off.’
But, although Mr Mortimer was aware his wife was looking at his expenses, the panel concluded he had no idea that Mr Mele had given her the information.
In March 2019 he had a meeting with Mr Mele and told him that because the International Division was losing money there was a negative balance of £1.2million and therefore he was at risk of redundancy.
Mr Mele subsequently launched a grievance against Mr Mortimer alleging he had created a ‘sham redundancy process’ because of a ‘personal vendetta’ against him.
Eventually, Mr Mele was made redundant from his job ‘in the interests of efficiency and to save costs’.
Ultimately, Employment Judge Jillian Brown concluded that while Mr Mele had blown the whistle in good faith, Mr Mortimer had not known he was the source of the expenses leak.
‘To be clear, the Tribunal did not accept that [Mr Mele] had been selected for redundancy because he had made protected disclosures…,’ the panel’s judgment said.
‘He was selected for redundancy because [a panel] considered that there was a reduced need for the role of International Director, specifically.’
However, Judge Brown added: ‘The Tribunal considered that [AM Plc] acted outside the broad band of reasonable responses when they decided to dismiss [Mr Mele].’
The tribunal concluded that Mr Mele was unfairly dismissed on the grounds of redundancy and he also was subjected to protected disclosure detriment and victimisation for other matters that were not related to Mr Mortimer’s expense claims.
His claims of dismissal relating to protected disclosure detriment were not made out as the tribunal found Mr Mortimer had been unaware that Mr Mele had spoken to his wife about his expenses.
A hearing to decide compensation will take place at a later date.