AN investigation has been launched into how a council let a £60,000 compensation case escalate into a damages award of £1.5m.

Karen Hall claimed she was bullied while working at West Cornforth Primary School, County Durham – suffering headteacher Janet Sarsfield twisting her arm and having had a ball thrown at her in front of her class in 2004.

Mrs Hall, who lives near Bishop Auckland, was initially awarded £59,321 in 2008 but the figure rocketed after the school and local education authority ignored a series of employment tribunal rulings.

It was eventually found that she had suffered 18 separate acts of victimisation. Mr Justice Langstaff, the head of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, called her case “astonishing” and Mrs Hall said she had suffered 11 years of hell.

Today (Wednesday, October 28), Durham County Council announced an internal review would take place next month (November) and a report put before a full council meeting.

Councillor Ossie Johnson, the cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said the case was “very regrettable”.

He said decisions had been taken by school governors but the council was responsible as the “residual employer” and pointed out the authority had experienced no other case approaching the complexity of Mrs Hall’s.

The council had taken legal advice and been represented by experienced barristers, he added.

“Many key people have moved on or retired. However, lessons need to be learned,” Cllr Johnson added, and signalled the ruling Labour group would support a motion tabled by independent councillor Alex Watson calling for an inquiry.

Cllr Watson said County Durham residents were facing council tax increases, garden waste collection charges, street lighting cuts and potentially benefit cuts and the council’s financial stewardship had to be seen to be sound.

“Failures have to be dealt with effectively and transparently,” he told a full council meeting at County Hall.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Nigel Martin said the inquiry must ask how the council reached the decision to appeal the initial verdict, who took that decision and to what extent councillors were involved.

He also called for the inquiry to be chaired by an independent person. Cllr Johnson did not respond to this request.

Cllr Watson’s motion won unanimous, cross-party support.

Cllr Johnson said senior officers had already put arrangements in place for the internal review. A report is expected to go before a full council meeting in the coming months.