Managing director wins depression case

A managing director with depression today won her defence against a council which tried to sue her after she allegedly withheld her diagnosis in a job application.

Cheltenham Borough Council was suing Christine Laird, 52, for £1m in London’s High Court.

Mrs Laird had been appointed managing director of the council in 2002. But she left in 2005 on an ill-health pension after taking sick leave for depression on full pay.

The council had claimed it suffered financial losses amounting to more than £1m including interest as a result of Mrs Laird’s “deceit” for not declaring her previous mental health problems.

Mrs Laird, 52, had told the court in March that she believed the appointment was “unconditional” and there had been no requirement for a medical report.

At the centre of the case was a medical questionnaire. To a question: “Do you normally enjoy good health?” she replied: “Yes”. To: “Do you have a mental impairment?” she replied: “No”.

The court was told that Mrs Laird had suffered “three episodes of depression with associated anxiety” between 1997 and 2001.

But she saw it as “stress-related illness and not depression” linked to “non-specific, non-recurrent events”.

She also believed the “stress and illness” had ceased and was taking antidepressants as part of a “weaning off” process.

Mr Justice Hamblen found that the representations she made were not false nor, “given the terms of the questions asked were they misleading”.

He said Mrs Laird did not have an impairment under the mental health act or the disability discrimination act 1995.

The case has been watched by mental health campaigners who were concerned it could set a precedent and force anyone with a depression diagnosis to declare the full details when they applied for a new job.

Mrs Laird said at the hearing in March that she had been forced out of office by a poor working atmosphere in the local authority and council members who opposed her implementation of restructuring departments.

Andrew North, chief executive of Cheltenham Borough Council, today said the authority was disappointed with the judgement.

“While the outcome is not what we had hoped for, we felt we had a duty to take action to recover losses for what we felt was a disastrous time for the council.

“Had the council known Mrs Laird’s medical history it would most probably not have employed her and incurred the costs it has.”

Mrs Laird said that she had spent three months in a psychiatric hospital and is now permanently disabled.

Mrs Laird said she had been through “years of absolute hell”.

Mrs Laird’s husband Hugh Laird, speaking outside the court, said: “Christine’s mental health has been cruelly broken.

“The personal cost of all this for us is not financial – the price was so nearly her life.

“Christine fought and won this court case. Now she will start the long fight to win back her health with the love and prayers of her friends and family.

“All of us are determined that she will make a full recovery.”

Mr Hamblen rejected a counterclaim by Mrs Laird for damages.

The legal costs for the action are expected to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

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