March 2011

Child sex offender Christopher Hedges to sue Open Sight charity for unfair dismissal

HE was the boss of a Hampshire charity who was shamed when unmasked as a convicted paedophile.

Chris Hedges has launched a legal bid to claim cash for being “unfairly” sacked from his role.

Hedges is believed to want a payout after he was sacked from his chief executive role at Open Sight over allegations of bullying.

His appeal against that decision failed last month, but he is now attempting to take the charity, which works with thousands of blind and visually impaired people across Hampshire, to an employment tribunal.

Hedges told the Daily Echo he believes he was unfairly treated by the charity because it failed to give him a “fair hearing”, and wants a payout to allow him to “move on and start rebuilding my life”.

In January, this paper revealed Hedges was jailed in 2004, as a 51- year-old, after admitting five counts of having sex with a 14-year-old girl – a conviction he had never declared to the charity.

He was convicted and sent to prison for three months after the girl’s father found explicit emails he had sent her.

It is understood defending the tribunal would cost Open Sight, which is based in Bishopstoke and has branches across Hampshire, tens of thousands of pounds.

Experts have told the Daily Echo it could cost as much as £35,000 just to prepare a legal defence.

The money is a significant amount of cash for a charity which had a total income last year of £633,000.

And with the risk of bills spiralling even further if it lost the case, Hedges is understood to have offered a cut-price deal by demanding six months’ pay to settle out of court and drop his claim.

Although Open Sight would not discuss the case or Hedges’ pay, it is thought the amount involved would be significantly lower than the legal fees it would otherwise face.

The cash is vital to a charity that works to give advice, information and support to 5,000 adults and children every year across southern England, mostly in Hampshire. Because Hedges’ job did not initially involve him coming into contact with young people, a criminal records check was not carried out when he was recruited.

But despite being banned for life from working with children, his role changed over his time with the charity, and he ended up dealing with vulnerable youngsters.

Current trustees, none of whom was on the board when Hedges was appointed, said he would never have got the job if the charity had known about his convictions or place on the sex offenders’ register.

Officials who investigated his behaviour as part of the sacking and appeal process were unable to trace the paperwork from when he started work, in which he would have been asked to declare any criminal record.

As reported, the former chief executive last month failed in a bid to get the existing trustees removed from the charity.

While he was suspended over the bullying allegations, he was able to use his honorary role as company secretary to call an extraordinary general meeting.

He urged members to vote to oust four directors, claiming they were putting Open Sight at risk by not carrying out their duties properly.

Hedges’ motion, and one to co-opt a new board member, was defeated by 80 votes to 34.

An Open Sight spokesman last night said the charity could not comment on the case. He said: “We cannot comment at present, as we will not discuss personnel matters with a third party.

“Any contact or discussion between Open Sight and Mr Hedges must remain a confidential matter.

“In the meantime Open Sight are not only serving their communities as normal but indeed are moving the charity forward and have a very positive future.”

The Daily Echo contacted Hedges at an address in Boyatt Wood, Eastleigh, but he said he has now moved out of the area.

Hedges told the Daily Echo he feels unfairly treated by the charity because he claims it failed to give him a “fair hearing”, and wants a payout to allow him to “move on and start rebuilding my life”.