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John Yapp v. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (QB)


Queen’s Bench Division

The High Court has today handed down judgment in the case of John Yapp v Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Mr Yapp was the UK High Commissioner in Belize who was summarily withdrawn from post in June 2008 after false and offensive allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him by a Belizean politician in opposition, Mr Eamon Courtenay. He became ill with depression after being subjected to a lengthy disciplinary process, during the course of which the allegations of sexual misconduct were dismissed, and following media intrusion which caused immense distress to Mr Yapp and his family and in respect of which he brought a successful libel action against the Mail on Sunday.

Mr Yapp never returned to work and in due course retired.

The High Court (Cranston J) has held that the FCO acted in breach of contract and in breach of its duty of care to Mr Yapp in withdrawing him from his post as High Commissioner without affording him fair treatment. The Judge found that Mr Courtenay’s allegations should have been treated with a healthy scepticism; elementary investigation would have demonstrated that some of the less serious allegations were untrue and that some of the more serious could be discounted ; and that the reputational damage supposedly suffered by the UK was significantly overblown. There should have been some discussion with Mr Yapp and the failure to discuss the allegations made was a breach of the obligation of fair treatment which the FCO owed to Mr Yapp under his contract of employment. Had there been discussion, some further allegations concerning the treatment of High Commission staff would not have been pursued through a misconduct enquiry.

The Prime Minister of Belize, the Hon. Dean Barrow was a witness in the proceedings. He described Mr Yapp as ‘one of the best High Commissioners we have had in Belize. I found him to be a consummate diplomat: intelligent, well-informed and an entertaining host’. Other senior members of the community in Belize praised Mr Yapp equally highly.

The FCO argued that Mr Yapp could not recover damages for his psychiatric injury because such damage was too remote. The Judge rejected this submission. He held that the case was analogous to Gogay v Hertfordshire Council [2000] IRLR 703. It could reasonably be contemplated that depression would be a not unlikely result of a knee-jerk withdrawal from post.

Damages will be assessed by the Court at a later date if they cannot be agreed between the parties.

Jane McNeill QC and Katherine Howells represented the Claimant, Mr Yapp, instructed by John Kings and Hannah Hunter of Buss Murton Law LLP.

2013 EWHC 1098 (QB)

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