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Footballer racially victimised - tribunal

Mark McCammon was unfairly dismissed by Gillingham and his dismissal was an act of racial victimisation, a tribunal has ruled.

Gillingham said they were "disappointed - in fact, staggered" by the decision and would be consulting their lawyers.

In June, McCammon took the League Two club to an industrial tribunal. The 33-year-old striker claimed he and other black players at Gillingham were treated differently from white players. He sued the club and its chairman, Paul Scally, for race discrimination, breach of contract, unfair dismissal and failure to pay him and said he was "put through hell".

Scally had told the tribunal, held in Ashford, Kent, that Gillingham had not had to deal with an allegation of racism in his 18 years at the club, saying he was "absolutely confident" there was no racism at the club.

He suggested McCammon had "manufactured" his allegations to justify storming into then manager Andy Hessenthaler's office on November 30, 2010 and accusing him of racial discrimination.

That happened after McCammon and his two housemates, who are also black, were ordered to attend Priestfield in heavy snow when other players were not required to.

After that confrontation, McCammon was ordered to attend a disciplinary hearing. He later received a letter saying he was being dismissed for aggressive conduct towards the manager and racism, the tribunal heard.

Gillingham's statement said: "We are hugely disappointed - in fact, staggered - by this decision. As an organisation, we are an equal opportunity employer and do not discriminate against, nor victimise our staff.

"This case is the first of its kind to be brought against the club in its entire history - a history that has seen the club employ many thousands of staff of various race, religion and creed, none of whom have ever felt the need to bring such a claim."

Gillingham said they would "discuss the judgement with our lawyers and decide upon the next course of action, whether that be an appeal against the findings, or another form of action, as deemed appropriate".

McCammon's witness statement claimed Gillingham tried to "frustrate him out" by refusing to pay private medical bills to help him regain fitness following injury.

He said he was instead offered the choice of undergoing the same treatment on the NHS - a move he described as "completely out of character" for a Football League club - and claimed a white player had been flown to Dubai for treatment by a physiotherapist at the club's expense.

McCammon signed for Gillingham on a three-year deal in 2008 and was the club's highest-paid player on £2,500 a week. By his third season, they had been relegated to League Two and he had suffered an injury that needed an operation.

He said: "The way the chairman approached the matter was that he saw my injury as a way to get rid of any financial obligations, such as my wages, he might have as a result of my contract."

McCammon denied claims that the "trade-off'' for his generous salary was that his salary would be cut by 15% if Gillingham remained in League Two during his contract terms, saying: "There was absolutely no way I would have agreed to that. That wasn't making sense to me.''

The tribunal heard that a clerical error in McCammon's contract meant the 15% line was accidentally omitted despite having been agreed verbally.

In a statement, McCammon said he was relieved at the tribunal's ruling and hoped it would lead other players to raise legitimate complaints.

The statement, issued through his solicitor, Sim Owolabi, said: "Mr McCammon is relieved that he has been afforded the opportunity to put forward the truth about the experience he suffered at the hands of his former employers.

"He is pleased that the employment tribunal has found in his favour and feels that the judgment makes clear that his dismissal was not only unfair but an act of race victimisation.

"Mr McCammon raised a legitimate complaint of race discrimination, which the tribunal found that Mr Scally had discounted from the start as being without merit. Mr Scally did not bother to investigate the complaint, and ultimately dismissed him because of it."

It said the tribunal had made it "clear that the club's witnesses not only colluded in the preparation of their witness statements leading to his dismissal but also colluded in the preparation of their evidence before the employment tribunal".

And it added that McCammon "wishes to thank all those who stood by him during the very difficult and prolonged trial period which tested the courage of his supporters".