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Apprentice mechanic was set on fire at dealership as part of ‘nightmare’ bullying ordeal

Time 6 months ago

Bullying mechanics set an apprentice on fire at a Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicle franchise, an employment tribunal was told. 

Joe Higginson lost all the hair on his head and suffered serious burns to his hands after being gaffer-taped to a trailer, doused in brake fluid and set alight at Roanza in Warrington.

Pictures that were taken during the incident and published as part of The Sun’s report of the tribunal showed that he only had ski goggles on to protect his face.

He reported it to managers Roy Reed and Michael Jones, but instead of taking any action against the bullies, they ordered him to sign a document to say he wouldn’t take things any further, reported The Sun.

To make matters worse, the trio of bullies – named as James Hinks, Matt Hall and Danny Martin – were able to keep their jobs, the tribunal was told.

Hinks then left Roanza but subsequently returned as a manager and continued bullying Higginson, with others joining in, as he was seen as ‘an easy target’.

Bosses later falsely claimed that Higginson had stolen some oil and sacked him, which led to the tribunal.

The 25-year-old, from Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester, was quoted as saying: ‘It has been a nightmare. I have anxiety, panic attacks, problems sleeping. It takes its toll.’

He had to pay £4,000 for hair-loss treatment.

Brian Doyle, the tribunal judge, attacked Roanza, saying: ‘What they did was insidious and nasty.’ Calling the dismissal ‘unfair and unlawful’, he awarded Higginson £30,000 in compensation.

Higginson also hopes to claim £50,000 because of his injuries. However, Roanza and its Premier Vehicle Rental Ltd subsidiary went into administration last September owing hundreds of creditors sums totalling nearly £37m, according to a statement of affairs.

Administrator Grant Thornton said the pandemic worsened Roanza’s 2019 losses, which were undisclosed.

It had eight sites across the north-west of England, Staffordshire and north Wales. The last available accounts – for the year ended December 31, 2018 – show it made a post-tax loss of £111,714 on a turnover of £180.3m.

Some of the business was sold to eStar Truck & Van, and although five sites – including the Warrington one – and 340 jobs were saved, 80 jobs were lost. It isn’t known what happened to Hinks, Hall and Martin.

The report of the incident caused outrage on Twitter:

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A spokeswoman for Mercedes-Benz Vans UK Ltd told Car Dealer: ‘Mercedes-Benz Vans UK Ltd is extremely concerned to learn about the incident involving Mr Higginson, which took place in a Mercedes-Benz Vans franchised dealership.

‘The franchise holder, Roanza, ceased trading in September 2020, with the owners, directors and several employees leaving the business at that time. eStar is the new van and truck sales and customer services franchise partner for the market area.

‘The Mercedes-Benz Vans UK Ltd dealer network is made up of over 4,000 individuals who receive regular training on wellness and mental health topics designed to support colleagues in all aspects of work.’

John Bowman's avatar

John has been with Car Dealer since 2013 after spending 25 years in the newspaper industry as a reporter then a sub-editor/assistant chief sub-editor on regional and national titles. John is chief sub-editor in the editorial department, working on Car Dealer, as well as handling social media.

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