A former boss of Firkins tried to sabotage the bakery by changing the locks and removing cash registers from shops, an employment tribunal heard.
Ian Bolderston planned to cripple the bakeries after he was sacked as managing director for gross misconduct last year, the Birmingham hearing was told.
It heard how, along with his wife Sarah and some of the company’s employees, he planned to capitalise on the firm’s demise by opening a rival business. A set of bizarre circumstances occurred over Easter weekend last year, when a string of Firkins shops across the Black Country were unable to open, including those in Trysull Road, Wolverhampton; Market Way, Bilston; and High Street, Wednesfield.
Lorry drivers arriving to make deliveries in the early hours found keys did not work and tills and counters removed. Glue was also poured into the padlocks at five branches, including one in West Bromwich.
The police were called but said no crime had been committed. Then-owners Thomas and Margaret Adams were left mystified. The couple had merged their Northampton-based family bakery, Oliver Adams with the Bolderstons’ struggling Firkins business in 2011.
The alleged conspiracy was revealed at an employment tribunal brought by Gail Dickens, a former area manager for the firm, who took action against Firkins’ parent company, Newbridge Bakery Retail Ltd claiming unfair dismissal.
In a ruling that Mrs Dickens, of Wollaston, Stourbridge, had been dismissed fairly, employment judge Christopher Gaskell gave details of a plot to damage the Firkins brand.
His judgement states: “It emerged that there was a conspiracy at large involving Mr and Mrs Bolderston and some other employees of the company, the strategy being firstly to impose potentially fatal financial damage to the company on the back of which Mr and Mrs Bolderston would then set up a rival business taking advantage of the custom and reputation and the trading brands of the company at a time when it was ill-suited to fight back.
“Stage one of this plan appears to have been to change locks in a number of shops so as to prevent those shops from opening and trading after Easter, and also remove from the shops equipment which would be vital to the continued operation of the respondent’s business and therefore prevent that continued operation; and in due course, the equipment would be useful in the new business venture which Mr and Mrs Bolderston intended to establish.”
Mr Bolderston was said to be a charismatic businessman and with his glamorous wife Sarah, they were full of big ideas when they rescued the 144-year-old firm in 2006. Their last known address is in Bratton, Shropshire.
The judge said Mrs Dickens had initially been tasked by Mr Adams to help resolve the situation. But it transpired that she had been in on the conspiracy, asking a colleague if she was going to stay with the Adams or move to the new Bolderston enterprise, the judge said.
Mrs Dickens was even at one of the shops on Easter Sunday with Mrs Bolderston, who was removing equipment, the tribunal heard. She claimed to be coincidently passing at the time. In another incident she was telephoned by a store manager who said there were people in the shop removing equipment – but she never reported any of this to Mr Adams, the tribunal heard. Her explanations as to why she took no action were labelled ‘ridiculous’ by the judge.
Mr Adams, who has now retired, said today: “It was horrendous; a terrible and bizarre time but I was thankful to the staff who worked hard to salvage the situation. Without them we never could have kept the business going.”
The new owners of Firkins are totally unconnected with these events and did not wish to comment.