It was claimed the caretaker was about to burn the overmantel (Picture: Solent)

A caretaker sacked for allegedly giving away items and artefacts from a stately home has won an employment tribunal.

Brian Wilson lived in a caravan in the grounds of the 16th century Seighford Hall, Stafford, where he worked.

He was fired after bosses heard that he had been selling items including a tractor, fireplaces and a £5 million overmantel – ornate woodwork above a fire.

The antique was only saved when a man who was an expert in Elizabethan history just happened to walk past as it was about to be chopped up.

Suspicions were first roused when he told building surveyor Richard Lever that there had been a break-in, but there was no sign of forced entry and Mr Wilson did not have a crime reference number.

Mr Lever also became aware accusations that ‘most of the interior and exterior fittings, e.g. fire places, balustrades and fountains are being offered for sale’.

He spoke to Ian Kettlewell, owner of Windmill Antiques, who told him he’d been shown around the hall in June 2020 by Mr Wilson and bought two fireplaces off him for £450.

A local car dealer bought a tractor in May 2020 for £1,000.

And when a man called Mr Potter visited he asked if he could rummage through a pile of wood that was about to be burned – including the overnamtel which has Queen Elizabeth I’s coat of arms carved into it.

Mr Potter took it to Michael Jones, partner of Whitchurch Auctions, Shropshire, who described it as ‘sensational’.

The wooden antique pictured in place (Picture: Solent)

He said: ‘He had gone to Seighford with a partner because he was interested in buying it. When he left he saw they were chucking all these bits of rotten wood on a bonfire they were just about to cover with petrol and set alight.

‘On the top was this overmantel and he said “can I have that?” He didn’t do anything with it for about a year and then decided he was going to cut it up to make headboards from it for his three kids.

‘Just as he was about to cut it up in front of his garage a gentleman walked past and said ‘what are you doing?’. This man was an expert in Elizabethan history and told him it could be worth a lot.

Mr Wilson’s bosses asked to speak to him about what had happened and he didn’t attend the meeting so was sacked in November 2020. He didn’t find out until February 2021 that he had lost his job.

A tribunal found this was unfair dismissal and he was awarded over £4,000 in lost pay, but no compensation.

Employment judge Kate Hindmarch said: ‘I have found [Mr Wilson’s] actions were without permission and that he was not credible in his explanations. His behaviour was blameworthy, and I find the basic award should be nil.’

Mr Potter has not been able to sell the overmantel and turned down an offer of £1.9 million.