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A former head of P&O Ferries is suing the company for £76million over its decision to lay off nearly 800 staff without notice last month.

John Lansdown, the only sailor to take legal action to date, has filed a complaint against the company and its chief executive for wrongful termination, racial discrimination and harassment.

“The court complaint I have filed seeks to bring Peter Hebblethwaite and the officials of P&O Ferries to justice and hold them accountable for their unlawful action,” Lansdown said. “Everyone in this country has a vested interest in not allowing the unscrupulous actions of P&O Ferries to continue.”

In his court application, Lansdown accuses the company of treating him unfavorably because he is British and eligible for minimum wage.

P&O Ferries said the mass job cuts were “categorically not based on the race or nationality of the staff involved”. He said the company “needed a fundamental change to make” the business viable, adding: “We knew this move was the only way to save the business.”

“I was devastated by the brutal summary dismissal after many years of loyal and diligent service,” Lansdown said, in the claim seen by the Guardian. “The manner of the dismissal was harassing.”

He was paid £30,827 after being promoted to second-in-command last May and worked on a ship called the Pride of Canterbury, which sailed five times a day between Dover and Calais.

Lansdown, who lives in Kent and has worked for P&O Ferries since 2014, said he would set up a trust to help his fellow seafarers if his application is successful.

“I hereby pledge to donate the full amount of any punitive damages awarded to a new trust set up to campaign to protect seafarers’ wages from the race to the bottom and to campaign for ban ‘fire and hire’ in the UK, both in the seafarer industry and more widely. UK labor rights and our working way of life should never again be deliberately brutalized by wealthy overseas corporations,” he said.

Lansdown’s claim came less than a week after criminal and civil investigations were launched into P&O Ferries’ decision to lay off nearly 800 workers. The company was widely criticized for firing the sailors without notice on March 17.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said on Friday the Insolvency Service had opened “formal criminal and civil investigations”.

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The service said: “Following its investigations, the Insolvency Service has opened formal criminal and civil investigations into the circumstances surrounding the recent dismissals made by P&O Ferries.

“As these are ongoing investigations, no further comment or information can be provided at this time.”

Hebblethwaite told a joint House of Commons business and transport committee hearing that his company broke the law by not consulting with unions before firing workers.

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