TWO senior members of cinema staff who fell in love claim they were told by the company to end their relationship or they would have to leave.

Rhys Owen, 25, began a relationship with operations manager Rachel Griffiths, 33, at the Christmas party for staff of UGC cinema in Chester.

But an industrial tribunal in Liverpool heard yesterday how the company's business manager Steven Antcliff, issued the couple the ultimatum, split up, transfer or leave the company.

In a joint action they are claiming constructive and unfair dismissal by the London-based UGC Cinemas.

The couple claim another two employees at the same cinema are also having a relationship, and the company have not objected. And they say company research has revealed other relationships going on at many of the other UGC cinemas in the region. The romance between department manager Mr Owen, from Wrexham and his immediate boss, operations manager Rachel Griffiths, of Christleton, Chester, had begun at the managers' Christmas party when they openly kissed at their table.

Ms Griffiths said: "Rhys and I carried on as normal in work and behaved in an entirely appropriate manner."

On January 9 her immediate boss, business manager Mr Antcliff confirmed he had not seen any change in their behaviour or performance, but they would work different shifts so that she would no longer be Rhys' line manager.

This was in line with company policy which says if a relationship develops between an employee and line manager, the senior employee must discuss it with their boss and the company would "seek to resolve the situation".

At a meeting on January 11, Mr Owen said he was told by Mr Antcliff his relationship with Rachel would not be a problem.

But by January 19 he said things changed and he was given an ultimatum by Mr Antcliff - split up, transfer or leave the company - and make the decision within a week.

Mr Owen said: "There was no real freedom of choice. We were being forced into a corner with a gun pointed at our head. The company did not discuss with me the other option, namely transfer to another department."

Ms Griffiths added: "I found the options that were imposed to be deeply upsetting and hurtful. I was upset by Steve's interference with my privacy and my personal happiness.

"The company did not explore the opportunity to move either of us to a different department within the cinema. Nor did they respond to requests for written information regarding a transfer to another site.

"It would have been extremely difficult for me to agree to transfer knowing that I could not afford to cover the extra travelling costs."

Ms Griffiths, who had worked at the Chester cinema complex for more than five years, said she twice broke down in tears during work. Since leaving the cinema she could not afford to support herself financially and was having to live in a friend's spare room.

But Rupert Budgen for the company said Mr Antcliff disputed their version of events. In line with company policy he had drawn the options to their attention but did not seek to impose any.

He said the possibility of Ms Griffiths taking an operations manager vacancy at Wigan was discussed and the possibility of transferring to Liverpool. He said the decision to put the couple on opposite shifts and give Mr Owen a different line manager was only meant to be a temporary solution.

He claimed both Mr Owen and Ms Griffiths refused to transfer - which the couple deny.

The tribunal continues.