Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Trade Unionist Disciplined: Alec McFadden case


Below is a campaign statement that has been sent to Northern Voices
by the Campaign to defend Alec McFadden.  Though we have made some
investigations about this problem, Northern Voices does not have enough
information to justify us taking sides at this stage.  In the light of this it has
been decided to publish the statement below in full without comment, which
was sent to us by Liz Epps on behalf of the campaign to defend Alec McFadden.
ALEC McFadden, a stalwart of the trade union movement for over 50 years, has been the victim of a miscarriage of justice which is having terrible repercussions. He needs your support. Alec is known and respected throughout the country for his work as a union organiser, and for his role since 1996 in running the Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre which has provided help and assistance to thousands of people. He is a committed campaigner against sexism, racism, fascism and opposition to benefits sanctions. He suffered a serious facial wound when a fascist attacked him with a knife at his home on the Wirral.

Alec organised a very successful Anti- Austerity March in October 2015. At the end of the protest, on 3rd October 2015, the marchers had a meal at Smith’s restaurant in Eccles, Salford where Alec was the compere for the evening with a number of speakers including Rebecca Long Bailey MP for Salford, Steve North Unison branch secretary and the then Mayor of Salford Ian Stewart. Also present were other local councillors and the press.  Five weeks later Alec was informed by Unite (13 November) that it ‘had received a formal complaint from one of our members about your actions during the March against Austerity from Thursday 1st October to Sunday 4th October.’ It was alleged he had breached Unite’s Dignity and Harassment Policy. No further details were divulged. Two weeks later Alec had received a further letter from Unite (25 November) which told him no more than the identity of the complainant and that she had made a complaint which ‘relates to alleged incidents which took place between 1st and 4th October 2015 towards another Unite member’.

Investigation

Unknown to Alec, witness statements were made by the complainant and two supportive witnesses.  On 6 January 2016he complainant and one witness were interviewed by a Unite Investigation panel on 6 January 2016, again without the knowledge of Alec. So Alec had no opportunity to challenge them, nor was the panel able to put any response from Alec to the witnesses, since the panel had not disclosed the witness statements or even the nature of the allegation to Alec.  It had certainly not asked him for his side of the story.

Alec was then called to attend before the Investigation Panel on 22nd January.  By then all Alec knew was what was in the two letters he had received. He had no idea what was alleged against him.  The Investigation Panel chose not to share with him the statements it had obtained from the complainant and her witness or the notes made of their interviews by the panel. So Alec had no idea of the case against him and no chance to prepare a defence.   When the interview with Alec commenced he was still in complete ignorance of the date, time, place and nature of the alleged ‘incidents’.  It was not until half way through the interview that he was shocked to be told that he was alleged to have slapped the complainant on the bottom at the dinner in the middle of the restaurant.  He was not told that the complainant’s witness had added ‘the lights were quite bright and we were very visible to our fellow marchers and other guests’.  Alec denied the allegation.  The panel asked no further questions about it.  Neither the complainant nor her witnesses were present when Alec was interviewed, and since he had not been provided with their witness statements or notes of the interview, he had no opportunity to point out inconsistencies or contradictions in their evidence.  Nevertheless, the investigation panel found that there was a case for him to answer.

Disciplinary

Next Alec was called to a formal Unite disciplinary hearing on 15th April 2016. Before hearing Alec’s defence or his witnesses, he was startled to be told by the Chair of the Disciplinary Panel: ‘From what has been presented to us, in all probability, some misconduct has taken place.’ This conclusion was based on solely on their reading of the report of the Investigation Panel.

The Disciplinary Panel refused a request that the complainant and her witnesses should attend and give evidence to the Panel because it would be ‘inappropriate.’ So Alec and his representative were denied the chance to question them, put his case to them or explore the serious inconsistencies in their account of the alleged incident. Likewise, the Panel denied itself the opportunity to hear the complainant and her witness in person so as to weigh up the credibility of their account. Even Alec’s offer that the complainant be questioned without Alec being present was refused.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, the Disciplinary Panel reached the same conclusion at the end of the hearing that it had before the case began: ‘that in all probability, Mr McFadden did commit the offence of slapping [the complainant] on the bottom.’ The conclusion was expressed to be based solely on the evidence of the Complainant’s witness, since it said that to disbelieve her statement ‘would be tantamount to an accusation of lying.’ How the Panel could determine whether she was lying or not without hearing and seeing her give her evidence and being questioned about it was not explained. Nor was it explained on what basis the Panel were able to disregard the evidence of Alec and his witnesses (that they had neither seen anything untoward nor heard anyone speak of such a thing during the course of a long evening during which both Alec and the Complainant were present, at one stage sitting next to each other.) The Disciplinary Panel decided that Alec must be banned from office in Unite and attend Unite’s Dignity and Respect Training Course.

Appeal

Alec appealed to an Appeal Panel of Unite’s EC. Again Alec’s rep asked that the complainant and her witness attend, give their evidence orally and be subject to questions from him and the Panel. He emphasised that inconsistent and contradictory evidence of the Complainant and her witnesses should be subject to at least some questioning and scrutiny as no such questioning or scrutiny had occurred at the Investigation or Disciplinary stages. This request was dismissed out of hand and the Panel refused to hear for themselves the evidence against Alec or allow it to be questioned.

Alec provided the panel with even more witness statements of those present in the restaurant including the MP and even the Restaurant manager and staff, all of whom clearly stated they saw or heard nothing of the alleged incident which according to the complainant took place in view of everyone.

Particularly significant was that Alec’s rep also sought to introduce the evidence of a Mr S who had, in August 2016, been told by the complainant that she had not been assaulted by Alec and that she had been pressurised into making the complaint.  The Appeal Panel refused to entertain this evidence on the ground that ‘it was an unsubstantiated account of an alleged conversation with the complainant that had been compellingly and comprehensively rebutted by her.’   This appears to be false.  There was no evidence that Mr S’s account had ever been put to the complainant - let alone that she rebutted it.  As noted, Alec’s request for her attendance had been refused. It was not suggested that she had made a further, undisclosed statement rebutting Mr S – such a statement would surely have been produced had it been made.

The Appeal Panel’s refusal to entertain this crucial exonerating piece of defence evidence can only have been because it fundamentally undermined the prosecution case. That is a travesty of justice.

In the light of that it was no surprise that the Appeal panel upheld the decision of the Disciplinary Panel. When his rep asked how long Alec would be suspended from Office he was told it was for at least 5 years! That is until Alec is 75.

Breach of Confidentiality + Media Smears

If that were not bad enough, what followed will shock and concern every trade union activist. Confidential details of the case, including a statement by the complainant were leaked to the media. This could have only come from someone within Unite.  The angle the media took was to attack Alec and link him to Jeremy Corbyn so as to undermine him.  Alec had been one of Corbyn’s biggest supporters and articles in the Telegraph, Times, Liverpool Echo and Guardian were spun to try to damage Corbyn and denigrate Alec.

The TUC

In September 2016, the TUC informed Alec that in addition to the sanctions imposed by Unite, the TUC also banned him from holding his elected position representative to and as chair of the TUCJCC. That is not an ‘office’; it is certainly not an office in Unite and besides Alec’s position on the TUCJCC is also because he is a member of Unison.  More significantly still, the TUC has no power to prevent Trades Union Councils nominating who they wish to represent them on the TUCJCC, the TUC has no disciplinary powers over members of affiliated unions and had held no hearing to allow Alec to present a case before imposing such a penalty.  But the penalty imposed by the TUC went yet further than that imposed by Unite: Alec was barred from unofficial pre-meetings of the TUCJCC and from attending any TUC event, including those open to the public!

Questions have even been raised about Alec’s employment.

Facebook Lies

Now new evidence has emerged from the Facebook postings of the complainant.  She has changed her mind again and decided to revert to claiming that the incident did take place and she has broadcast details of the allegation along with grossly offensive comments about Alec.  Even more disturbingly, having linked to an article about an (unrelated) Employment Tribunal case against UNITE for sexual harassment she made the following comment in relation to her own case:

‘In my experience the equalities officer was invisible, the questioning that I was subject to would not be out of place among rape apologists, the concern for the person making the complaint was non–existent’.

This is a quite remarkable claim since one of the most unjust features of this drawn out disciplinary process is that the complainant was never questioned about her allegation - let alone in the manner she describes.  She was never present to face any questions put to her by Alec, his rep or the Disciplinary or Appeal Panels which took the decisions.  Before the Investigatory Panel the notes show that she was never asked even to describe the alleged incident; her prepared statement was simply accepted as fact. The sole questions about the alleged incident were: ‘…you had to ask him to move is this when the incident happened? And if so what kind of a slap was it?’  To which the answer was ‘Yes.  It was a hard slap; I was shocked and carried on walking…’  The allegation that the Unite Investigation Panel were behaving like ‘rape apologists’ is both a very serious allegation and one that is totally refuted by the notes.

This Facebook posting casts further serious doubt on the credibility of the complainant.

Unfortunately there is no further appeal under Unite rules and Alec appears to have no alternative but to take his case to the Certification Officer, given the appalling consequences that he is facing.

Every trade unionist should fight to root sexual harassment out of our movement and ensure our events are safe places for all members. But there is also no place in our movement for those who make false accusations against individuals and the union, then broadcast false and wholly misleading details of the matter on social media. More than that, no-one should be convicted without a fair trial.

Defend Alec

Alec has a long and proud record of promoting and encouraging women to get active in the union movement, he has never been subject to these kind of accusations in over 50 years of service in the movement.  Natural justice is a requirement of Unite’s disciplinary rules (rule 27.2) but Alec has been denied it.  Here, that denial was in refusing Alec the right to question those who made allegations against him and in refusing to hear a witness who had vital evidence for his defence.  The witness statements of many respected people present at the restaurant where the alleged incident took place have been simply ignored or discounted.  He has had confidential details of an internal union matters leaked to the press where it was spun to attack Jeremy Corbyn.  He has now discovered that his accuser has put on social media claims which are clearly both untrue and bring the union into disrepute.

He has been removed and suspended from office for over 5 years and the TUC has tried to remove him from elected positions that are completely unconnected to his membership of Unite.

Questions for Unite

We call on the Executive Committee of UNITE and the General Secretary to review this case as a matter of urgency.  As trade unionists we fight on a daily basis against injustice; we cannot allow this to happen to Alec.  Please support our call for a review of this decision and an investigation into the scandalous claims made by the complainant and the manner in which confidential information was leaked to the Tory media to be used to attack both Alec and Jeremy Corbyn.

Email: defend.alec.mcfadden@hotmail.com   10th October 2016

Printed and Published by defend Alec McFadden campaign

5 comments:

BALMER 69 said...

Like any trade Union, Unite has discipline Code for internal members complaints. Independent Panel , witnesses called , weight of evidence for or against is analysed
and then decision is made: defendant has right of appeal, which was lost too. The Defendant agreed to go on Equality Training, so if innocent why agree.The local paper allegedly has found other women, so rumours swirling round the wirral, ,been allegedly subject to inappropriate behavior from the individual.

BALMER 69 said...

Unite as any Union or Community Organization has internal process for when members make complaints. Under the Union Rules ,all democratically agreed, a complaint is made and investigated by independent panel, who receive all evidence through interviews , statements etc. The evidence is carefully sifted and weighed and then decision is made, guilty or not guilty. If Guilty there is then appeal. Individual agreed as part of discipline sanction to go on Equality Training. If one is innocent why agree to that? Local paper allegedly has more young women ready to come forward with stories

Anonymous said...

You said you don't have enough evidence to form an opinion. You shouldn't then be posting this as it makes you look like you're supporting him and endorsing this article.

Editor said...

Anonymous makes a significant point. However, Northern Voices' contacted a senior Unite officer, and she refused to comment, except to say that proper procedures had been followed by Unite the Union. NV will shortly discuss this point further in a full posting on this Blog.

Anonymous said...

"I believe her"... Unless its a good old boy comrade that everyone has know for decades.