Monday, 11 September 2017

MPs demand blacklisting mastermind be stripped of Big Ben public contract!

Book Review - by Derek Pattison
Blacklisted: The Full Story The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists
Author: Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain
This is the second edition of Blacklisted with the full story to date including the 
historic High Court victory and new revelations. Now with photographs.
* Buy print version:
 New Internationalist
The Old Music Hall
106-108 Cowley Rd
Oxford, OX4 1JE  UK
01865 403345

IT’s now over two-years ago since I first reviewed ‘Blacklisted – The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists’ by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain.  This new, second edition, ‘The Full Story’, deals with two major developments in the 18-months since the first edition of ‘Blacklisted’ was published.   One is the outcome of proceedings in the High Court against the so-called MacFarlanes Defendants and the other, is the ‘Pitchford Public Inquiry’, which is investigating undercover policing.  During the High Court proceedings, further evidence of blacklisting was disclosed and some of this has now been used in this book.

For people who are unfamiliar with this story of blacklisting of workers in the construction industry, which involved collusion between the state and the construction industry, it is perhaps necessary to say something about how this grossly illegal operation was discovered and exposed.

On 11 May 2016, in the High Court, in London, a public apology was made and an agreed joint statement was read out on behalf of a group of major British construction companies including – Balfour Beatty companies, Carillion, Costain, Kier Ltd, Laing companies, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Skanska UK, Vinci and Taylor Woodrow, and various individual defendants including, Cullum McAlpine, Danny O’Sullivan, David Cochrane and Stephen Quant. 

All these companies and individuals, known as the ‘MacFarlanes Defendants’ were apologising for having set up a secret and unlawful ‘Vetting Operation’ and database, also known as a ‘Blacklist’, to vet particular workers applying for jobs in the construction industry. 

We now know that the in-house lawyer for Laing O’Rourke, Paul Field, resigned his job on 9 March 2009 shortly after the discovery of the blacklist describing the operation as ‘Orwellian’ and ‘third-rate McCarthyism’.  In a witness statement, Field said that “he found the idea that people were denied work simply because they had joined a safety committee ‘repugnant’.

A large number of construction workers, in a group litigation, who were members of the trade unions UCATT, GMB, or clients of the law firm, Guney, Clark & Ryan, brought claims against them for “breach of confidence, misuse of private information, defamation, conspiracy and breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.” 

Although liability had been initially denied by the Defendants, they admitted to having set up a secret scheme for vetting construction workers who were seeking employment in the industry between the early 1970s and 2009.  The secret operation went under the name of the ‘Services Group’, which was part of the notorious ‘Economic League’ and later, it became known as the “The Consulting Association.”   The database included details on individuals such as:

“Names, dates of birth, addresses, NI numbers, trade, employers’ names, alleged employment history, suspected political affiliations or sympathies or perceived militancy, trade union affiliation and activities, and complaints about health-and-safety or breaches of employment rights. "

This database was seized following a raid on the offices of The Consulting Association (TCA) in February 2009, by officers working for the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). Over 3,000 files were confiscated which included details of construction workers and other individuals, including academics, lawyers, politicians and environmental activists.  These files represented only around 5 to 10 per cent of the information held by TCA at their office in Droitwich, Worcestershire.  In July 2009, the ‘data controller’, Ian Kerr, was fined £5,000 by Knutsford Crown Court, for operating an illegal database.  Kerr’s fine and legal costs were all paid by the construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine, who had set up this blacklisting operation. 

We now know that British Telecom (BT) had provided details about the location of Kerr’s address, only after being threatened with legal action by the ICO.  The ICO had previously raided the offices of Hayden Young – part of the Balfour Beatty group - in Watford in August 2008 and had obtained a fax number. When, following the raid at the offices of TCA,  Kerr’s wife, Mary Kerr, had asked why her husband had not been tipped off about the raid at Hayden Young, six months previously, she received a solicitor’s letter asking her to desist in her questioning. 

In a witness statement that was submitted to the High Court by Gerry Harvey, HR director for Balfour Beatty and a TCA contact for the firm, he disclosed that both he and his colleague, Armar Johnston – another TCA contact at Balfour Beatty – had been ordered not to disclose details of the raid at Hayden Young to Ian Kerr, by the Group Human Resources Director, Paul Raby, because he feared legal repercussions.  Both Harvey and Johnston were told to have no further involvement with TCA.

Gail Cartmail, a trade union officer with Unite the Union, told MPs at a Select Committee of the House of Commons that Gerry Harvey “has form on blacklisting.”   Despite being a TCA contact at Balfour Beatty, Harvey wrote to an Employment Tribunal in 2008, denying there was a ‘blacklist’ and suggested that the litigant, Colin Trousdale, was “paranoid.” Never the less, on the first page of Trousdale’s blacklisting TCA file, it was noted: “Trousdale is taking us to the Tribunal.”  Outside the offices of Balfour Beatty Engineering Services (BBES), in Glasgow, Trousdale told protestors: “Being a trade union member is not a crime: perjury is.”

An email found on Gerry Harvey’s laptop (exhibit in High Court), from Elaine Gallagher of Balfour Kilpatrick, dated 16/3/2009, a month after the ICO raid on TCA, says: “The email includes attached list of workers recorded as Not Required or code 11 ‘do not employ’ and an internal database kept by Balfour Beatty.” In his witness statement, Harvey went on to name:  

“Andrew Alison, Michael Shortall, Colin Trousdale, Danny Regan, Steve Acheson, Graham Bowker, Tony Jones, Sean Keaveney, Robert McKechan and Howard Nolan, as workers who appear on the internal database as unsuitable for employment.  “They are also all blacklisted by TCA for their union activities… Harvey does reassure the court that ‘regardless of the Consulting Association checking service neither I nor my staff would have employed Acheson, Bowker or  Jones, given their very high profile’.”  
(Exhibit for High Court – see also “Boys on the Blacklist” by Derek Pattison and Brian Bamford).

Despite three separate instructions to retain potentially relevant documents in March 2009, March 2013 and April 2013, Dinah Rose QC, told the High Court in January 2016, that the defendants were responsible for the deliberate destruction, non-provision and concealment of evidence.

“We can show that the defendants have destroyed documents systematically from the date of the ICO raid onwards in an effort to conceal their guilt.”

In a note of a telephone conversation he’d had with David Cochrane, Chairman of TCA at the time of the raid, Kerr records that he was instructed to: “Ring everyone, cease trading, close down. We don’t exist anymore, destroy data, stop processing.”

Although a multi-million pound compensation settlement was shared between 771 workers - Unite £10.5m, UCATT, £8.9m, GMB £5.4m and GC Ryan £6.6m, with costs paid by the companies estimated at between £75m and £250m, many blacklisted construction workers do not feel that they ever received justice.  There was no trial and none of the construction bosses was ever put in the dock or cross-examined.  To this day, not one of the construction bosses or so-called HR professionals who engaged in a prolonged period of illegal activity in running a secret blacklisting operation, have ever been prosecuted  for their squalid activities.  The only person to be prosecuted was Ian Kerr, who told the Scottish Affairs Select Committee in November 2012 – “I took the flak so they wouldn’t be drawn into all of this. They would remain hidden if you like…”  Nor has there been much appetite on the part of the Conservative government, for a public inquiry into this matter.  Many of these construction companies are major financial backers of the Tory Party.  Only five blacklist cases ever reached a full employment tribunal and only three won their claims.  Most cases were dismissed as being ‘out-of-time’ or on the grounds of employment status such as agency workers.

Likewise, many people who found themselves ‘blacklisted’, remain convinced that blacklisting is still going on. Since the TCA raid in February 2009, there has been evidence of blacklisting taking place at Crossrail and the Olympics and workers like the electrician Dan Collins, continue to get sacked for raising concerns about health and safety. In December 2016, Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, re-opened the file on the construction industry stating that she feared that the 'malpractice' (blacklisting) was still taking place. She said her staff and been put on a 'watching brief.'

In July 2015, the Home Secretary announced the terms of the ‘Pitchford Inquiry’ into undercover policing and the ‘Blacklist Support Group’ (BSG), have been given ‘core participant’ status.   In March 2012, David Clancy, investigation’s manager for the ICO and a former police officer, told The Observer that some of the information held in the TCA files could only have come from the police or security services. The police watchdog, the IPCC, have already told the BSG that Special Branch had “routinely provided information about prospective employees” and that, “It is likely that all Special Branches were involved in providing information that kept certain individuals out of work.”  This was denied by the police inquiry ‘Operation Herne’, who said there was no such evidence.

In October 2014, John McDonnell MP, named detective chief inspector Gordon Mills, head of police liaison at the ‘National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit’ (NECTU), as a senior officer who had given a power point presentation at a meeting of TCA held in Oxford in 2008.  Although Mills admitted his attendance and presentation, he said it was a ‘misunderstanding’ and that he hadn’t realized it was a meeting of TCA.  Following a newspaper article in the ‘London Evening Standard’, Mills: 

“sent letters via his lawyers, Slater and Gordon, who represent the Police Federation, threatening to sue McDonnell, the Guardian, the GMB union (*) and two small websites, Union Solidarity International and Northern Voices. None of those who received threatening letters apologized for linking DCI Mills with the blacklisting meeting or paid him any money. All legal actions subsequently ran out of time.”

If Mr. Kerr was the monkey behind the Consulting Association, then, Cullum McAlpine was the organ grinder.   The Association was run under his leadership and guidance to “provide a blacklisting service” (Scottish Affairs Select Committee – Blacklisting in Employment, sixth report). In January 2016, Dinah Rose QC told the High Court:
“Cullum McAlpine is a very senior, very important man. It is very important that he should not be seen to have got away with what was clearly a protracted period of unlawful activity which it is plain that Mr. Cochrane was seeking to cover up.”

This is why some MPs and blacklisted construction workers are now demanding that Sir Robert McAlpine be stripped of the £29m four year prestigious refurbishment contract of the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben. Shadow minister for labour, Jack Dromey, said: 

“There has to be consequences for historic blacklisting, it is scandal that the iconic Big Ben contract has been given to that company (Sir Robert McAlpine).” 

(*) Editors note: since publishing this book review we have been made aware of the following:

'In August 2017, GMB posted a clarification on their website stating that union "did not intend to suggest that Mr Mills was directly responsible for the Consulting Association's blacklisting" accepting that "he was not knowingly involved in" information passing between the police and the Consulting Association used to blacklist workers'.

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