Mr J CHOWCAT: AIDE-MEMOIRE
I set out below a brief description of my involvement as an official with the trade union movement, and with MSF in particular, and my responses to those matters raised in the letter to the Employment Tribunal dated 5 May 2000 from Ms M Solomon's representatives. This letter was copied to me and indicated the areas of evidence sought from me as a witness.
I have worked as a full-time trade union official, mainly at national level, for over 25 years, carrying responsibilities for collective bargaining with employers, union administration and financial management, and the representation of members' interests in dealings with relevant government departments and ministers. During the course of my career, I have worked for the Trades Union Congress itself, the broadcasting and media union now known as BECTU, and the multi-sectoral white collar union ASTMS, later MSF. I joined ASTMS as an official in 1976 and was promoted to the post of National Officer (with responsibility for representing members in a range of NHS professions) in 1987. 1 was promoted again, to the post of Assistant General Secretary in 1992, working closely with the newly elected General Secretary, Mr R Lyons, in that capacity. In 1998, 1 was also nominated by the NCF Executive and approved by Annual Conference to serve on the General Council of the TUC on behalf of the union. I left the employment of MSF in 1999 and today hold the post of General Secretary of the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants (NAEIAC), a specialist trade union and professional body in the education sector, representing members in school improvement services.
I consider Mr Lyons, from my experience of working with him in a small senior management team over a period of seven years, to be a person with a number of strengths. He is hardworking in carrying out his duties as the elected leader of a major national trade union organisation, and is often particularly successful in projecting the members' interests in the regional and national media. He can also deploy effective committee skills, a quality of some importance in working with the elected lay management committees of a trade union. We both came from the same type of union background in the original ASTMS organisation headed by the widely respected Mr Clive Jenkins and were consequently known to be of broadly the same overall viewpoint on major trade union issues. I became privately concerned, however, about a degree of overconcentration on immediate issues and felt a need for firmer strategic thinking in relation to the longer term future.
Durmg my years as Assistant General Secretary of MSF with responsibility for the organisation's finances, the most serious issue which arose was a period of financial difficulty in 1995/6 generated by a declining membership. I worked to resolve this problem through a detailed programme of restructuring the union's workforce, successfully negotiated with the in-house unions, representing MSF's officials and staff. The union's income and expenditure were duly rebalanced for a period and its historical debts were cleared. Mr Lyons and I, together with senior lay executive members, were widely regarded outside the head office at the time as having addressed and largely overcome this significant problem as a central management team despite the initial unpopularity of the proposed solutions.
During this time, I also worked with Mr N Mendes on aspects of overall financial management. I was conscious of his limited management experience and his self-confessed lack of knowledge of trade union procedures and culture, but recognised his practical grasp of financial data and trends, which contributed to our internal management and our working relationships with external financial advisers. I remained concerned however, about the organisation's medium term financial future, given the scale of job losses in MSF-organised sections of industry and was known to favour continued financial discipline and corresponding expenditure restrictions, and to support officer and staff involvement in efforts to secure the union's finances for the period ahead.
I had dealings with Ms M Solomon m her capacity as staff representative and member of the internal GMB/APEX negotiating committee. My duties included acting as secretary to the management side of the two internal negotiating bodies ("National Joint Council!e') and I therefore had to respond to detailed claims and issues raised by the staff representatives on many occasions. I consider Ms Solomon to have been a typical member of that committee, keen to protect staff interests and raise their concerns in a straightforward manner and not particularly experienced in bargaining tactics or broader industrial relations considerations.
Against this background, I received detailed information early in 1999, which led me to be concerned about a number of apparent financial irregularities and unauthorised loans and which involved Mr Lyons and Mr Mendes. I took steps to ascertain my legal position and believed that I was under a duty not to ignore this information, but to report it to the union in an appropriate manner. Indeed, I had been one of the signatories to the union's 1997 AR21 annual return to the Certification Officer for Trade Unions, believing at the time that the financial information contained therein was accurate, but now had been made aware of financial information relating to that same period which pointed to possible inaccuracies in the information MSF had supplied. I therefore sought, through confidential channels to have these matters investigated - a course of action later described by the Certification Officer in his written report of 2 July 1999 as reasonable in light of the material he had seen. Later that year, I left the employment of MSF and my post became redundant. As described above, I am now ernployed by a different trade union organisation.
I now turn to address the individual matters raised in the letter of 5 May 2000 by Ms Solomon's representatives, in the order contained therein.
1. Was I the appropriate person to whom the applicant should have made her disclosure, with particular reference to:
* My duties and responsibilities
As described above, my range of national level responsibilities for MSF included the secretaryship of the management side of the internal National Joint Councils dealing with the salaries, conditions of service, staffing levels and other enployment-related issues of the union's officials and staff employees. It was standard practice for staff representatives to bring their concerns over such matters to my attention.
* My relationship with the applicant
Ms Solomon was an elected representative of the staff union GMB/APEX and a member of their side of the relevant NJC machinery She raised a number of trade union issues with me on behalf of staff employees and I responded to them in a straightforward manner on behalf of the union's management, as I did with similar representations from other elected representatives of the workforce. I believe I was regarded as conducting relations with internal union representatives on an open and fair basis and as possessing integrity and honesty. In the case of this disclosure, in view of the seriousness of the matters raised I responded by seeking an appropriate investigation of these matters, through confidential correspondence with the union's President.
* My relationship with R Lyons and N Mendes
I worked with and reported to Mr Lyons in his capacity as General Secretary and had worked with Mr Mendes on management issues. As stated above, I was, however, particularly known to favour continued financial discipline and expenditure restraints and to support efforts to involve the union's workforce in overcoming problems facing the organisation.
* Whether there was any conspiracy to bring about the downfall of Mr Lyons, including through collusion with the applicant, if any.
There was no such conspiracy. Mr Lyons and I had worked closely together for over six years, socialised together (including with our families) and were known to be of broadly the same opinion with regard to major trade union issues. I consequently handled the disclosed information with the strictest confidentiality and sensitivity, utilising only the appropriate internal channels, in the interests of Mr Lyons, Mr Mendes and the organisation as a whole.
* Whether I was predisposed to believe the applicant's allegations.
I was surprised by the nature of the allegations and by the supporting evidence and was duly concerned about them. I was not prepared to simply accept them as conclusive but viewed them as serious enough to warrant investigation. As stated above, I had wider concerns about the union's future financial position but was not predisposed to believe allegations of dishonesty on the part of my colleagues.
2. My own concerns (prior to the applicant's disclosure) about possible expense claims abuse and other financial irregularities. I had no serious concerns about such issues prior to this disclosure. I had believed that Mr Mendes and his finance department's staff checked all internal expenses claims for legitimacy and supporting receipts. Indeed, he had brought to my attention, on one occasion, an individual official's claim that seemed open to a degree of question at the time, and he had also introduced a stricter requirement for the production of receipts to justify expenditure. The longstanding arrangements for MSF full-time officials to claim reimbursernent of expenses had required the provision of receipts for items of expenditure above a value of £10. However, in August 1995, Mr Mendes wrote to all full-time officials introducing a new claim form (OFF01), which required receipts wherever possible for all items of expenditure, regardless of value. I had also believed that loans from union funds were simply not available to MSF full-time officials and that staff employees only received loans from these funds under the specific terms of our national agreement with GMB/APEX
3. The circumstances in which disclosure was made, with particular reference to:
* The order in which various allegations and documents were brought to my attention
Early in 1999, two envelopes were left on my desk at MSF head office containing photocopied documentation concerning the General Secretary's claims over recent years and suggesting the existence of unauthorised interest-free loans to the General Secretary. I subsequently received a third envelope with photocopied documentation concerning expenses claims made by the Head of Finance, Mr Mendes and an indication that further specific information would be supplied concerning particular MSF bank accounts but the relevant documentation did not appear.
* Any concerns there may have been over monitoring telephone calls
I was concerned when, during the course of subsequent formal hearings, I was handed a printed list of telephone calls made on my mobile telephone during the early part of 1999. I had previously been unaware of any such monitoring process and saw no purpose to it.
* The disappearance of certain documents in the post
As stated above, I had been led to expect documentation would reach me in the post dealing with specific MSF bank accounts and individual cheques drawn on them but such documentation was never received.
* My dealings generally with the applicant at the time
I had intemittent telephone contact with the applicant and other MSF officials and staff employees. Initially, the conversations with Ms Solomon were confined to her arguments in support of particular GMB/APEX issues and claims; later, there was brief contact over her own situation following the disclosures referred to above.
4. The circumstances in which the applicant's allegations in turn became my allegations, presented in a written report to the respondent's President, with particular reference to:
* My analysis of the allegations
I carefully read through all the material I had received and attempted to calculate, under various headings, how much of the union's money had been involved. On 24 February 1999, 1 wrote to the President of the union to supply him with an 8-page report headed "Strictly Confidential" which summarised all the photocopied documentation which had been passed to me, and I requested a fair and speedy investigation and resolution of the matter in the interests of the union as a whole. The introduction to the report stated that the documentation I had received "points to" financial irregularities and unauthorised loans.
* My views on the veracity of the allegations and the good faith of the applicant
It was clear to me that, given their format and style, the documents that had been photocopied were genuine and therefore justified an appropriate investigation in order to discover if abuse of union funds had taken place. I had no reason to doubt the good faith of the applicant or any other member of staff who may have discovered this material.
* The circumstances of (and reasons for) my withdrawal of the allegations concerning misuse of funds in defunct branch accounts
The documentation concerning specific MSF bank accounts and cheques drawn upon them did not arrive in the post and I therefore wrote on 24 March 1999, i.e. after a four-week period in which the information had not appeared, withdrawing any suggestion of irregularity in connection with these accounts. On 16 March 1999 and on 18 March 1999, Mr Lyons, somewhat oddly to my mind, made various written allegations involving myself. However, he subsequently entirely withdrew the contents of both of these memoranda.
5. My subsequent course of dealings following my own disclosure to the respondent's President, with particular reference to:
* My role in the respondent's internal investigation
I was invited to meet with the chair and vice chair of the union's Finance Committee, who had been charged by the President with looking into the matters I had raised, and did so on 25 and 26 February1999. They subsequently informed me in writing of their conclusions on 12 March 1999. I was asked to meet with the union's new Personnel Officer on 8 March 1999 but this meeting was concerned only with my motive in raising one of the relevant matters with the President.
* My role in the investigation by H W Fisher and Company
I was invited to, and participated in, one meeting with forensic accountants from H W Fisher and Company held on 11 March 1999. In light of this meeting, I wrote on 12 March 1999 to the chair and the vice chair of the union's Finance Committee indicating certain concerns over their investigation
* My role in the investigation by the Certification Officer
The office of the Certification Officer for trade unions wrote to me on 26 May 1999 confirming that he was investigating matters raised by members of MSF, that he had seen several documents, and asking me for any written comments or information which I could provide. I replied briefly on 4 June 1999, referring to the union's requirement for receipts when officials submitted claims for reimbursement expenditure and alsoreferring to my clear understanding that loans to full-time officers were not permitted.
* My subsequent dealings with Messrs Lyons and Mendes, including whether Mr Lyons was the "driving force" behind the respondent's response to the allegations
I had no subsequent dealings with Messrs Lyons and Mendes and am therefore unaware of their involvement in the responses of the respondent, other than as described above in relation to Mr Lyons.
* My subsequent dealings with the applicant, including the recommendation that she prepare an affidavit
In a telephone conversation Ms Solomon confirmed to me that she stood by her views with regard to the existence of particular MSF bank accounts, which had been denied by Messrs Lyons and Mendes, and I gave her the name of my solicitor who subsequently assisted her in drawing up an affidavit.
6. The circumstances in which my employment terminated, with particular reference to:
* Whether it was terminated by resignation, dismissal or mutual agreement
My employment was terminated by mutual agreement and the post became redundant.
* Whether it followed any commencement and/or conclusion of disciplinary proceedings (and, if so, the basis for and findings of any such disciplinary proceedings)
A form of disciplinary procedure was initiated against me in a letter dated 18 March 1999 and several meetings were subsequently convened which I attended along with my internal union representatives. In a letter to the disciplinary panel dated 27 April 1999, my representatives provided a list of concerns with regard to the panelís chosen procedures. However, the final stages of the internal disciplinary procedure were never reached.
7. The basis on which my employment terminated, with particular reference to:
* The terms of severance, in particular the sum the respondent paid to me and the imposition of any requirements of confidentiality
I do not wish to provide this information for reasons and will only do so if the Employment Tribunal regards this as relevant. I will record that I received satisfactory compensation.
* My view on whether the financial arrangements contained in the settlement agreement were designed to "buy my silence" over the allegations of financial impropriety
I cannot comment on the motivation behind the offer which I accepted.
* The inferences that may be drawn from the above, especially in connection with the veracity of the allegations, the possibility of a "cover up", and the good faith of the applicant.
The photocopied documentation which I had received appeared to me to raise serious issues which deserved to be properly investigated. As stated above, I expressed concerns about the nature of the investigation which was mounted. However, I was offered satisfactory terms which I accepted and left the employment of MSF. As previously stated, I had no reason to doubt the good faith of the applicant or of any other member of staff in bringing this information to my attention.