The case for Lyons
The document in black below was circulated by MSF to the NEC, to MSF Branch secretaries and to Conference delegates and although unsigned and un-attributed is believed to be the work of the MSF Public Relations dept. It is a prepared defence to the recent allegations of financial misconduct made against the General Secretary Roger Lyons. In our view it contains within it serious inaccuracies, distortions and libels against Marcia Solomon and the Guardian Newspaper.
www.rogerlyons.com is aware that Lyons will be asking for MSF MPs support on the basis of this document. This will be an important meeting with wide ramifications for the health of trade unionism in Britain, as well of course for Lyons’ skin. As lay and active members of MSF we believe you should hear the other side of this defence. Please find below the original document with our comments in blue italics.
COMMENTS ON MEDIA REPORTS OF ALLEGATIONS BY MARCIA SOLOMON & BRYAN KEEGAN
All the "allegations" made by Marcia Solomon against the General Secretary, in her witness statement, her evidence, and in Guardian reports were tabled in February 1999 and comprehensively investigated.
The allegations referred to here were actually tabled by the then Assistant General Secretary John Chowcat in February 1999 in a report to the MSF President. The allegations were based on information provided to him by Solomon. Chowcat was an experienced and senior trade unionist. It is noteworthy that the present document makes no mention of Chowcat's involvement in this matter. He subsequently left the union with an undisclosed pay-off, believed to be around £250,000, as a consequence of making the allegations. He entered into a confidentiality agreement not to disclose his findings.
There were five sets of allegations against Lyons: one on unauthorised loans from MSF funds, three on abuses of expenses claims and credit cards and one on a fraud involving branch funds.
It is established that Lyons had received loans to which he was not entitled. The 'comprehensive' investigation referred to was the 'Fisher report'. This states ' Two interest free loans of £4,000 and £2,000 had been made to the General Secretary. It would have been more appropriate for the General Secretary to have sought prior approval for these advances' It subsequently emerged that a number of other officials had also received such loans. This is not mentioned in the present document.
It is also established that all the expenditure referred to in the allegation of credit card and expenses abuse had taken place. The union's representatives had the opportunity to contest these allegations in the Solomon Employment Tribunal case but declined to do so.
It is true that no documentary evidence has been found to substantiate the allegation of the fraud involving branch funds, although there was independent witness evidence on this subject.
Apart from this allegation of fraud, Solomon did not make specific allegations in her witness statement and evidence. The material covered in this document, apart from that concerning Keegan, derives from Chowcat.
Also all the General Secretary's expense claims, going beyond those covered by the "allegations" have been comprehensively investigated. In addition the bank accounts of the GS and all members of his family have been comprehensively investigated.
This is not true. The investigation instigated by MSF in early 1999 and carried out by the union's accountants HW Fisher & Co did NOT involve an examination of Lyons' bank accounts nor those of his family. The investigation was criticised for this by a witness acting for Solomon at the Employment Tribunal. If an investigation of the bank accounts mentioned has been carried out, it has not been performed on behalf of MSF nor has its findings been published.
There is no evidence of fraud, and the conclusions remain as reported to the MSF NEC on 12th April 1999 - that "allegations" against the General Secretary are untrue and without foundation, and that no evidence of misappropriation of union funds by the General Secretary had come to light. Indeed no evidence whatsoever has ever been produced to substantiate the fraud allegation, even though the "£130,000 fraud" headline was used by Hencke in The Guardian to lead his 'story'. The conclusions of 12th April 1999 were endorsed by the Certification Officer in his report of 21th July 1999, and no evidence against the General Secretary was raised at the Tribunal hearing.
This passage tries to conflate the allegation of fraud, where there is little documentary evidence, with those of expenses and credit card fiddling, where there is a great deal of documentary evidence. However it is absurd to say the fraud allegations are without foundation, and moreover it is an attack on Marcia Solomon's integrity. When independent evidence was provided, the Fisher enquiry omitted it: Joan Frances works in the MSF Subscription department. Having seen a cheque made payable to MSF Guildhall (one of the fake accounts) she spoke to NEC member Bob Braddock. She was then contacted by Stuart Burns of Fishers who omitted to record the contents of their conversation into the Fishers report - this only came to light when Marcia challenged Fishers competence at her Employment Tribunal. Fisher's then admitted this 'loss' and had to provide a supplementary statement which confirmed that Joan had spoken to Fishers. Fishers are the union's accountants and can hardly be described as independent. Marcia has consistently said that she thought their enquiry was a sham.
At the tribunal, it was also discovered that 22MSF bank accounts were not listed. When Laurie Bell of Unity Trust Bank took the stand he told the chair that with Mendes & Lyons being sole signatories, it would be quite easy for them to raise a cheque for their own purpose and the bank would not discover this. They also admitted that they had not carried out a comprehensive search for the cheques.
2. THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE GS
The bulk of expenses claimed by the GS were on behalf of union delegations, at conferences, associated with meetings of NEC members and other lay members, and as an essential part of a GS programme of visiting all regions regularly, meeting as many sector conferences and committees as feasible, and developing merger discussions with staff associations and building up inter-union relationships.
The issue is not whether Lyons was assiduous in carrying out his duties but whether he acquired and spent union funds and property to which he was not entitled when doing so.
No-one has ever attempted to claim that every single claim he made was bogus. However on some of the more outrageous items, even the internal Fisher report states: 'he should have sought authorisation for the video recorder and radio located at his home. Similarly in respect of petrol expenses on his holiday, the claim should have been authorised or a proportion not claimed'
A particular feature has been an agreed concerted effort to raise the public profile of MSF, including a proactive media strategy, to promote MSF policies on behalf of the members. This has involved being "on top" of 'breaking' news stories from 5.45am (Radio 5 Business News) to midnight (Late Night Live), has involved extensive briefing of journalists on key MSF campaigns, and extends to all regions of the union in both the UK and Ireland. This strategy has produced major advantages for MSF and its members over the past 3 years, with some of our key demands taking on a national profile, influencing public policies, winning results and increasing the credibility of the union and its members industrially and politically.
It is nonsense to suggest that the General Secretary should monitor the media personally which is the implication of the above passage. As for the public profile of MSF, it remains low in comparison with other unions of a similar size. In addition Lyons’ profile is equally low (thankfully at the moment some might say) for such a highly paid leader of one the largest unions in the UK.
3. THE ENGAGEMENTS OF THE GS
The "allegations" tabled by Marcia Solomon, and The Guardian reports were made without any check against the range of responsibilities and proper engagements of the GS. In response to MS's Witness Statement at the Tribunal, Stuart Burns, H.W. Fisher said "I understand this was her first job with a Trade Union, and would ask how she was aware of what the normal level of expenditure of a GS is, given the responsibilities that person holds."
See earlier on the provenance of the allegations. In addition, Burns is a white, professional man who has never worked for a union while Solomon is a black, non-professional women with a degree who has worked for a union. The writer of the document should indicate which of these factors should incline us in Burns' favour in this difference of opinion. Moreover it is not true that Marcia has no idea of the role of the GS. At the time she had been a Branch Secretary for 2 years. It was John Chowcat who saw that her concerns were real and valid and acted upon them. Chowcat, who actually tabled the allegations, was at the time the second most senior person in MSF and a very experienced trade unionist.
Take the "allegations" and The Guardian reports of "unjustified sustenance claims". Solomon alleged these claims for £371 for a total of 43 meetings (between 5 January 1997 and 19 September 1998) were unjustified as they were "normal" meetings during 'office hours". However any scrutiny of the list tabled by Solomon, checked against the calendar, would show that 18 of these "normal" meetings during "office hours" were on Sundays, 9 on Saturdays and 3 on Bank Holidays. Of the rest, 5 were early morning engagements before 8am, whilst 8 were late night commitments after 9pm. That accounts for all 43!
This is a very selective cherry picking of the expense claims (i.e. only pick those you have a chance of accounting for). Chowcat records that the claims for expenses for these meetings were unreceipted, that the meetings were normally held at 9 am and lasted for one hour, and that the union provided free tea and coffee. Lyons’ contract does not specify any ‘normal’ hours. To quote from Chowcat's report:
"R A Lyons has utilised standard MSF Officials Expense Claim Forms and been reimbursed for "Hotels & Meals" to the value of £6,366.70 for a period covering nine months of 1998 and five months of 1997. However, only three receipts for meals were actually provided over this period, and only £546.26 is justified by R A Lyons as for "hospitality". While it may be the case that a proportion of the remaining expenditure is for the purchase of drinks for lay or full-time officials attending meetings, it is noteworthy that an amount has been claimed for every single meeting in which R A Lyons was involved over the period, including internal office management strategy meetings (which last for one hour and are usually held at 9am in the General Secretary's office), GPFC meetings, and others where either food and drink were provided by the union, or the time of day clearly precluded any related meal or drink being consumed."
Neither Solomon nor The Guardian bothered to check out these "allegations" before making them, and publishing them "to the world". Nor has Hencke of The Guardian interviewed the GS over these or any other of the "allegations" subsequently published. And Solomon refused to ever discuss her allegations, or provide any evidence to the MSF internal investigation, or to the H.W. Fisher investigation, and also refused an invitation to meet with or submit evidence to the Government's Certification Officer.
Solomon gives an entirely opposite account to the in her sworn statement of her dealings with HW Fisher and Co. and with the Certification Officer.
It is totally untrue that Marcia published these allegations ‘to the world’. She quite correctly passed the information to the appropriate officer (John Chowcat) for him to deal with and kept matters internally up until the time of the tribunal.
Lastly the Guardian has made a considerable effort to arrange an interview with Lyons.
4. MEETINGS WITH GOVERNMENT MINISTERS
Solomon alleged and The Guardian reported that the GS claimed £4 for "meeting Tony Blair". This was not an expenses claim for meeting the PM, but part of the expenses incurred briefing 2 named journalists in a hostelry in Whitehall after the meeting in Downing Street. The same is true for other meetings, such as after meeting Gordon Brown etc. The "allegations" indicate no knowledge whatsoever of the role of the GS, the role of the meeting, the role of the briefing, the ways MSF members interests are promoted at GS level.
Again, the allegations were made by Chowcat who knew a great deal about the role of the GS, etc. The document is attempting to argue that the unreceipted expenses claims were not made for the event mentioned but for a different though related event. www.rogerlyons.com has copies of these expense claims, ‘meeting tony blair’ appears in Lyons' own handwriting, it is not a phrase made up by the Guardian. There is no mention of named journalists. www.rogerlyons.com will be submitting his Tony Blair expense claim along with others to the Inland Revenue as we suspect the tax due upon it may have been evaded.
5. MEDIA INTERVIEWS
Solomon alleged and The Guardian reported that claims for media interviews were "unjustified" as "hospitality" was always provided. Any simple check of the record would demonstrate beyond doubt that 5.45am, 6.00am, 6.30am and similar radio and TV interviews at Millbank and Shepherds Bush do not attract "hospitality". And "hospitality" is limited to a cup of coffee or tea. Likewise evening and late-night interviews, which were the subject of the claims. No attempt was made by Solomon or Hencke to check these out, even to exclude the interviews on weekends and public holidays!
This is cherry picking of expenses without actually having to say which expenses are being selected. www.rogerlyons.com does not have copies of these early morning expense claims. What were the expenses claims actually for? It is being suggested that radio and TV studios are only open 9 to 5 and do not provide sustenance or hospitality outside these hours? It is inconceivable that people working at these studios would attempt to claim expenses for every tea, coffee or meal they had before 9am or after 5pm.
6. THE 25P BUN INCIDENT
Hencke in The Guardian made a big issue of a '25p bun' purchased by the GS on the union credit card at Patisserie Valerie. His story was fabricated. The facts are that the GS was involved with the MSF members at the Royal Institute of British Architects in a long-running struggle to win back recognition, and after one campaign event, a pre-work outdoor demonstration-in Portland Place, supported by TUC General Secretary John Monks, the GS, the RO and John Monks arranged to meet 6 of the activists in the Cafe inside the RIBA, which is open to the public. The breakfast for c. 9 came to £13, but for some reason the cashier put through 2 credit card vouchers, for £12.75 and 25p. Thus the report of Hencke in The Guardian on the "25p bun for the GS" is completely made up, as with much of his other coverage of the case. However, although the campaign for recognition was successful, at least 2 letters from RIBA activists to The Guardian, pointing out that The Guardian failed to report their successful struggle against a vicious anti-union employer (backed by the GS without the help of a "25p bun') have been refused publication by The Guardian!
www.rogerlyons.com does have copies of the expense claims concerned. In fact the amounts are £12 exactly and 25p, not £12.75 as stated above. Lyons has signed separate credit card slips for each amount. He has then, in his own handwriting, claimed expenses for both amounts. Then both amounts have been through the admittedly short process of authorisation, which involved Lyons writing 'Please Pay' on them (seriously!). The truth of the matter is that even if the cashier had made a mistake, the right thing to do would be to have GIVEN her 25p out of his pocket. It costs the members more money just to put through another transaction for the measly sake of 25p. The incident is a perfect example of a 'claim for everything' contemptuous attitude to MSF members. It is not surprising that newspapers have picked up on it. For reference the 'fabricated' newspaper article is here .
This trivial incident illustrates how "cherry-picking' through expenses claims, without any knowledge of the daily working life of the union, its members and its GS, is so potentially damaging. It invites media intervention. It is designed to undermine member's confidence in their union and its leadership. The NEC was aware in April/May 1999 that publication of detailed expenses in the public domain would be used against the union. The fact the GS was with the members on a picket line from 7.30am is ignored, and scurrilous fabricated nonsense is given wide publicity.
Here The MSF PR department are again ‘cherry picking’ which allegations they want to answer. For example, the document does not mention the question of unauthorised loans. The minutes of the meeting of the MSF General Purposes and Finance Committee of 6 February 1999 record that Lyons and Mendes confirmed that there were no outstanding loans to employees. This is somewhat disingenuous as Lyons received unauthorised loans arranged by Nelson Mendes of £4000 in April 1997, paid back in April 1998, and of £2000 in June 1998, finally paid back on 15 January 1999. The Fisher report gave the opinion that Roger should not have taken these loans without prior authorisation.
7. "TAKE-AWAYS" AND FAMILY FRIENDLY POLICIES
It was suggested that occasional "take-aways" of £5 to £10 were in some way unjustified. When the GS returns to London from engagements around the country, or from central London meetings after 9pm, he could either eat something in a restaurant away from his family, or purchase a "take-away" on the way home at around 10pm or 11 pm which would enable him to see his children, and his partner long after any family mealtime was over. The hours away from home associated with the responsibilities of the GS job are extensive, and the allegation that the occasional late-night "take-away" after an evening engagement is unjustified, is very wrong and an attack on the family-friendly employment policies to which the union is committed.
Lyons’ expenses claims show that he frequently went to restaurants on his way home from work at his normal office, spending between £20 and £60, in addition to the take-aways. Surely there can be no possible justification for his not purchasing his regular evening meal out of his wages. Other MSF officials gave their opinion that it was reasonable to spend £10-12 on an evening meal when travelling on union business. This is different from being in transit from their normal workplace to their home. This difference is well expressed in law by the Inland Revenue:
"In considering the application of Section 74(a) ICTA 1988 to the cost of meals taken away from the place of business, the Courts have held that no deduction is due because it cannot be said that the expense was incurred wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the trade since everyone must eat in order to live -- see Caillebotte v Quinn (50 222).
However we have long accepted reasonable claims for the cost of evening meals and breakfast taken in conjunction with overnight accommodation if the cost of the accommodation would otherwise be allowable as an expense in carrying on the trade or profession. This practice has received the approval of the Courts, most recently in the case of Watkis v Ashford Sparkes & Harward (58 468).
Long distance self-employed lorry drivers have therefore been able to claim a deduction for the reasonable cost of meals taken in conjunction with overnight accommodation.
The argument about family-friendly policies is specious and surely the product of a necessarily imaginative PR dept.
This also ignores the fact that we know that one of the meals for which Lyons claimed was after a meeting of the MSF London Region management committee at which sandwiches, fruit and soft drinks were provided. The meal in question cost £20.25 from the Balti Tandoori. This claim was for a meeting at Lyons’ own workplace at which refreshments were provided. Again www.rogerlyons.com has a copy of the expense claim concerned and will be submitting it to the Inland Revenue along with other claims as we suspect the tax due upon them may have been evaded.
8. FURTHER ALLEGATIONS BY MS
MS alleged the GS bought petrol for private purposes whilst on holiday in France. This is totally untrue. The GS produced his personal credit card statements confirming private purchase of petrol in France.
Totally untrue? The Union's own Fisher report states:" in respect of petrol expenses on his holiday, the claim should have been authorised or a proportion not claimed". This is repeated by the Government Certification Officer. The Fisher report, relied upon so heavily by Lyons, must be faulty here. Or are we now reduced to cherry picking accountants reports too?
MS alleged that a "family meal" was paid for in France. This is totally untrue.
This seems to be an invented allegation (cherry invention now!), we can find no reference to 'family meal' or 'France' in Marcia's witness statement or affidavit, but would be interested to see any documentation.
MS raised questions over purchase of equipment for home office use. All such equipment (e.g. fax, filing cabinet, etc.) is listed in an inventory held at head office, confirming MSF ownership, and is available for inspection.
There can be no possible justification for Lyons purchasing items such as a briefcase, home video and home radio out of union funds. Nor can there by any justification for the financial arrangements made for his wife to visit a conference in Darmstadt, Germany in May 1998. Lyons claims that the union has agreed to pay for the partners of the General Secretary and the President to attend events with them. In the case of Darmstadt, Lyons' partner returned separately from the conference in order to attend to her own commitments but the union still paid all her travel expenses.
9. SEVEN-DAY WORKING
MS did not know anything about the range of duties and responsibilities undertaken by the GS. Nor did she know that the GS works long hours, often for seven days a week. She questioned his need for the union Mondeo in the evening and at weekends without understanding the GS has regular engagements to fulfil. For example at weekend schools, visits to section conferences and schools at Whitehall College, meetings at head office, Bermondsey Street; and around the regions. Further, the need to fulfil many speaking engagements and media interviews, often late at night or early in the morning, necessitating the use of the Mondeo.
Yet again this is trying to air brush John Chowcat out of the picture. Chowcat, not Marcia, tabled the allegations. Here is his experience:
"I have worked as a full-time trade union official, mainly at national level, for over 25 years.... 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 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.
As for not knowing what hours Lyons worked, Chowcat said he had worked with Lyons "in a small senior management team over a period of seven years".
Finally, MS claimed that all claims by the GS would be paid "without question". This is untrue. Finance Department asked for clarification of claims, and also adjusted totals from time to time. The GS claims were treated in the same way as any other official. They were available for inspection and were not "locked-away". Further any occasional, unavoidable private purchase was always reimbursed by private cheque before the claim went in for payment. MS never checked out any of her allegations. Had she done so, she would know why it was reported to the MSF NEC on 12th April 1999, that allegations against GS are untrue and without foundation, and that no evidence of misappropriation of union funds by the GS had come to light.
This is not an accurate summary of the findings of the Fisher investigation. For example, the investigator stated that the union would have to take a view on the claims to ‘sustenance’ mentioned above. The union has been denied the opportunity to take that view.
Who exactly is entitled to inspect Lyons' expenses claims? We believe Lyons has frustrated efforts to examine financial records in connection with this matter.
Here is what Marcia's sworn witness statement says about authorisation of Lyons' expenses:
"Roger would authorise payment by writing 'please pay' on the credit card slips, the bills would then be paid directly to American Express by MSF, without question".
We think this paragraph of the defence document is libellous to Marcia Solomon.
11. B. KEEGAN (FORMER DRIVER) ALLEGATIONS
(a) BK reports that he dropped the GS's younger son at school. In fact, it was half a mile from the school, precisely on the normal route to MSF head office, and only happened if it coincided with the GS's transport requirement. And by the way, it is normal family friendly conduct, where journey route and times coincide. What is being alleged if anything?
(b) B. Keegan says he drove the GS to Arsenal. As BK lives at Finsbury Park near the Stadium it made sense to drop off the GS after his last meeting before evening mid-week games. If the GS was delayed at union meetings, he sent his ticket to former AGS Tim Webb to use. Tim lives 2 miles from the office, and recalls 2 or 3 occasions when the ticket was dropped off by B. Keegan, whilst the GS remained in union meetings (and missed the game!).
Lyons admits that he sent his chauffeur to Stamford Hill in order to lend Tim Webb his Arsenal season ticket on two or three occasions. This is an unequivocal admission that he sent his driver on a personal errand that had nothing to do with MSF. The fact that Tim Webb lives "a couple of miles" from Moreland Street (although I would say it is further than that) is immaterial.
(c) The visit to Hillsborough (Sheffield Wednesday) on 26th September 1998, was an invitation from Irwin Mitchell, whose senior partner is now Chair of the Board of Sheffield Wednesday FC. The GS was travelling to Blackpool for the Labour Party Conference, and stopped off in Sheffield for 3 hours or so, on the way to Blackpool. His 2 sons were expecting to share a car ride back to London, but it fell through the day before, and at 24 hours notice 2 x £30 rail warrants were arranged, which were reimbursed.
(d) The allegation regarding the NEC Christmas reception is totally untrue. Most of the wine was used for the reception. The rest was locked away by Marion Watson-Blake and used for other MSF functions in the New Year. None of this wine was taken for personal use. By the way the wine was purchased on 10th December for use on 11th December (not 10th October as claimed by B. Keegan). And the reception had been moved to Moreland Street to save on previous higher restaurant/hotel costs.
(e) The references to 2 x weekend lifts to and from airports are correct, but omit the crucial fact that B. Keegan then had Monday to Friday off as additional paid leave twice, whilst the GS was away on leave, and that B. Keegan was understandably keen on the arrangement.
What is being said here, that Lyons has corrupted Keegan? And that MSF members have been doubly ripped off? We think this is an example of the unacceptable vindictiveness being shown by a major trade union to whistleblowers.
(f) The reference to claiming for false taxi rides is totally untrue. The GS has never claimed for a taxi ride when using MSF provided transport. The allegation is scurrilous and unsupported by any evidence whatsoever.
We think section 11 demonstrates that Lyons treated Keegan as a personal retainer rather than as another employee of the union. This is entirely unacceptable.
The document omits to mention that Keegan drove Lyons' adult daughter to work as a solicitor, well off his normal route.
By no stretch of the imagination is it allowable for Lyons to use his driver and PA in union time to acquire rail tickets for his sons in connection with a football match, even if the cost of the journeys was reimbursed later. Nor is it permissible to use a union employee to deliver his season ticket to a friend.
On the matter of the wine for the Christmas reception, Keegan has sworn on oath that he delivered four cases of wine to Lyons' home. There will be an opportunity to test these contradictory assertions at Keegan’s Employment Tribunal hearing, scheduled to start on 26 January 2001.
A great deal of effort was made to prevent the members finding out any of this, and had it not been for Marcia Solomon’s employment tribunal, we would still be largely in the dark. The Tribunal records demonstrate the inadequacy of Head Office’s case. MSF’s defence of the tribunal was that Marcia Solomon acted in bad faith but that John Chowcat, a much more senior member of staff, acted in good faith when acting on her information (they had to say this because of the terms of his compromise agreement). After four days the impossibility of keeping up this pretence became obvious, a substantial settlement was reached.
The document under discussion is a poor attempt by MSF Public Relations department to suggest that Lyons’ current predicament is the fault of malicious journalism rather than his own hubris. However, the facts of the case, many of them extremely well documented, tell a different story.
There is no doubt that Lyons constantly teeters on the threshold of misconduct. The question is whether he went beyond the mark on any occasion. We think there are at least four occasions when he did so:-
There are many other examples which are borderline at best.
Upwards of half a million pounds of MSF funds have been squandered to cover up or deny these facts. Union employees have been forced out of their jobs and unions members threatened with legal actions for the same purpose. In comparison to this Roger's expense claiming, estimated at a mere £14,000 a year, is shameful more for the pettiness of it all, and the contempt it shows for the ordinary paying members.
The italic text in this document has been compiled from work by Hugh MacGrillen and David Beaumont amongst others, all MSF members. Please email any queries in the first instance to