The union (Unite, Amicus or MSF) have been involved in numerous Employment tribunals against its own members or employees, usually to try to cover up corruption. In Chronological order:

Unite v the remaining Baylissgate two (click here)

Amicus v the first of the Baylissgate three (click here)

David Beaumont v amicus MSF NEC (click here)

Marcia Solomon v Roger Lyons (read on)

Employment Tribunal 3rd July 2000

 

"The introduction of legal protection for whistleblowers will at long last shield those courageous people from victimisation and dismissal." Roger Lyons, Dec 1998

Day 1,
Quiet Beginnings, hints of new allegations

Day 2
Aggressive cross-examination, secret bank accounts

Day 3
Comedy, Chauffeurs, Faction fighting

Day 4
The Tribunal chair has enough

Day 5
Marcia Wins!

Read Marcia's Witness Statement

Read Marcia's Affidavit

Back to www.rogerlyons.com

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 1 QUIET BEGINNINGS, HINTS OF NEW ALLEGATIONS

The big news is that the case has started. After all the expectations that there were would be a settlement, it appears that MSF did not make an offer. Also, Marcia is very much up for it.

Not much happened today, formally speaking. The real action starts tomorrow when Marcia gives evidence and is then cross-examined. The MSF Counsel, name of Sarah Ward, is supposed to be pretty aggressive.

MSF will try to prove that Marcia knowingly made false allegations and was fairly dismissed. Her barrister will try to show that she acted in good faith and should therefore have been protected against action by the employer under the public interest disclosure legislation. Her case will turn around this good faith issue.

This means that the credibility of the witnesses will be all-important.

We need to be clear that if Marcia wins, it does not prove that Lyons was corrupt but only that it was reasonable for her to think that there was misconduct at the time and in the circumstances.

However, the allegation that Lyons and Mendes were skimming the branch funds (anything up to £130 000) is now in the public domain as a result of the opening submissions and can be referred to in branch reports, etc.

The Tribunal members are two women (one the chair) and an ethnic minority man. The chair seemed not interested at first but later she got into it. She said she wanted to know the details of Chowcat’s settlement so we may have that pleasure in store for us.

There is a vast amount of documentation, some of which was slipped to the press. I did not get hold of any of it but as soon as I do, will start to post it.

The hearing was attended by journalists from The Guardian (David Hencke plus colleague, later a photographer), The Times and a news agency. Expect stories in The Times and The Guardian tomorrow with references to the branch skimming allegation. David Hencke says that Lyons is trying to get at him and he seems keen to follow up the story. He is very well informed and is planning a piece on Joe Bowers.

Nelson Mendes has gone sick with stress and will probably not now appear. There were quite a number of MSF people present including Arthur Taylor , who is an RO in Bristol but often acts as Lyons personal emissary. The MSF PR man, Richard O’Brien, is coming on strong to the journalists.

Marcia was supported by the APEX reps during the day. They say there are new allegations about Lyons in the pipeline and they may be able to say more about these later in the week.

Hugh

3/7/00

DAY 2 AGGRESSIVE CROSS-EXAMINATION, SECRET BANK ACCOUNTS

The big event today was the cross-examination of Marcia Solomon by the MSF counsel Sarah Moor (I wrongly called her Ward yesterday). This took about three hours either side of the lunch break.

The counsel turned out to be aggressive and gave Marcia a good going over. However, Marcia stuck to her guns and did not retract any of her allegations.

The barrister did not contest the unauthorised loans and expenses allegations which are now firmly established in the public domain. She was determined to rebut the skimming the branch funds allegation.

Marcia claims that she saw evidence of accounts in the name of MSF Daxo and MSF Guildhall, which branches have never existed to my knowledge. She also claim to have seen a cheque made out for £5000 to Nelson Mendes and £29 000 to Lyons on these accounts. There is partial corroboration from another MSF employee, Joan Francis, who saw a cheque made out to MSF Guildhall.

However, there is no documentary evidence and this is obviously a huge weakness. Marcia says she posted the evidence to John Chowcat but it never arrived. I shall slap my head about this one until the end of my puff.

The barrister tried to deal with the situation in two ways. One was to try and discredit Marcia. This did not work as Marcia stood up to it well. The other was to bring in the Fishers/Certification Officers and UTB investigations.

I have obtained Marcia’s witness statement and will post it in due course. It is fairly lengthy.

The barrister was so aggressive that she alienated the Tribunal chair who intervened a number of times to cool her down.

Marcia gave some examples of Nelson Mendes’ way with expenses. One example was taking the finance staff to Christmas lunch, taking £10 each off them for the bill and then charging the bill to MSF.

Also, did you know that fulltimers can claim up to £10, say for lunch, without having to produce any receipts. I’ve known for some time that some of them routinely claim for £8 or £9 lunches which they don’t actually eat.

There will be no new, hard evidence that Lyons was into theft of union funds bigtime arising out of this case.

The only other person to give evidence today was Ed Blissett, the GMB’s organiser for London. He attended the meeting at which Marcia got the sack. There was a row at the meeting over the nature of the GMB’s involvement in the affair. This will have a bearing on the outcome of the hearing as MSF would like to claim that Marcia was motivated by prospects of advancement in the GMB to make malicious allegations against Lyons. MSF has a problem about finding a plausible motivation for Marcia to invent her story.

Both sides took notes of what was said at this disciplinary meeting and there is now a dispute about what exactly was said. Does that remind you of anything?

Chowcat is due to give evidence tomorrow. He has a long document summarising all the allegations against Lyons which I hope to obtain and post.

Lyons has agreed to give evidence and to open his bank accounts though that will not prove anything at this juncture. But that could be interesting especially if he loses the rag.

The Guardian had an extensive story this morning with a strong headline. The Times’ lawyers were cautious but they may still go with the story. The is a statement on the MSF website.

Hugh

4/7/00

DAY 3 COMEDY, CHAUFFEURS, FACTION FIGHTING

Today we had some excitement and a bit of comedy.

The excitement came when John Chowcat started to give evidence. There was a long argument between the barristers and the Tribunal Chair about whether the compromise agreement, i.e. the agreement on the terms of Chowcat’s departure from MSF, should be entered in evidence and then made public. The argument was between the Tribunal Chair and Marcia’s barrister who wanted it published and the MSF barrister who emphatically didn’t. Eventually, it was agreed to enter it only with the deletion of the sums of money involved. It should be possible to get hold of this document tomorrow and naturally I will post it right away.

In any case it now seems fairly certain that he got £250 000 in cash and maybe a pension top-up as well. The big question is: what was the money for?

Chowcat brought along a written aide-memoire which I did obtain and which is one of tonight’s attachments.

His evidence goes a long way to clear Marcia of the allegation that she acted in bad faith. This gives MSF a real problem. If they say he acted in good faith, as they did when he left, and he says she acted in good faith, how can they then say she acted in bad faith?

Chowcat will be cross-examined tomorrow and it will be very interesting to see what line the MSF barrister takes.

Paul Talbot, who actually sacked Marcia, started to give evidence on his reasons for doing so. He admitted that part of the reason was that she went to Chowcat who was in a faction fight with Lyons instead of going to someone else not in a fight with Lyons. This seems a pretty amazing and stupid thing to admit. Overall, Talbot came across as a grunt. He will have more opportunities to do so tomorrow. Incidentally, he claimed not to be a Lyons supporter without batting an eyelid.

The comedy came with a guy called Brian Keegan who acted as Lyons’ chauffeur for about a year, including the relevant time. He gave examples of Lyons ranting and raving in the back of the car. The MSF brief tried to make out that he was deaf. Anyway this bloke has obviously conceived a total loathing for Lyons after working for him for a while and who is to say he is not a man with perception. Lyons was present for this but then scuttled off.

An independent accountant called Madge gave evidence about the inadequacies of the Fisher investigation. He wasn’t a very good witness but his written statement is interesting. It is rather long and I will post it shortly.

A couple of Marcia’s colleagues at Moreland Street gave evidence basically in her support. They gave a bleak picture of personnel relations in Head Office.

Lyons is due on next Monday with information about his bank accounts.

The MSF barrister had an air of being obnoxious, and seemed to argue a lot with the chair.

The Guardian had another story this morning and The Times has now joined in. There are more reporters and photographers hanging around. MSF has put out another statement which will be on the website in the morning.

Back to Marcia. One thing I forgot to mention yesterday is that she claims to have a source who was giving her information about corruption, a sort of Deep Throat. She refuses to name this person but says the source claims that there were two other MSF people involved in the fraud.

Much will depend on the view taken of Marcia’s credibility in the Tribunal and elsewhere. I have put together a list of the pros and cons taken from the arguments of the two sides so far and a bit of my own spin:

The case against Marcia

She invented the allegation of fraud against Lyons and Mendes either because she was put up to it by the GMB or she hoped for advancement within the GMB or possibly MSF or for some other unspecified reason. This is shown by the inconsistencies in her testimony. She is generally a difficult person given to making complaints. There is no documentary evidence in support of the fraud allegation. There was an investigation by Fishers accountants, monitored by the Certification Officer, which found no evidence of fraud. There was an investigation by the Unity Trust Bank which found no evidence for the existence of the alleged false bank accounts. The other allegations of unauthorised loans and expenses are of lesser significance and can be disregarded.

The case for Marcia

Her allegations of unauthorised loans and expenses involve substantial sums and have now been verified in their entirety. She was an inexperienced person placed in a difficult and highly charged position and her mistakes such as the loss of the documentary evidence of fraud are understandable in that context. There is partial corroboration by another member of staff of the existence of a shell branch and of a financial transaction involving it. Her allegations were taken seriously by Chowcat. The investigation by Fishers accountants was slipshod and the monitoring by the Certification Officer was inadequate. She has pursued the Tribunal case when there was no need for her to do so in order to clear her name.

We have to start thinking what all this means for the governance of MSF and what we are going to do about it.

Hugh

5/7/00

DAY 4 The Tribunal chair has enough

 

Today saw a big development about which I have mixed feelings. Just after lunch, the Tribunal chair announced she wanted to speak to the barristers. We all trooped out and the barristers were in for quite a while. When they eventually came out, it soon became obvious that they were negotiating with each other. Marcia was involved in this but I do not know who was doing this for MSF. It was also obvious that the negotiations were going Marcia’s way. Nothing had been agreed by the time we dispersed but it seems odds on there will be an announcement about a settlement.

The downside is that MSF want a confidentiality clause which will create obstacles to raising the matter officially. It will also deprive us of evidence from Lyons and Mendes. Incidentally, Mendes turned up today looking quite ill – There are many rumours that Lyons has already brought someone into his private office to start doing Nelson’s job.

We are back into secret payments land, supposedly outlawed by Conference this year. There has to be the most tremendous row about this if there is a confidential settlement.

The reason for this turn of events was quite clear. The MSF case was falling apart. No matter how many chances he was given to escape, Talbot kept insisting that part of the reason for sacking Marcia was her involvement in the factional disputes within the union. He also had to confess that this was the first time he had done a disciplinary case and he had only stepped in as a last minute substitute. The Tribunal members were openly incredulous about this and other points and gave him a real grilling.

Next the man from the Unity Trust Bank had to admit that there were discrepancies between bank records and MSF records and that you could not draw any conclusions from bank records about what was really going on inside MSF.

Finally, Chowcat gave evidence about how Lyons interfered in his disciplinary proceedings, how he was at first sacked then allowed to resign with a fat package. The point is, if Chowcat got an honourable discharge, how can the union complain about Marcia. In his evidence, Chowcat was very clear about the bullying of staff going on at Head Office when the revelations first broke.

It was at this point that the Tribunal chair had had enough and called a halt.

Chowcat gave some examples of his complaints about how his disciplinary hearings were conducted, i.e about recording them and so forth. I laughed and laughed.

One significant piece of evidence came out. The forensic accountants and Bob Braddock, NEC member for whom they were working, knew about the partial corroboration of Marcia’s story of shell accounts by another member of staff, Joan Francis. Neither the accountants nor Braddock reported this and it only emerged during preparations for the Tribunal. (Subsequent examination of the documents showed that Braddock did report his conversation to the Fisher investigator.)

There was another piece in The Guardian this morning. Whatever you might think of their standpoint, I can confirm that the reports of the Tribunal proceedings are accurate. All the direct quotes that have appeared were actually said in the Tribunal and the articles reflect the general tenor of the evidence. Part of me is appalled that such publicity is appearing; the other part says that this is the only way to start cleaning up the mess.

I did not succeed in getting hold of Chowcat’s severance agreement but have got hold of another document which will make you sit up when you see it. Unfortunately there are legal restrictions on this for the moment. Therefore, for your reading pleasure tonight. I attach Marcia’s affidavit which she made last year when things were beginning to hot up.

If, as expected, the case ends tomorrow, I will sum up and make some proposals about where we go from here. There should be a big discussion around these

Hugh

6/7/00

DAY 5 MARCIA WINS!

And quite big too. Basically MSF folded and agreed to pay her £100 000 after tax. That cost us about £140 000. I got an estimate from one of the barristers of the MSF costs of about £50 000. So this affair has cost the union about £190 000, not counting the staff time spent on it.

Add to that the minimum £250 000 John Chowcat got (there are suggestions he got a pension top-up in addition to the cash).

This is serious money for the sole purpose of withholding the facts of the case from the members of MSF. Because everybody in the media, law, politics and industrial relations already knows that Lyons is (word removed).

One good feature is that the terms of the settlement are going to be made public because of the MSF Conference decision. Score one for St. Pancras branch. Marcia is not under any confidentiality restrictions – I have arranged to interview her in a couple of weeks after she has had a break. I should be able to obtain further documents from her.

What about her giving £50 000 back to the GMB? Is that not admirable?

Other information gleaned from around and about the Tribunal:

  • It appears that about 20 MSF fulltimers have joined the GMB, including the arch Lyons loyalist Digby Jacks. Things must be getting bad.
  • There is a rumour that John Monks has advised Lyons to resign.
  • Already there has been an approach to the Certification Officer to reopen the investigation
  • Three MSF officials who recently retired, Anne Gibson, Larry Brooks and Tony Whiteley, each received pension top-ups. Sums of up to £200 000 were paid into each of their pension funds without the approval of their trustees. (It was a total £200 000 top-up rather than £200 000 to each.) In Anne Gibson’s case, there may be some justification as she retired early on ill health grounds. But the other two left at normal retirement age.

There is going to be a big piece in The Guardian tomorrow pulling together lots of information about Lyons and money. The journalists really have a lot of information.

Finally – what to do. One idea I have over and above the usual things is to get a large number of people to sign a letter to the press calling for an independent inquiry into MSF finances. I will make sure to send all the key documents to NEC members, RC secretaries, etc. so that they can no longer avert their eyes from the evidence. And just for myself, I’m going to ask for Braddock to be removed from my disciplinary hearings on the grounds he has now been shown to suppress evidence in inquiries (see correction to the day 4 report).

Back next week with more comment and analysis.

Hugh

7/7/00