July 8 2000

Sacked 'whistleblower' wins 100,000 union pay-out


A FORMER union secretary sacked after alleging big-spending habits among her bosses won an estimated 100,000 in an out-of-court settlement yesterday.

Marcia Solomon, 32, claimed that she had been dismissed from the Manufacturing, Science and Finance union when she exposed exaggerated expenses claims made by Roger Lyons, the General Secretary, and Nelson Mendes, the head of finance. She claimed unfair dimissal at an employment tribunal.

Although the union denied the allegations, both parties reached a settlement at the London hearing, in which a sum believed to be 100,000 was awarded to Ms Solomon. Half of the award will go to the general union, GMB, where Ms Solomon now works and which backed her claim. Ms Solomon, of Croydon, Surrey, said: "I regret having had to take MSF to an employment tribunal as I always considered it to be an excellent organisation, not least in its campaigns to provide protection for whistle blowers.

"However, I maintain that I saw what I saw, and acted in good faith when I brought my concerns to the attention of John Chowcat, the then assistant general secretary." Mr Chowcat was subsequently sacked but on lodging an appeal, the union agreed to say that he had resigned and paid him compensation.

Margaret Wall, the MSF national secretary, said: "Her allegations were treated seriously despite her inability to substantiate any of her claims."

The tribunal was brought to a halt after hearing evidence from Mr Chowcat. He said that Mr Lyons started disciplinary proceedings against him when he was asked to investigate the allegations.

Ms Solomon earlier told the hearing that she had noticed discrepancies in expenses claims when she started working for Mr Mendes in 1996. She said that she had seen cheques for 35,000 made out to the men from union funds and that Mr Lyons had claimed money for hospitality meetings with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

She had maintained that Mr Lyons and Mr Mendes had been making false claims since 1996. She added: "Every little incident seemed to add to the impression that Roger was living the high life with union funds. The last straw came in December 1998 when he was seeking reimbursement for petrol for a private holiday and a New Year's Day dinner at a tandoori restaurant in London. I did not see how these could be union business." She had been infuriated, she said, because these cases had come to light at a time when a union was "tightening its belt and members of staff at headquarters were being declared redundant".

Both parties will return on Tuesday to finalise the details of the settlement. A joint statement from MSF and Ms Solomon said: "The parties have agreed an out-of-court settlement in this case. They each maintain their respective positions but have agreed that it does not serve the interests of the members of both trade unions to continue litigation."

Richard O'Brien, a union spokesman, said: "There was no point in continuing the case and costing our members a lot of money." He said the union had not appreciated the exact implications of new industrial relations laws when dealing with "whistle blowing". They would have had to prove malice despite the fact that Ms Solomon had not brought forward concrete evidence to back up her allegation.

After her complaint had been lodged, an inquiry had been launched. Auditors and the union's bankers had found no irregularities in the books. The accounts had also been passed by the Certification Officer, the Government's trade union regulator.

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