Blacklisted workers apply for ‘core participant’ status in government-ordered undercover policing inquiry

The Blacklist Support Group (BSG) is applying to the Home Office for ‘core participant’ status in the Pitchford public inquiry into failures in undercover policing set up by Teresa May.  This follows claims in the book ‘Blacklisted’ by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain, that undercover police officers spied on trade union activists from the construction industry and intelligence gathered was passed onto big business – resulting in blacklisting of union activists.

Imran Khan & Partners solicitors are representing BSG. The firm is also representing Doreen Lawrence in the Pitchford Inquiry.

BSG says it is the only organisation to have officially complained to the IPCC over police collusion in the Consulting Association blacklist scandal. IPCC admitted in correspondence with BSG that  “every Special Branch in the country routinely supplied information about prospective employees’ in correspondence from the police watchdog.”

As a ‘core participant’ in the Pitchford inquiry, the BSG would be part of a central group of parties entitled to some input into the remit and to see the evidence before it is put into the public domain.

BSG says has established a number of individuals on the construction industry blacklist were spied on by undercover police officers from different units, including the “notorious” Special Demonstration Squad. The undercover officers identified include Bob Lambert, Mark Kennedy, John Dines, Mark Jenner and former undercover police officer turned whistleblower, Peter Francis. In an interview published in ‘Blacklisted’, Peter Francis admitted targeting prominent union activists from the construction industry.

Special Demonstration Squad undercover officer Mark Jenner, became a member of UCATT under his false name during his deployment and was a regular visitor to picket lines and meetings in London during the late 1990s.

BSG says one high ranking police officer, DCI Gordon Mills from the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU), attended meetings and gave a PowerPoint presentation to the illegal blacklisting body Consulting Association. According to ‘Blacklisted’ there was a two way exchange of information between the police unit and the covert blacklister.

Dave Smith, BSG secretary and a victim of undercover police surveillance, said: “Hopefully by the BSG applying for core participant status, we will be able to guarantee that spying on trade unions and passing over information to private companies becomes a theme within the Pitchford inquiry. Police and security services spying on trade unions is not a one off aberration, it is standard operating procedure by the state.”

He added: “Undercover police units and security services were involved in operations against trade unions at Grunwick, Shrewsbury, Wapping and during the Miner Strike. It is known that activists and officers from UCATT, Unite, RMT, FBU, UNISON, CWU, NUT and PCS have been targeted by undercover police units.

“BSG hope that all the unions affected come together and put in a joint submission to Pitchford, probably under the umbrella of the TUC. Official pressure from France’s O’Grady and other general secretaries could have a significant influence on the scope of the Inquiry.”

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High Court hears blacklist firms destroyed evidence

There was stunned silence followed by audible gasps in the High Court when a barrister read out documentary evidence indicating that major  firms had deliberately set out to destroy evidence of their complicity in a blacklisting conspiracy.

In a case that returned to the courts in May 2015, unions UNITE, UCATT and GMB and the law firm Guney, Clark and Ryan, acting for the Blacklist Support Group, are representing 581 blacklisted union members in ‘group litigation’ against 40 of the UK’s largest construction firms, including Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Kier, Costain, Laing O’Rourke, Vinci, Skanska and Bam.

On 15 May 2015 a procedural hearing considered case management issues. The hearing was to prepare the ground for the full trial, scheduled for 16 May 2016 and set to last 10 weeks. The Blacklist Support Group says that with directors of multinational firms and former undercover police officers set to give evidence, “this will turn into a show trial for the construction industry.”

The latest hearing considered disclosure of documents to be used in the trial. The firms have repeatedly denied holding documents relating to the illegal Consulting Association blacklist, despite invoices proving that directors of the companies attending quarterly meetings from 1993-2009. Legal representatives of the firms told the court that to search for the relevant documentation would cost them £27 million and that they had already provided a list of the documents found on their computers.

But Matthew Nicklin QC, representing blacklisted UCATT members, told the court that the  limited disclosure by the firms was “worse than useless”, adding that the firms were being deliberately obstructive.

He then read from an internal Consulting Association record (above) that claimed David Cochrane, director of human resources at Sir Robert McAlpine and chair of the Consulting Association when it was raided in 2009, instructed the covert blacklister’s chief executive Ian Kerr to destroy blacklisting documents and to ring round others to tell them to do the same.

The document was a hand written record made by Ian Kerr of a series of conversations he had with senior industry figures immediately after the Information Commissioner’s Office served its warrant. The note read to the High Court stated that David Cochrane told Ian Kerr: “Ring everyone – Cease trading – Close down – We don’t exist anymore – Destroy data – Stop Processing.”

The note also records details of conversations with other senior construction industry managers who say they have already destroyed the documents they held.

Roy Bentham, a blacklisted joiner from Liverpool and member of the Blacklist Support Group, said: “The wheels of justice turn painfully slow but we now have a date for the full trial.” He added: “I look forward to seeing those captains of industry being questioned about their illegal blacklist with ruined so many lives.”

Dave Smith, BSG secretary, said: “We have repeatedly called for jail sentences for these wretches who violated our human rights. If the destruction of documentary evidence is proved in court, those responsible should be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice and be sent to prison. That would be real justice.”

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Environmental activists targeted by illegal blacklister support blacklisted workers in High Court battle

Environmental activists who were on a construction industry blacklist have spoken out in support of a High Court case against the companies involved. On 14 May 2015, the blacklisting group litigation – equivalent to a US style class-action – returns to the High Court with 500 blacklisted workers taking on over 40 of the UK’s largest construction companies.

The environmental activists, who say their own quest for answers and for justice has been stymied by the ‘incompetence’ of the Information Commissioner’s Office, are backing the Blacklist Support Group’s campaign for justice, including legal action and protests. The latest action comes this week, as the court action resumes at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Blacklist Support Group Protest
9:30am Thursday 14 May
Royal Courts of Justice
The Strand
London

The illegal system run by the Consulting Association was used by most of the big names in construction until it was exposed in 2009. More than 3,200 people had files detailing their instances of political activity, raising of health and safety concerns or trade union involvement. Information in the files was provided by the companies themselves as well as police. Whilst most were actual construction workers, with some having dossiers running to nearly 50 pages of personal details, over 200 environmental activists – known as the ‘greenlist’ – also had files.

When the Information Commissioner’s Office raided the Consulting Association in 2009 they only seized an index list of greenlist files, the files themselves were destroyed. This meant there is no evidence of what was in the files or which ones had been used to deny work to any individual, and so greenlisters’ lawyers advised against continuing the legal case.

Several of the companies who used the list set up a compensation scheme, in a bid to head off potentially far more expensive court settlements. It gives £4,000 to anyone who was on the list, more if they can show their files were used. It is capped at £100,000. With some workers denied a living for a decade or more, the maximum payout doesn’t even cover loss of earnings for many, let alone any interest of damages. Many of them, co-ordinated by the Blacklist Support Group, are boycotting the derisory compensation offer and are fighting on in the courts.

But for the greenlisters, the legal fight seems over. With no obvious alternative cause of redress, some have accepted the scheme’s payouts and made donations to the Blacklist Support Group.

A statement from greenlist activists provided to the Blacklist Support Group noted: “Thanks to the incompetence of the Information Commissioner’s Office, only a fraction of the files were seized. Greenlisters only have a list of whose files existed. Had ours not been among those lost, we would have the chance to fight our legal case properly and to seek more answers. It was a breach of our right to privacy, to freedom of association, and our right to a unionised, safe workplace. But this paltry sum is the best we can hope for.

“Most of us were on the list because our details had been passed from brushes with the law in environmental protests. It seems likely that police were involved in supplying this information, and we note that the Independent Police Complaints Commission admit blacklist files contained information that can only have come – illegally – from police or security services. They worked not to uphold the law but in order to uphold corporate profit.

“Even if greenlisters did not suffer financial hardship from being on the list, that was not through want of trying on the part of the police and blacklisters. More than that the 3,000 construction workers suffered huge hardship over decades. This was a colossal conspiracy to invade people’s personal lives, the working class equivalent of phone hacking. We stand in solidarity with the blacklisted construction workers. We are proud to donate funds from the wrongdoers to the fightback against them. We hope it can help their court case get the truth and justice that has been denied to us.”

Dave Smith, the secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, commented: “Corporate and state surveillance on peaceful protesters is a national scandal. The UK secret political police units considered trade unions to be the ‘enemy within’ and targeted UK citizens participating in democratic campaigns; routinely passing intelligence onto big business. The Blacklist Support Group is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with social justice activists and pledge our continued support for those campaigning for a full public inquiry into the anti-democratic conspiracy carried out by multinational corporations and the security services.”

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Covert police unit spied on union members

An undercover police unit that monitored political groups over a 40 year period gathered intelligence on members of at least five trade unions, a whistleblower has revealed.

Former undercover police officer Peter Francis said he spent four years spying on political activists.

A statement from Francis was delivered to a packed 12 March meeting in parliament that marked the launch of a new book about the blacklisting of thousands of workers by multinational construction firms. The book, ‘Blacklisted’, presents evidence of how police shared information about trade unionists with the blacklisters. Francis has revealed how he believes that he personally collected some of the intelligence that was stored on the blacklisting files held by industry-financed covert blacklister the Consulting Association.

Francis, in a statement read out by Labour MP John McDonnell, said the trade unionists spied on were members of UNISON, FBU, CWU, NUT and the students’ union NUS.

Francis promised to give evidence to the public inquiry into undercover policing announced earlier that day by home secretary Theresa May. The inquiry, which will be led by Lord Justice Pitchford, will have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence.

The union-backed Blacklist Support Group (BSG) demanded “that blacklisting is part of the inquiry,” adding “the full remit should only be decided after consultation with the victims of police spying. BSG also support the call for Peter Francis and other police whistleblowers to be exempted from the Official Secrets Act (OSA) when they give evidence in court or in any public inquiry. The OSA is being used by the police in order to cover up the scandal.” An online petition is backing up the call.

Unions CWU, GMB and UCATT all called for blacklisting of trade unionists to be included in the scope of the Pitchford inquiry.

The ‘Blacklisted’ book, authored by BSG founder member Dave Smith and investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain, has attracted widespread press coverage, including national papers the Guardian and the Mirror, and is rapidly becoming a labour movement and civil rights ‘must read’.

Change.org petition calling on Theresa May to ensure the OSA is not used against inquiry whistleblowers.

Blacklisted: the secret war between big business and trade union activists, New Internationalist, March 2015. ISBN 978-1-78026-257-4. eBook ISBN: 978-1-78026-258-1. £9.99. Book video trailer.

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Blacklisted – the book

A new book, ‘Blacklisted: the secret war between big business and trade union activists’, delivers a searing indictment of the collusion between the state and the construction industry that saw thousands blacklisted.

Authors Dave Smith – a founder-member of the Blacklist Support Group – and investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain reveal how objecting to deadly working conditions could get you thrown out of work for good. The book demonstrates how only creative grassroots organising exposed the blacklisters and their cash-dispensing construction cronies. It also reveals this isn’t yesterday’s problem; this life-wrecking human rights scandal persists to this day.

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: “This book lifts the lid on blacklisting and on the decades of denials, lies and deceit by construction employers over the shameful treatment and damage to thousands of workers.” Mick Cash, general secretary of the rail union RMT, said the book is “a tribute to those who have had the sheer guts and determination to fight on for years to drag the blacklisting scandal into the spotlight.” Guardian journalist Rob Evans said it “could turn out be one of the most important books of 2015.”

Blacklisted: the secret war between big business and trade union activists, New Internationalist, March 2015. ISBN 978-1-78026-257-4. eBook ISBN: 978-1-78026-258-1. £9.99. Book video trailer.

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Blundering CIPD official in the firing line

A top official of the professional body for human resources managers has found himself in the firing line after telling a conference that blacklisting of trade unionists is a “big fuss about very little.”

Mike Emmott, a top employee relations adviser with the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), was a keynote speaker at the 50th anniversary conference of the Manchester Industrial Relations Society.

During the Q&A session he was questioned by GMB political officer Neil Smith over the CIPD’s inaction on blacklisting. In 2013 CIPD confirmed to parliament it was investigating 19 members linked to blacklisting, but it has so far failed to take any action.

Emmott claimed he did not know a great deal about the issue but then went on to describe the blacklisting scandal as a “big fuss about very little.” He said he found “union moral outrage over blacklisting, rather distasteful.”

There were audible gasps and an immediate rash of tweets from the audience. The conference then loudly applauded follow up questions that identified a number CIPD Fellows personally involved in blacklisting union members.

A flustered Emmott again responded by claiming to not know about the matter, even though the issue has been front page news in the media, including the CIPD’s own journal. He concluded by saying he would be happy to have the CIPD members accused of wrong doing as his neighbours.

Sir Brendan Barber, who heads the conciliation service ACAS and who followed Emmott on the platform, said he “disagreed”, adding “blacklisting is a major injustice that has not been resolved” that “raises huge issues about corporate culture and responsibility.”

Comments from blacklisted workers were more forthright still. Tony Jones, a Manchester electrician, was blacklisted for many years after raising concerns about electrical safety. He said: “Yes, it is a big fuss about nothing when you cannot feed and clothe your kids and don’t know why. To me that’s a form of child abuse.”

Steve Acheson, Blacklist Support Group (BSG) chair, said: “BSG has submitted a complaint to the CIPD for breaches of the code of ethical conduct but two years later not a single member of the professional body has faced any sanction. Nor has any senior manager involved in blacklisting been disciplined by their employer, most remain in post or have even been promoted to the Board.”

“The firms and CIPD have cried crocodile tears about blacklisting but the mask of hypocrisy worn by the HR profession has finally slipped. Blacklisting breaches our human rights. It is morally wrong. For any individual to face every day of his life, with no prospect of securing a legal right to employment because of a conspiracy is a complete crime.”

Neil Smith, the GMB political officer whose question sparked the row, said: “GMB will continue to campaign to name and shame those guilty of blacklisting and will work with other groups to get justice for those that were wronged. CIPD and others involved will be took to task no matter how long it takes.”

GMB national officer Justin Bowden said: “This senior CIPD employee has yet again let slip that some senior HR managers don’t actually think they did anything wrong when they were running the blacklist.” He added: “Mike Emmott is either an empty vessel or a total hypocrite.”

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Anger as Met Police ‘neither confirm nor deny’ blacklisting role after abetting blacklisters

Campaigners against the construction industry blacklist have reacted with anger after the Metropolitan Police (MPS) refused to ‘neither confirm nor deny’ (NCND) whether the Blacklist Support Group has been the subject of surveillance by undercover police units including Special Branch.

The statement from the MPS came in a 9 October 2014 written response to a Freedom of Information request by investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain. He had requested “copies of any files held by the Metropolitan Police (including Special Branch) on the organisation called the Blacklist Support Group. This is a group campaigning for the rights of those refused work because of their union activities.”

MPS responded that it was in the “public interest” for them to refuse to “confirm or deny in order to safeguard national security” the existence of files on the Blacklist Support Group. It did though admit it held information that “some information is held that may ‘relate’ to the Blacklist Support Group.”

It would be highly unlikely there was not a paper trail at the MPS HQ. A Select Committee investigation found that the undercover police unit known as the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) attended and gave powerpoint presentations to meetings of the Consulting Association blacklisting organisation. The head of the covert blacklisting organisation, which was financed and controlled by major construction companies, was prosecuted for holding illegally files on construction workers. Construction firms paid on a case-by-case basis for frequently inaccurate information contained in these files.

It was Chamberlain’s investigative work that led to a raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office on the Consulting Association, closing  it down in 2009.

The MPS response notes there was a pre-agreed police line on queries about the Consulting Association, spelled out in the FOI response.  “IF ASKED: is it true that NETCU shared information with the Consulting Association? We do not discuss matters of intelligence.”

Supt Steve Pearl, who ran NECTU, is now a director at Agenda Security Services, which provides employment vetting services. His former boss, ex-Assistant Chief Constable Anton Setchell, who was the senior police officer in charge of the UK police domestic extremism machinery between 2004 and 2010, is currently head of global security at Laing O’Rourke – one of the construction companies subscribing to the Consulting Association.

MPS could in these circumstances have confirmed or denied the existence of files on the Blacklist Support Group. The Freedom of Information Act allows this where the response would “inform issues that are currently the subject of public debate in relation to government surveillance and improve the quality and accuracy of public debate, which may otherwise be steeped in rumour and speculation.”

Instead MPS chose to adopt a NCND defence. Given the huge public interest in the undercover police surveillance of women activists deliberately targeted by officers from the Special Demonstration Squad and other secret political police units, it seems a difficult decision to justify. The NCND position adopted by the MPS in relation to the women activists was defeated in the High Court in September. Some of the women activists currently suing the Metropolitan Police themselves appear on the Consulting Association blacklist.

A number of blacklist activists, including Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith, have been refused copies of their own personal police files, with MPS arguing that providing the documents may jeopardise ongoing criminal investigations.

Responding to the Met Police’s latest refusal to come clean, Smith said: “It is without doubt that the police and security services are spying on trade unionists fighting for justice on the issue of blacklisting. They have colluded with big business to deliberately target trade unionism over decades. Shrewsbury, Orgreave, blacklisting; the list goes on and on. The refusal to provide any information whatsoever smacks of an establishment cover-up. Blacklisting is no longer an industrial relations issue: it is a human rights conspiracy.”

Lawyers working for the Blacklist Support Group have submitted a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) about the role of the police in blacklisting. Despite accusations of an establishment cover-up, even the police have been forced to admit the flow of information was not purely one way.

Sarah McSherry, a solicitor from Imran Khan and Partners, said: “While correspondence from the police in relation to this complaint continually raises concerns about the quality of their investigation, it is interesting to note that they confirm that they have identified a potential ‘flow of information between Special Branch and the construction industry’.”

A blacklisting group litigation case returns to the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday 16 October.

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Cameron says ‘no’ to blacklisting inquiry

HACKED OFF David Cameron backed a full inquiry into phone hacking, but told Adam Smith (right) he had no intention of ordering a probe into blacklisting.

Prime Minister David Cameron was recently interviewed by award winning journalist Adam Smith – author of ‘Obama and Me’ – and was asked about the blacklisting in the construction industry. The exchange was illuminating.

Adam Smith “With the blacklisting scandal affecting over 3,000 people up and down the country is it not time for a public inquiry?”

David Cameron “What is needed to make sure we exercise the legislation that is now in place, this is something that happened under the last government and now there is now legislation in place to stop illegal blacklisting.”

Adam Smith “So you don’t think there should be a public inquiry?”

David Cameron “As I say I think enforcing the law that we have now is the most important thing.”

Commenting on this confirmation the prime minister is personally opposed to a blacklisting public inquiry, Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith said: “Blacklisting is a national scandal akin to McCarthyism. There is documentary proof of police and security services collusion with the Consulting Association and lawyers for the UK government have recently admitted that blacklisting was a breach of human rights.

“Blacklisting of trade unionists is no longer an industrial relations issue; it is a major human rights conspiracy between multinational corporations and the state.  Despite all this, David Cameron has said ‘no’ to a public inquiry.”

Dave Smith added: “Blacklisting is working class phone-hacking. Only a fully independent public inquiry will get to the truth of the blacklisting human rights scandal and expose all the corporate and state spying on trade unionists who raised concerns about safety issues: UK citizens participating in perfectly peaceful democratic activities.

“It is not surprising that a Conservative prime minister funded by big business does not want a public inquiry. But that is what blacklisted workers, their unions and the TUC are calling for.

“Ed Miliband could demonstrate he supports working people against predatory capitalism by committing a future Labour government to a full public inquiry into blacklisting with be an election pledge in the manifesto.”

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Sorry site bosses ridiculed by MPs

By Dave Smith, Blacklist Support Group

Bosses from blacklist companies were humiliated during a packed 16 July 2014 witness session for a parliamentary Select Committee when MPs repeatedly accused them of setting out to “deliberately mislead parliament”.

The Scottish Affairs Select Committee investigation into blacklisting heard evidence from Nick Pollard, chief executive of Balfour Beatty, Andrew Ridley-Barker, managing director of Vinci Construction and Callum Tuckett, group finance and commercial director at Laing O’Rourke plus Richard Slaven, partner at Pinsent mason solicitors and Richard Duke from the PR company Grayling.

Conservative MP Simon Reevell condemned the letter sent by the industry’s hired spin doctor Richard Dukes on behalf of the blacklist compensation scheme which he said was “intended to mislead every member of parliament” by claiming falsely that unions and representatives of blacklisted workers supported the scheme.

Labour MP Jim McGovern told the industry bosses point blankly that they had “misled this committee and misled parliament.”

MPs identified that Vinci, Laing O’Rourke and Balfour Beatty companies had paid in excess of £335,000 to the Consulting Association which equated to approximately 200,000 name checks on construction workers. 600 workers had either been denied employment or had personal information information added to the blacklist database by the 3 firms or their predecessor companies.

The construction bosses were continually ridiculed and  interrupted by Labour, Liberal and Conservative MPs alike who refused to accepted their grovelling apologies for their role in the Consulting Association blacklisting scandal with Select   Committee chair Ian Davidson  accusing the scheme of being “purely damage limitation” rather than a genuine desire to show “repentance.”

The levels of compensation being offered by the scheme were also forensically taken apart by MPs and Richard Slaven, partner at law firm Pinsent Mason was forced to admit that he could not quote a single authority to justify the pitifully low figures being offered by the blacklist firms who MPs identified as having a combined annual turnover of £34 billion. Slaven was accused of being “not exactly razor sharp” by former barrister  Simon Reevell.

The MPs suggested a number of changes that the firms said they would go back and consider including extending the schemes period to three years to allow for the High Court trial to conclude before workers needed to make a decision.

Ian Davidson again repeated his suggestion that the compensation scheme that had been condemned by the Blacklist Support Group and trade unions should exist to provide “interim damages” which would be increased once the High Court trial finished. The MPs stated that unless the scheme was drastically improved and the firms showed real attempts to clean up their acts that they should “be denied access to future public contracts.”

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You can run a company, but you can’t hide

Cullum McAlpine was the leader of a shadowy band of construction industry grandees that owned and bankrolled a covert operation that illegally blacklisted union safety activists. He never faced charges – until the Blacklist Support Group turned up at the London HQ of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd with an arrest warrant.

Read the full Hazards magazine report
.

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