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.”