SPECIAL REPORT FROM THE HEARING BY FREELANCE JOURNALIST ALEX VARLEY WINTER – a colleague of mine at the former Exaro website
The head of Team Dave – Dave Prentis’s election campaign – and a leading official at the union was cross questioned today by lawyers over actions taken by officials which are alleged by three other rival candidates to be a misuse of union resources.
Lawyers representing candidates Heather Wakefield, John Burgess, and Roger Bannister and complainant Jon Rogers who all allege that the union broke its own rulebook by misusing resources to help Dave Prentis by allowing officials to work on the Team Dave campaign. Union officials are expected to be neutral during elections and only work in their own time to support candidates
Cliff Williams, Assistant General Secretary of Unison, told the hearing he had flexible working arrangements and ‘Chinese walls’ between his two roles – running the campaign and being an official. Lawyers for the complainants said this was an illusion.
He was asked why Linda Perks ( the regional official suspended after a tape was leaked revealing a meeting of officials had been held in London to discuss Dave Prentis’s campaign) wasn’t sacked.
It was put to him :”the regional secretary is asking her staff to lie about where they got the leaflets from. There seems to be an instruction to her staff to tell an outright lie.’
William replied: ‘It looks like that.’
‘Is that something that would usually be treated as gross misconduct and summarily dismissable’
During cross questioning Williams had to concede that union resources were used for the Dave campaign but said this was ‘in error’.
Asked about a personal email he sent that had a Unison footer on it that looked like a ‘copy paste job’, he said ‘I don’t know how to copy paste’ – which got a guffaw from the public gallery.
Williams said he was not aware of the details of a Dave campaign distribution list using emails of Unison members. Williams said that the Dave database was set up by Lucie Hyndley, Unison’s Director of Communications. Liz Snape the wife of Dave Prentis, is another assistant general secretary.
He was asked: “there’s a database in existence, you don’t know how but it seems the director of communications was involved in it.”
Cliff Williams held a campaign meeting in Glasgow Hotel paid for by Unison – he tried to argue in court that this did not count as a breach of rules because it was before election campaigning had started and Dave Prentis wasn’t yet officially a candidate.
Mr Yunus Bakhsh, lawyer for Burgess asked what protection Williams offered to staff to give evidence on alleged misuse of union resources to union investigator Mr Roger McKenzie. “You’re telling them please offer yourself to the investigation, … serious allegations, a forensic investigation. Do you think that’d encourage staff to come forward?”
Williams replied to laughter from the public gallery : “I don’t see why they wouldn’t.”
At an earlier stage it was revealed that Jon Rogers, another complainant wrote a letter of complaint about the mis-use of Unison resources to Dave Prentis. Lawyers for Prentis then threatened to sue Rogers if he went public.
Williams was asked: “Were you aware that Mr Prentis issued proceedings against Mr Rogers for libel?”
Williams: “I saw the two issues as being separate issues.”
Yunus Bakhsh: “‘I’m going to do you for libel if you repeat the allegations contained in your complaint’ – a threat of libel and a demand for an apology”
-there’s an imbalance of power, Rogers is “a local government worker, (with) a threat of libel from someone in a pedestal position significantly wealthier than him.”
“Did you support the threat of libel?”
Williams: “I didn’t express a view.”
The hearing will continue later in the New Year.