Information For ASLEF Members

28 July 2005

It’s been a rough time for our union. In recent weeks it’s got considerably worse. When Dave Tyson was called in on 21 May by the Assistant General Secretary Mick Blackburn to investigate with our Legal Officer John Usher an incident that had occurred the previous evening in the garden of the house next to the union’s head office, little did he know this would lead to the suspension of three elected officials and three members of staff.

No person suspended in connection with the alleged incidents has been disciplined or charged.

The Legal Officer and Vice President quickly concluded, after speaking to a number of people, including witnesses to the incident who watched it from the windows of their homes, that there were serious issues of conflict in relation to the events. Presented with the statements of these witnesses on 25 May, the EC agreed unanimously that they had no choice other than to suspend all those present at the barbecue and to look for someone, or a panel of people from outside the union, to conduct an investigation and report as soon as possible. Keith Norman was brought in to the role of Acting General Secretary.

On Wednesday 26 May we, along with John Usher met with Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC. Brendan Barber has provided us with help with putting together a panel of three people. The three are all highly respected and senior members of the Labour Movement and legal profession. The panel will be chaired by Professor Aileen McColgan, Professor of Human Rights Law, Kings College London and Barrister at Law. Her two wing members are Roger Poole , formerly AGS of Unison and John Sheldon, former joint General Secretary of Civil Service union P CS and Chair of the Civil Service Appeals Panel. It’s their job now to conclude the enquiry in to what happened on that night at No. 7 Arkwright Road and it’s aftermath.

We are grateful to the members of the panel for agreeing to serve and to the TUC for providing the secretariat to the enquiry.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:
I hope this enquiry can contribute to restoring stability in ASLEF after what has been a difficult and turbulent period.

The panel is sitting this week to consider all the evidence, including the media reports of the incident and the statements of those who have been suspended and those who witnessed the incident. All those suspended will have the opportunity to speak to the panel .

The panel has been asked to make findings of fact and to report them as soon as possible to the EC, which must take responsibility for any disciplinary action that may follow.

In addition, we, along with National Organiser Andy Reed and the Legal Officer met with the Trade Union Certification Officer (CO) on Friday 29 May. The CO is appointed by the government and has statutory obligations to watch over trade unions. We met the CO’s Assistant, Gerard Walker, and told him what has happened and also discussed the on-going separate enquiry being conducted by Matthias Kelly QC into the finances of our union.

The CO’s office are sympathetic and understanding to our situation. Gerard Walker was also sympathetic to our decision to suspend the Annual Assembly of Delegates (AAD), even though it puts the union in breach of our Rule Book.

We were also able to tell him that staff at Arkwright Road are fully behind us, along with the almost every one of the officers. We must remember that it has been a difficult time for the staff.

Any change in administration is tough. Two people in finance were suspended by the incoming general secretary Shaun Brady, without reference to the EC. Eight months later they remain suspended and are yet to be charged. That is not good employment relations. We will do our best to progress that situation too for the benefit of ASLEF and the staff.

There have also been allegations about our computer system and its maintenance. This is another concern to us, but in contrast to those suspended by Shaun Brady, all those suspended on 25 May will either be charged or exonerated within a week or so. But as we’ve already said, no one has been charged or disciplined in relation to these events. The EC will consider fully the findings of the independent enquiry before taking further steps.

We cannot have the ASLEF ship without a captain and rudderless for long. It is great the staff are pulling together to help us shore up the breach. Indeed two former members of staff have returned, temporarily.

That’s why the independent inquiry in to the recent events is so important. ASLEF’s reputation as a strong and powerful trade union and a major influence within the wider labour movement has to be restored. We love this union and want to make sure it does the job you want it to. We are distraught about the press coverage and you must be shocked and feel let down too.

Meanwhile the enquiry by Matthew Kelly QC continues. At last he is receiving full cooperation by all the officers and staff at head office. He was intending having a substantial interim report ready for AAD, but now we hope to have his final report ready by July.

That’s another good reason for delaying conference. It is important that conference is in the best position to assess the big picture and whether there has been any serious wrong doing. We believe we can rely on a report from someone as eminent as Matt Kelly QC to give us a thorough and robust analysis. Members will be kept in the picture as soon as the report becomes available.

Rightly, the Certification Office was concerned about reports in the press about financial problems, but remember this - Matthias Kelly QC has been speaking to him personally and the CO does not wish to exercise his statutory powers to send in his own investigator - and he, at least, is as happy as he can be with the enquiry now underway, which will be concluded very soon. Then we will report to the members and the AAD delayed for a short time. At most it will be a matter of a few months until the membership and conference will be fully informed and we will move forward.

It’s been a bad time for our union, and no one can deny that. But it’s also an opportunity for us to sort out months of turmoil and to move on. We hope that you will support us in doing that.

Dave Tyson 
EC Vice President

Keith Norman 
Acting General Secretary

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