Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A brief roundup of three days at the #Unisongate Trials so far

David Hencke is a freelance lobby journalist working in Parliament for Tribune, a bimonthly magazine. Previously he was Westminster Correspondent for the Guardian newspaper between1986 and 2009 and a senior reporter and head of Exaro, an investigative news agency, from 2011 to 2016.

He is a winner of six national press awards and has broken a number of Parliamentary and Whitehall scandals, including   investigating former ministers, Peter Mandelson over his secret home loan deal and Neil Hamilton over the "cash for questions" scandal. He also exposed tax avoidance among senior civil servants which led to a Whitehall review.

He also sits as a journalist on an independent panel, the Gosport War Memorial Hospital Panel, which is examining historic unexplained deaths among elderly patients.

The following extracts have all been taken from posts written by journalist David Hencke in 2016 and later in 2017.

On December 15, 2016 David Hencke posted “Unison: Union Democracy on Trial”

“One complaint says:”The Scrutineer/ Electoral Reform Society did not independently investigate and respond to the complaints that were made to it in relation to the General Secretary 2015 Election in accordance with the terms of reference of the election timetable and procedure. Specifically with reference to the complaints arising from the disclosure of the audio tape of the meeting held on 21 October in the UNISON Greater London Regional Office.”

It will also test the interpretations by both the union and the complainants about exactly what was said to whom and where and whether this did effect the election.

And it contains allegations that a senior official – “Cliff Williams, Assistant General Secretary,_ encouraged paid officials across the Union to liaise with employers where the branch might be unsympathetic towards Dave Prentis, to work towards distributing literature in support of Dave Prentis.”

And there are allegations against Liz Snape ( who is the wife of Dave Prentis) and a union assistant general secretary, encouraged branches to nominate her husband.”

On December 20,  2016 David Hencke posted: Unison election: Now Electoral Reform Services on trial

“Yesterday that image slipped when  deputy chief executive Simon Hearn was cross questioned about his role in supervising the  2015 election of   general secretary Dave Prentis to Britain’s biggest public sector union, Unison. The union paid ERS almost £1m of members money to safeguard fair play.”

 “Why had he only investigated nine branches to check whether there had been breaches of the rules when the union had 953? He said he had investigated more but no longer had the information.”

 “Why hadn’t he followed up the breaches in the Greater London area – where he admitted the union tape had revealed there was a breach of the rules at a meeting to discuss how to promote Dave Prentis to see of there was ” systematic malpractice” elsewhere ? He said he hadn’t had enough complaints to do this.”

 “Probably the most damning point was following the inquiry by  Unison official Roger McKenzie into  the breach of union rules at the Greater London meeting which led to the suspension – now lifted – of one official, Linda Perks, when he had been told that more officials were involved.”

Read the article in full here http://bit.ly/2ifGlwn

On December 21, 2016 David Hencke posted: Unison: A libel threat, a database and a “cut and paste” email – all to help Dave Prentis win?

“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.

“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.

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.”

On January 3 , 2017 David Hencke posted:

Unison: Former senior official says “anti democratic practices” used to elect Dave Prentis in three previous contests.

“This is a statement that has been submitted to the tribunal examining whether Unison broke the rules to ensure that Dave Prentis was re-elected  as general secretary over a year ago.

The statement was not challenged by Unison at the hearing where their lawyers could have cross examined the official, Mike Jackson, who supported Heather Wakefield in the last election. The inference of his claim is that the practice exposed in a leaked tape where officials – who should be neutral – at the Greater London Region meeting discussed how to back ” Team Dave”, the campaigning organisation for Prentis, had happened before.



“Although it was officially stated that full-time officers should play no role in supporting any candidate in this election, a meeting was called by members of the then Regional Management Team (RMT) of UNISON’s Greater London Region where I worked, for all Regional Organisers of which I was one.

The meeting was held at 5pm in the same building (Congress House) although not in a UNISON rented area. It was stated that attendance was voluntary but there was an expectation that all organising staff attend – and almost all did. It was made known that the meeting was to discuss organising to support Dave Prentis’s campaign.

At the meeting the then Deputy Regional Secretary advised us that we should maximise branch nominations for Dave Prentis. An amount of money was suggested that we should each donate to the campaign. We were advised to use non-unison email addresses although no restriction was placed on the use of union phones.

Regular meetings were then held convened by members of the RMT in which we were asked to report back firstly on progress on achieving nominations and later on getting out the vote for Dave Prentis. I personally was responsible for 13 branches at the time and I persuaded all to nominate Dave Prentis. I was told that Dave Prentis was very pleased with my efforts by an RMT member.

During the election itself, we were asked to distribute Dave Prentis’s election material to branches for which we had responsibility. If the branch officers were not ‘reliable’ we were asked to arrange distribution ourselves. This was done during normal working hours and personally distributed thousands of leaflets and placed posters on hospital notice boards.

In 2005, Dave Prentis stood again for election. By this time I had recently been promoted to a national position. I was made aware that a national steering group of full time officials had been set up to support Dave Prentis. My then manager attended this group. Although I did not attend she reported back to me on the organisation to get Dave Prentis re-elected. Again an amount of money was suggested as a donation to his campaign which I paid.

In 2010 Dave Prentis again stood for election. This time I was invited to attend a national steering group of full time officials to support Dave Prentis. The meetings were held at 5pm in the building of the National Union of Teachers directly opposite the then UNISON Head Office. The meetings were chaired by the Regional Secretary from UNISON’s Yorkshire and Humberside Region and attended by national officials, representatives of each UNISON Region (usually an RMT member) and Dave Prentis himself.

I had no doubt that the type of activity that I was involved in during 2000 in the Greater London Region was being replicated around the country as full time officials were being mobilised to deliver nominations and votes for Dave Prentis.

In 2015 I learned that Dave Prentis was standing again as General Secretary. I was also aware of the reasons for this, primarily that he could not gather enough support for his chosen successor – his wife Liz Snape, Assistant General Secretary.

I was not at all surprised to listen to the tape of the Greater London Regional Secretary speaking in support of Dave Prentis although surprised that it was in an ‘official’ meeting. I have no doubt that the anti-democratic practices I experienced in 2000, 2005 and 2010 continued in 2015.”

Read the full article here http://bit.ly/2ia9OJL

Day Four of the #Unisongate Trial takes place on Wednesday 22 February
Holiday Inn (Regent’s Park)
Carburton St

The link for google maps is below:

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