Blacklisting: the Civil Liberties Scandal That Grows and Grows

Saturday’s Daily Mirror reported the shocking fact that environmental campaigners have been listed alongside construction workers on the notorious blacklist illegally maintained by the Consulting Association, on behalf of big building firms like Carillion, Balfour Beatty and MacAlpines.

Eco-warrior Tamsin Omond was kept under surveillance and put on a scandalous construction blacklist alongside thousands of workers.

She said last night it was outrageous that she had been snooped on just for being a green campaigner. Tamsin, 28, was one of 240 women who appeared on the 3,213-name list of “troublemakers”. She was unaware she was on the file until the Mirror tracked her down on a trip to India and broke the news.

Tamsin, who was convicted of trespassing at Parliament in 2008 during a protest against expansion at Heathrow airport, said: “Gathering information on environmental activists seems to be incredibly paranoid.” Londoner Tamsin, one of Britain’s leading green campaigners, added: “It’s a massive infringement of rights. “You’d expect global capitalists to infringe workers’ rights but it will be terrible if there’s involvement from our public services such as the police.”

The Morning Star reports that suspicion of police involvement may be well founded:

London’s Metropolitan Police is to conduct a major investigation into allegations that it colluded with the blacklisting of construction workers… The investigation by the Force’s Directorate of Professional Standards’ (DPS), which is to be supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, follows mounting evidence that both the police and the security forces may have provided information for a blacklist run by the Consulting Association.

The issue first came to light in January 2012 when Information Commissioner’s Office head of investigations David Clancy – who led a raid on the association’s offices in 2009 which discovered a database with details of thousands of individuals – told an employment tribunal that “information on some of the blacklist files could only have come from the police or the security services.”

Mr Clancy repeated the assertion in evidence to the Scottish affairs select committee investigation into blacklisting. The claims of collusion are to be probed as part of Operation Herne, an ongoing investigation into the activities of the Special Demonstration Squad, a deep undercover section of Special Branch. The investigation has been set up as a result of a complaint by the Blacklist Support Group.

The Met DPS originally refused to investigate the complaint, but was forced into a U-turn after a successful appeal to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) by solicitors Christian Khan. Partner at Christian Khan Sarah McSherry said the IPCC’s decision to uphold the appeal was in stark contrast to the original DPS view that “the complaints process is not the correct vehicle to forward their concerns or allegations.” She said they would be making further representations to the IPCC arguing that, “given the seriousness of the allegations of widespread corruption and criminal behaviour on the part of Metropolitan Police officers, the DPS should have no involvement in the investigation of this complaint.”

Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group added: “We want to know why information collected by the police has ended up on a secret blacklist of trade unionists operated by multinational companies. “If police collusion is proven, at best it is individual corruption. At worst it is systematic state involvement in a major human rights conspiracy.”

Dave Smith himself is back in court tomorrow, seeking justice from Carillion over his inclusion on the blacklist, when the Employment Appeal Tribunal is holding a Permission Hearing. Mr Smith took a case against these three Carillion companies to Employment Tribunal in London in January 2012. In the judgment in March 2012 (Case no 1310709/2009) the judge said “It seems to us that he has suffered a genuine injustice and we greatly regret that the law provides him with no remedy”.

This was because he lost the case on the technical point that he was not directly employed by Carillion who blacklisted him but was “employed” by an employment agency. Tomorrow’s hearing arises from this case.

“I have not had an apology or one penny compensation from Carillion who kept me out of work costing me and my family hundreds of thousands in lost wages and I want justice from the courts”, says Dave Smith.

It is worth examining in particular the case of Carillion, as this is a company deeply embedded into public services provision, for the NHS and councils. The culture within the company of disregard for the rule of law is especially concerning as so much public money is siphoned off to them.

Carillion’s involvement with blacklisting came to light when in 2009 the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) seized a database of 3,213 construction workers used by 44 companies to vet new recruits and keep out of employment trade union and health and safety activists. The ICO confirmed that Dave Smith was one of 224 construction workers from around the UK were victims of blacklisting by Carillion. These names, on the files of the blacklisting body The Consulting Association, were released in the course of the Dave Smith’s employment tribunal.

There is evidence from the Information Commissioner that Carillion involvement with the Consulting Association blacklist included parts of their organization such as Crown House, Schal International, SkyBlue Employment Agency, Tarmac and John Mowlem as well as Carillion itself.

The following Carillion managers were named at the Scottish Affairs Committee as being involved in the operation of the blacklist: Frank Duggan: group personnel director for Carillion plc; Kevin Gorman: former human resources manager for Carillion’s Crown House division; Liz Keates: head of human resouces at Carillion; Sandy Palmer: NCS and Dave Aspinall: NCS (Carillion’s in-house employment agency); John Ball: head of human resources at Carillion; Roger Robinson and Brian Tock: two managing directors of Crown House; John Edwards from Carillion is identified as attending Consulting Association meetings in 2008.

Blacklisting by Carillion was not something rare. GMB estimates that in one quarter that Carillion checked 2,776 names with the Consulting Association and in the period from October 1999 to April 2004 it estimates that Carillion checked at least 14,724 names. This makes it one of the bigger users.