Direct Discrimination: Former Judge Jocelynne Scutt’s verdict on the 50swomen pension delay

Jocelynne Scutt

Some 3.8 million women suffered direct discrimination by the Tory government’s decision in 1995 to raise the pension age, of women to 65 and then 66, MPs and peers will be told at a briefing in Parliament today.

This is the main finding of a big report by Jocelynne Scutt, a former Australian judge who served on the Fiji bench and was Tasmania’s first Anti Discrimination Commissioner. She now teaches law at the University of Buckingham and is a member of both the Australian Labor Party and the British Labour Party and is a Labour councillor in Cambridge.

Her report followed a hearing by the CEDAWinLAW People’s Tribunal last July which specifically looked into the plight of 50sborn women where some of the women and Dr Elgun Safarov, vice chair of the UN Convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls (CEDAW) from Geneva, gave evidence. The UN committee is currently challenging the UK government to explain its failure to write the convention into UK law some 36 years after Margaret Thatcher ratified it.

The ruling in the report to be published in due course is much tougher than the case put forward by two members of BackTo60 in the court hearings following the judicial review. Then lawyers argued that the women had suffered indirect discrimination as their opportunities to pay contributions into the National Insurance fund, among other issues, to qualify for a full pension were not equal with men.

Jocelynne Scutt argues that this was not indirect discrimination but direct discrimination of a specific group of women who had been singled out to wait for their pension while everyone else was unaffected. It has also to be taken into account that 9.8 million men over 60 who decided not to claim unemployment benefit were given free auto-credits which ensured that nearly all got a full pension for life. It was going to be offered to women until 2018 but that idea was swiftly scrapped.

Every one of these women – many who have worked since the age of 15 as well as bringing up a family- was promised by the government when they started work that they could retire at 60 and planned to do so. And given the Department for Work and Pensions told the courts that it was not obliged under the 1995 Act to tell them personally this had changed – this only came in when men were affected by a rise in their retirement age.

Jocelynne Scutt has already delivered the report to Rishi Sunak at Downing Street. She argues that 50s women were treated unfavourably from the start. The 1995 decision did not affect any women born in the 1940s, targeted the 1950s women while those born in 1960s and 1970s onwards had much longer to adjust. The Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report agrees there was partial maladministration in that 50s women were not properly informed. In fact hardly anyone was properly informed until it all changed with men and women facing a rise in their pension age to 66.

Full restitution must be honoured – Jocelynne Scutt

Jocelynne Scutt says “Government and Parliament have a responsibility to face up to and acknowledge the grave wrong done. There is no room for obfuscation or quibbling. Historical discrimination requires relief. There is a moral imperative to right this wrong. The law is on the side of the 1950s-born women. 1950sborn women alone are the group targeted. This is a debt of law and honour. Full restitution is the only proper legal, ethical and moral outcome. Full restitution must be honoured.

The briefing is in the House of Commons at 2.0pm today.

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How the Tories keep our Parliamentary Ombudsman powerless – while telling the rest of the world they back the highest standards

Rob Behrens Parliamentary Ombudsman

A high powered peer review of the Parliamentary Ombudsman has exposed the hypocrisy and double standards of the present UK government towards people having the right to redress from bad and unfair public and NHS treatment.

The report released from an international panel of Ombudsmen , an academic and a UK housing ombudsman concludes with a polite but damning assessment of the failure of the government to keep its word to strengthen the Ombudsman’s powers. Members of the panel included both the Greek and Israeli Ombudsmen and a respected academic, Professor Robert Thomas, Professor of Public Law, University of Manchester.

The UK is a member of the Council of Europe Venice Commission which lays down what are known as the ” Venice Principles” – an international standard to guarantee the independence of the Ombudsman and the human rights of people to have direct access to the Ombudsman to make complaints about their treatment by public services.

The UK then co-sponsored a UN resolution incorporating these standards for the entire world – telling every country that Britain was in the lead on this issue.

But then under successive Tory governments of Boris Johnson, Elizabeth Truss and Rishi Sunak nothing has not only been done but ministers have taken active steps to thwart reform.

The most obvious example is Michael Gove, who used his power in the Cabinet Office, to block any bill-even a draft bill- coming before Parliament to the despair of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (Pacac) which under a Tory MP wanted this to happen.

The situation is remarkably similar to the government’s attitude towards the UN Convention on the elimination of all discrimination against women and girls (CEDAW) which Margaret Thatcher ratified in 1986 and had still not been properly implemented 40 years on . This is now the subject of a review from the convention in Geneva which criticises the UK for not implementing it properly and is demanding answers.

The conclusions of the peer review couldn’t be clearer:

Professor Rob Thomas Pic credit: Administrative Justice Council

“The ‘Venice Principles’ lay down a set of international standards and principles on the protection and promotion of Ombudsman institutions. These have been accepted by the UK, as a member of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe in 2019. They were also adopted by the UN in a motion co-sponsored by the UK Government in 2020.

” In several respects, PHSO’s legal framework complies with the ‘Venice Principles’, but not in other respects. PHSO’s statutory framework is now out of date and widely seen as being unnecessarily restrictive. PHSO is also out of line with other UK Ombudsman offices, which possess powers that PHSO does not.
“This means that citizens in some parts of the UK do not have the same rights as others. We are aware that reform of the Ombudsman is a long standing and unresolved issue, although it has become an increasingly urgent matter which makes the work of PHSO more difficult. PHSO is doing everything it can reasonably do to make the argument for reform. What is required is action from the UK Government and Parliament. Any reform must maintain PHSO’s direct reporting line into Parliament to preserve its absolute independence from Government.

Andreas Pottakis, Greek Ombudsman and President the International Ombudsman Institute -Europe

The report backs this up with a traffic light (red, amber, green) system of points where it measures the consistency and performance of the Ombudsman with the Venice principles.. Nearly all the red and amber points are caused by the failure of the government to legislate to strengthen the Ombudsman.

The government does not meet the principle that “Any individual or legal person, including NGOs, shall have the right to free, unhindered and free of charge access to the Ombudsman, and to file a complaint.” Instead a complaint has to be filtered by an MP or in the case of the NHS there has to be a “safe space” for administrators to look at the complaint before the Ombudsman can act.

There is no legal provision to protect whistleblowers who contact him. He, unlike his Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland Ombudsmen cannot initiate investigations. It is not clear whether he has full powers to force people to respond to him and certainly his recommendations don’t have to be followed by the government if he finds maladministration. There is not proper protection for his position by law and even the recruitment of a successor is limited, so not all people can apply.

Venice Principles give Ombudsman right to recommend changes to the law

The Venice Principles give him the right ” to have the power to present, in public, recommendations to Parliament or the Executive, including to amend legislation or to adopt new legislation” and this is definitely not allowed in England – otherwise he could go further on the case of the 50swomen who lost their pensions for up to six years.

Now you might think the Ombudsman would make a great deal out of this report to press the government to expand his powers or show up ministers for failing to keep their obligations to an international agreement they signed.

But the heading on his website is “World’s first official international ombudsman review finds UK service is robust and good value “. Yes the report does make good points about improvements in the running of the Ombudsman’s |Office but its fundamental objection is given muted coverage – buried down in the copy.

Further down the press release Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, says: “The peer review rightly says that the UK is out-of-step with other modern Ombudsman services in terms of our statutory framework. Without powers of own initiative, I am hamstrung from investigating many systemic issues that no one is looking at. Legislative reform of the UK Ombudsman service would mean fewer barriers to justice and more opportunities to prevent injustice happening in the future.”

I think a more gutsy Ombudsman would fight his corner better -particularly as this government is on the back foot when it comes to defending decent public services and upholding standards in public life.

A more cynical explanation is that the government don’t want the public to have greater rights to complain as they are fearful of more bad administration and scandals coming to light But they want the rest of the world to think Britain is a beacon of good government in this area -knowing this is a lie.

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Andreas I. Pottakis

Tribunal of the Absurd: My Verdict on the Dr Chris Day whistleblower case

Dr Chris Day

An employment tribunal under Judge Anne Martin has thrown out whistleblower Dr Chris Day’s claims against the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust after an eight year battle about patient safety at the intensive care unit in Woolwich Hospital.

In a bizarre ruling the judge has managed to discredit the evidence of Dr Day’s witnesses, including the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt and two very senior medical experts.

She glossed over the disclosure of the deliberate destruction of 90,000 emails by the NHS Trust, which should have been provided as more evidence of what happened during the eight year long dispute.

She played down false evidence given under oath from the trust’s chief executive, Ben Travis, that there was no record of a board meeting which discussed his case and approved the settlement when a note of the meeting came to light. Evidence here.

She is remarkably sympathetic to David Cocke, the associate director of communications at the trust destroying the 90,000 emails, which is a criminal offence, and accepted the excuses of the NHS Trust to avoid him attending the court where he would be cross examined.

Jeremy Hunt; Official Portrait

She did have the opportunity to strike out the trust’s defence midway through the hearing when it became clear that large volumes of potential evidence had been withheld and destroyed but decided there was enough evidence to continue the case. Now with this judgement we know why – perhaps she didn’t want to hear anything else that would prevent her finding for the trust.

Despite a long rambling 67 page judgement Judge Martin’s findings are as notable for what they omit as much as what they disclose and seems to cast doubt in one instance on the integrity of Dr Day while accepting at face value anything put forward by the trust.

Sir Norman Lamb

Dr Day was backed by two prominent politicians Jeremy Hunt and Sir Norman Lamb, a former health minister. Early in the judgement she disposes of Jeremy Hunt’s evidence by saying ” it relates to what he was told by the Claimant about the protected disclosures he had made. It does not refer to the
statements made by the Respondent which are the subject of this hearing. The Tribunal does not understand why his witness statement was put forward.”

This odd statement by the judge seems to suggest that Dr Chris Day told Jeremy Hunt t what to say – which I find hard to believe. I think Jeremy Hunt can make up his own mind and wouldn’t have given that statement if he hadn’t thought something was wrong. Sir Norman Lamb who was very vocal about the trust’s failings in treating Dr Chris Day – enough to want an inquiry – is said by the judge to have been treated ” fairly” by the trust.

Dr Megan Smith

The two medical witnesses Dr Megan Smith and Dr Sebastian Hormaeche were also dismissed as biased because they were supporters of Dr Chris Day’s whistleblowing activity. In fact Dr Day has never met Dr Megan Smith. She effectively demolished the case provided by the trust’s ” independent” consultant Roddis Associates, that staffing levels at the intensive care unit were adequate by quoting the national guidelines. She told the hearing;“You would not find an anaesthetist or ICU doctor in the country who would accept those ratios. There was a clear and present danger to patient safety – no question about that.”

Yet this fact- it is fact not a campaigning point by Dr Day – is ignored completely.

She said: “I have been a member of my hospital’s Serious Incident Review Panel and am currently the mortality lead for the department of anaesthesia with responsibility for investigating any patient deaths. I am also a practising barristerand I carry out expert witness work (primarily in the field of clinical negligence) for”. She linked Dr Day’s safety concerns at the ICU to the two deaths there.

When it comes to the treatment of Mr Cocke the judge almost turns somersaults to protect his activity. The passage where she describes him shows up her unconscious prejudice in favour of the trust.

“It was Mr Cocke who opened this can of worms. It was he who contacted Dr Harding [one of the doctors that Dr Day raised the issue of the icu) and he who forwarded the emails provided by Dr Harding to the Claimant. He has been open about deleting the documents.

” It was not a situation where he owned up only because he had been found out. This does not strike the Tribunal as the actions of someone who is mindset on concealing documents and lends some credence to his explanation.””

And on his non appearance:”The Tribunal’s view at that time was that considering the medical evidence from Mr Cocke’s GP there was no medical reason Mr Cocke could not give evidence and if he did not give evidence then this was a decision of the Respondent.
Further medical information was then obtained which said that Mr Cocke was too unwell to attend to give evidence. Mr Cocke did not give evidence. On balance the Tribunal is satisfied that Mr Cocke was unfit to give evidence.
“Whilst the members of this Tribunal are not medically trained, it appeared that the apparent contradictions raised by the Claimant were indicative of a progressing mental health issue and this taken together with the irrational act of deleting emails points to Mr Cocke being quite unwell especially as it was he who first provided extra documents that had not been disclosed. We do not doubt that Mr Cocke is ill, but accept that there is no independent medical information explaining the nature of his illness and how it manifests.”

First of all it remarkably prejudicial for a judge to describe the unearthing of documents that should have been provided four years ago in discovery as “a can of worms” and secondly it is remarkable for a judge to decide to excuse a criminal act as a mental health problem. That seems a job for a psychiatrist not a judge who admits she has no medical expertise.

Harold Pinter: Pic Credit: National Portrait Gallery

Pulling this altogether this hearing would make a splendid play for the Theatre of the Absurd – it reads a bit like a plot by Harold Pinter than a serious contribution to judicial case law..

I hope some playwright considers putting together a play or TV drama on Dr Day’s epic eight year struggle for justice for patient safety. It should be dedicated to the two people who unfortunately died at Woolwich Hospital ICU and whom the trust prefers to forget.

I can’t imagine a more fitting place for Judge Anne Martin, Ben Travis and David Cocke to appear than a hard hitting and satirical play at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Note: Dr Day is currently raising cash for a further hearing next month in connection with this case and the involvement of the Health Education England – the link is
https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/junior-doctors-whistleblowing-protection/

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Cheated Again! MPs blast Department for Work and Pensions for not acting fast enough to reimburse £1.46 billion to pensioners

The DWP is attacked today by MPs on the powerful Commons Public Accounts Committee for not having a credible plan to reimburse hundred of thousands of pensioners who have been shortchanged billions of pounds in pension payments.

The scheme is the only programme where the DWP admits it has made gigantic mistakes by underpaying pensioners and is committed to return the money owed to them. It is obvious at the moment that ministers and civil servants have no intention of reimbursing people who have been denied a guaranteed minimum pension when they were contracted out by their employer.

Nor do they appear to be remotely interested in compensating the 1950s women who lost six years of their pensions despite it being clear that the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Robert Behrens, has found maladministration in not telling the women properly about it, let alone even considering whether women were unfairly discriminated by the decision. The fact that not a single minister has talked to anybody about 50swomen since 2016 speaks volumes.

What is clear from a report by the MPs ( which also tackles benefit fraud) is that they are distinctly unimpressed by the DWP’s handling of this despite assurances from Peter Schofield, the permanent secretary, at the department during a committee hearing earlier this year.

Peter Schofield Pic credit: gov.uk

The Department’s efforts to correct the systemic underpayment of State Pension are too slow to meaningfully put things right. The Department now estimates that 237,000 pensioners have been underpaid a total of £1.46 billion in their State Pension.
“Despite these underpayments going back as far as 1985, the Department’s overall exercise to correct this issue is delayed from the end of 2023 to the end of 2024. The Department cannot be certain that its plan to deliver the exercise on schedule is achievable, as it is dependent on assumptions around recruitment, retraining, and automation.

“We are not convinced that the Department has done enough to ensure its communications to potentially affected pensioners are sufficiently clear. We are concerned that this may leave many pensioners lacking reassurance that they will receive meaningful and timely redress.

We remain unconvinced about the DWP – MPs.

“The Department does not yet know the full extent of the underpayment relating to Home Responsibilities Protection, and it is dependent on HMRC to evaluate the impact of these underpayments on pensioners. The Department cannot be certain that it has identified all the underpayments implied by the results of its annual measurement exercise. Overall, we remain unconvinced that the Department’s control systems are adequate to detect further underpayments before they build up into major issues in future.”
Sounds familiar. Anyone trying to ring the department already knows what lousy communicators the ministry is- that is, if you can get through to them..

And it looks like there is worse to come. The report said:

“The NAO [National Audit Office] reported that the Department cannot rule out that there may be further groups of pensioners, as yet unidentified, that have been affected by a historic underpayment.
It concluded that this was in large part because the Department had not set out plans to revise its control processes for State Pension cases to ensure that underpayments are detected and recorded at the point of payment.”

Yet again through delays and failure to get a grip pensioners are being cheated of their rightful dues and many may die before they receive them. Is there no part of the DWP that can function correctly?

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Massive win for nuclear whistleblower Alison McDermott against Sellafield for re-arguing the tribunal decision by employment judge Lancaster

The Sellafield site

First hurdle over clearing the way for a two day hearing in January to decide on whether the 13 grounds mean the ruling is overturned

An employment appeal judge has ruled that the decision by Judge Philip Lancaster dismissing whistleblower Alison McDermott’s case against Sellafield and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority can be challenged now on no fewer than 13 grounds.

This extraordinary ruling on Friday in London by Employment Judge Tucker took less than 10 minutes to grant after she read the submission by Andrew Allen, KC, Alison’s counsel , means practically everything Judge Lancaster decided is open to challenge at an Employment Appeal Tribunal hearing in January. She decided she did not need to hear oral submission from Andrew Allen.

Alison McDermott; Pic credit BBC

In an earlier particularly harsh decision Judge Lancaster had decided that she wasn’t even a whistleblower, for producing, at Sellafield’s request, a damning report revealing serious issues in the HR function including allegations of bullying and harassment. Prior to this Alison had raised repeated concerns about racism, homophobic and foul language and a workforce too frightened to complain to senior management there.

Despite admitting that some of the concerns Alison raised were: ‘very offensive and concerning ” the judge ruled: “The Claimant has not, on the facts, established any alleged disclosure which is properly capable of amounting to a protected qualifying disclosure or the doing of a protected act, or that there is any causal link between what she actually said or wrote.”

It is worth providing a brief recap of what Sellafield and the NDA have done to Alison.  She spoke out repeatedly about serious abuses of employees, including abject failures within the HR department, when the HR Director, Heather Roberts dismissed her overnight, allegedly for financial reasons. But when Alison started litigation, Sellafield changed its tune and Ms Roberts said she had had concerns about her performance and had only mentioned financial reasons to be kind. 

Sellafield then dragged out litigation for three years before making a last-minute offer of £160,000. When they realised the carrot hadn’t worked, they decided to go on the attack and subjected her to a brutalising cross-examination in which her character and competence were repeatedly vilified until she finally broke down on the witness stand.   But even then, they weren’t finished with her.  As soon as Judge Lancaster ruled in their favour, they lost no time pursuing her for costs   And all of this will have a hugely chilling effect on their 11,000 nuclear workforce.  

Judge Lancaster claims he concentrates on anti-discrimination cases

Judge Lancaster, who says he specialises in anti-discrimination cases, went on to support Sellafield’s allegation of “underperformance” describing the report as ” questionable and insubstantial ” and without ” meaningful analysis”. Judge Lancaster completely ignored that management consultants PwC ruled that the HR function was not fit for purpose some three months later.

By then Heather Roberts, then the HR director at Sellafield, had already sacked her on the spot and immediately buried the damning report and admitted to lying about the reasons.  Despite knowing that Alison had become so ill and had no income, the judge made a costs order against her and allowed Sellafield and the NDA to put in a claim for £40,000 costs against her.

Now Judge Lancaster’s own judgement will be in the firing line in January when an appeal tribunal examines 13 arguable grounds of appeal. In a skeleton argument, citing a previous judgement, Andrew Allen, KC, finds a plethora of errors in law which led to Judge Lancaster’s bizarre judgement that she was not a whistleblower. One paragraph that encompasses this – citing no fewer that eight grounds that the case could be challenged gives a flavour of this.

“It is an error of law for a tribunal to fail to give adequate reasons for its decisions so as to enable the losing party to understand why she has lost. The EAT has already decided that it is arguable that this tribunal have erred in law: in applying s27 EqA – in failing to recognise protected acts; in applying s109(2) EqA in identifying the correct relationship in dealing with agency; in failing to engage with the Claimant’s submissions in particular on adverse inferences, protected acts and agency; in failing to take a step back and look at the totality of the evidence; in failing to be Meek compliant; in failing to ensure compliance with the overriding objective to ensure that the parties are on an equal footing; in failing to ensure that the hearing was heard in public in failing to recognise that the Claimant has advanced argument on the facts and the law in relation to the agency point; and in failing to comply with the overriding objective in dealing with the case fairly and justly.”

Andrew Allen KC

Andrew Allen, KC also argued that the tribunal had failed to follow the principles of the law in pursuing costs again Alison which says should only be made in exceptional circumstances especially in the case of whistleblowing cases.

This case and Sellafield’s response is attracting wider attention. It is not just the UK press. On Friday, representatives of a prominent Norwegian environmental campaign group, Neptune Networks flew in from Oslo to attend the hearing.  

Norwegian national press to follow the case

Neptune Networks has been raising serious concerns about Sellafield for the last two decades and confirmed that they will be attending the main hearing on 17 and 18 January 2020 and they will be accompanied by members of the national Norwegian press.

Finally a little note about Judge Lancaster. He is also the chair of directors of a Christian charity, Spacious Spaces, based in Leeds, which offers treatment programmes for alcoholics and drug takers. Here he is known simply as ” Phil”. This is the note about him on their site.

“Phil Lancaster practised as a barrister, specialising in criminal cases. He is now an Employment Judge dealing primarily with the anti-discrimination laws. He is a member of St George’s Church, where he has been a church warden and served on the parochial church council. He is married with fairly recently grown-up children and a large collection of Bob Dylan cds.”

I find it a little perplexing given his Christian background and commitment to treating drug addicts and alcoholics that he is not concerned about what Alison McDermott exposed about the pressures on staff inside Sellafield who are working in the most hazardous nuclear site in Europe.  I also find it deeply disturbing that he made snide and pejorative comments about Alison both during the ET hearing and in the merits and cost judgment. 

An example of this is the nasty insinuations he made about Alison when he accused her in the costs judgment of bringing a claim ‘to advance her career across the nuclear sector’ even though she had turned down a £160,000 to bring her claim to court.   He also seems oblivious of the huge strain and damage whistleblowers face to their careers when they blow the whistle.   If his judgement is found to be so badly wrong by the Employment Appeal Tribunal, there must be some serious questions about justice in the employment tribunal system.

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Delivered to Downing Street: Jocelynne Scutt’s tribunal report on the horrors facing #50swomen who faced delayed pensions

Jocelynne Scutt, president of the Convention for Ending all Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Tribunal, yesterday delivered her report on the plight of 50s born women to Rishi Sunak, the new Prime Minister, at Downing Street.

The report, to be officially published at the end of this month, is the latest move to press for full restitution for the women who had to wait 6 years to get their pension. It is timely reminder to the government which is about implement big tax rises and spending cuts that this issue will not go away for the 3.6 million people who lost out.

Jocelynne Scutt, President of the CEDAW Tribunal; Janet Chapman, Ian Byrne’s Parliamentary Assistant, and Ian Byrne, Labour MP for Liverpool, West Derby, who tabled a Parliamentary motion call for full restitution, pictured outside Parliament

Jocelynne Scutt gave a speech outlining the main issues and Ian Byrne wholeheartedly backing the campaign. See it on a video here.

Ian Byrne’s Parliamentary motion now has 75 signatures from MPs. The latest MPs to sign include more Labour MPs such as Qureshi Yasmin, Bolton, South East; Karl Turner, Kingston-upon-Hull, East: Dan Jarvis, Barnsley Central; and Khalid Mahmood, Birmingham, Perry Barr and Clive Betts, Sheffield South East.

Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse and MP for Bath is the first member of the party to sign.

The issue is very popular in Northern Ireland with all MPs in the Democratic Unionist Party signing plus a member from Social Democrat Labour Party and the Alliance. Eight MPs from Scottish National Party have signed and two from Alba Party. There are also a number of ex Labour MPs now Independents have signed, the latest being Dr Rupa Huq, MP for Ealing Central and South Acton.

It is noticeable that not a single Conservative MP has signed the new motion though many signed the motion in the last Parliament calling for full restitution.

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How Sellafield and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority misuse taxpayer’s money to hound a whistleblower

Alison Mc Dermott, whistleblower

One of the biggest tactics to frighten whistleblowers by big companies and health trusts is to threaten whistleblowers exposing malpractice, corruption and discrimination and say they have to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in costs unless they settle or drop their claims for detriment at employment tribunals.

The tactic regularly used by firms and health trusts in employment tribunal cases is based on a lie. The maximum an employment tribunal can order costs is £20,000 per respondent. Only if it goes to the High Court can a firm or health trust demand such eye-watering sums.

However Sellafield, the NDA and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ministry have decided that it is worth pursuing whistleblower Alison McDermott, a consultant formerly employed by Sellafield for the maximum £40,000 shared between the NDA and Sellafield. They know she has no income and they have even tried to close down her crowdfunding site to raise money to defend herself against their costs claim.

Her whistleblower site is here and you can donate to bring the sum up to £10,000 within the next 14 days otherwise she loses the lot.

Damning report revealed relentless bullying at Sellafield

Alison was called in by Sellafield’s human resources department to investigate their working practices and produced a damning report revealing employees were subjected to appalling racist, sexist and homophobic abuse and relentless bullying. Only 11 per cent felt they could raise issues with the company without reprisals and four percent thought they got honest answers. Faced with such a damning account Sellafield sacked her rather than change its ways.

This led to an employment tribunal case which not only found in favour of Sellafield and the NDA but saw her publicly denigrated by Sellafield’s barrister, Deshpal Panesar KC, who accused her of ‘acting out of revenge’  of being ‘intent on ruining careers’ of being ‘self-absorbed’ and ‘a woman clearly in pursuit of a windfall.’ 

The NDA tried to buy her off with a £160,000 pay out in return for her silence on what she had found at Sellafield. She refused to accept – arguing among other points that such a culture permeating a nuclear facility was dangerous given serious issues of health and safety. She tried to raise this with BEIS but they refused to meet with her having signed off the £160,000 settlement.

Now a judge has ruled that she is entitled to appeal on six different grounds – and she has secured Andrew Allen, KC, a lawyer who represented Dr Chris Day, in his recent whistleblowing tribunal case against Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, to represent her.

But she has also to face a costs hearing. So how is this being pursued by the NDA and Sellafield.

Sellafield

I put in two freedom of information requests to Sellafield and the NDA on how much they had spent and the revelations were very interesting. Sellafield has already spent £5640.16 on external advice plus using its own staff to pursue Alison. The NDA spent £7524.58 on external legal advice and an unknown sum on staff time to pursue her. So before we even get to court over £13,000 has been spent using taxpayers money. Furthermore the NDA according to an internal memo spent money on lawyers trying to close down her whistleblowing appeal with no success. The total cost spent by both organisations fighting Alison has exceeded £500,000 of taxpayers money.

The replies also revealed that the boards of both organisations including the Chief executive officer of the NDA , David Peattie ,were ” apprised” of the decision meaning that it reached board level. BEIS was also informed and approved the costs case but declined to comment about it because of current legal proceedings. What on earth are the boards of these organisations spending their time on this when they have much serious work to do on issues like nuclear safety and disposing of old nuclear power stations.

Now when this gets to a tribunal there will be a two day hearing and according to internal NDA documents it was paying over £5500 a day for top notch barristers. It is reasonable to assume so was Sellafield. This means the hearing will cost another £22,000 as they will be represented separately.

So altogether we are taking about £35,000 as a minimum ( excluding staff time) to recover a maximum of £40,000. That is – if they win. And even if they win most judges rarely award the full sum if it is a litigant in person. It is more likely to be £5000. If they lose this is taxpayers’ money being thrown down the drain.

If this was a commercial company I very much doubt it would past muster as a ” business case”. It is only because the boards of these organisations have unlimited access to taxpayers money that they can pursue this.

And to my mind this is only being pursued to hound a whistleblower who has produced some very damning information about life in Sellafield. This has called Sellafield’s reputation into question and they don’t like it, hence this vindictive approach.

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Will the final report from the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry be a real game changer for children or just gather dust?

Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry

It was unfortunate that the long awaited final report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse coincided with the resignation of Liz Truss, the shortest serving PM in British history. The Westminster psychodrama has drained political discussion of any policy initiatives from the government while the main protagonists in the Tory Party fight each other to the death for the top job.

If Theresa May , who commissioned the inquiry, was still PM I suspect that action would have been taken promptly. As it is there will be no response from the government for six months and I doubt whether we will see any new laws for years. Particularly if Boris Johnson becomes PM again as he made it vividly clear that investigating child sex abuse was a waste of money. You only have to look at how long it is taking to reform the antiquated Mental Health Act to see a parallel.

Having reported on it and even helped to initiate the inquiry as a journalist, I have followed it with a lot of interest , both when I was on Exaro News and on this blog. I have mixed feelings about the £186m inquiry .

On the plus side the scale of the inquiry – some 15 investigations in every institutional area of the UK from the Roman Catholic Church and Church of England to local authority care and the reach of the global internet – should put to bed any misconceptions that child sex abuse is not a major epidemic in this country. And it proves that in many instances that those in charge of those institutions are more than willing to turn a blind eye and pretend it doesn’t exist either for reputational reasons or because they actively connived in the sexual exploitation of children.

Also it did provide a much needed voice for thousands of survivors who might never get real justice but at least now felt people had listened to their appalling life changing experiences.

Carl Beech, a false flag victim of child sexual abuse, who made up allegations damaged real survivirs

On the other hand I felt -because it was closely tied to the legal profession- they felt they had to be ultra cautious and only take on proven cases by perpetrators – whether Bishop Ball or dead people like Sir Cyril Smith – because the fury from families of the living, I am thinking of Greville Janner, wanted no discussion of anything to suggest that he might have been involved.

The inquiry also took place during the conviction of paedophile Carl Beech whose detailed revelations turned out to be made up and the Metropolitan Police spent millions investigating them. I suspect that made them more cautious and the media ultra cautious in reporting fresh allegations.

The downside of this is that has protected more paedophiles from media scrutiny and made authorities less likely to believe victims. One only has to see the total silence in the media of the allegations revealed in Simon Danczuk and Dan Smith’s book, Scandal at Dolphin Square, of a well researched story of David Ingle, a victim of abuse by a Lincolnshire farmer there.

Now the proof will be in the legacy of this inquiry. It has proposed the mandatory reporting of sexual abuse – making it a criminal offence not to do so. But there is an argument whether this goes far enough.

Richard Scorer, the head of abuse law at Slater and Gordon, which represented more than 120 victims at the inquiry, said there should also be a criminal penalty for failure to report abuse that is reasonably suspected, otherwise organisations will continue to turn a blind eye.

He is reported in a good analysis by Rajeev Syal in the Guardian as saying:” Children rarely disclose abuse, perpetrators almost never do,” he said. “Mandatory reporting can only work if the requirement to report suspicions has consequences, such as a criminal sanction. The inquiry’s proposal falls short of what survivors seek.”

More must be done to support whistleblowers of sexual abuse

More can also be done to support whistleblowers in this situation.

Jayne Senior, Director of Safeguarding at WhistleblowersUK, said;
“After a week of political turmoil, it would be easy to overlook the damning reports exposing the failure by every possible authority to protect Children and the most vulnerable in our society and the Whistleblowers who have selflessly spoken up only to become targets and subsequently victims themselves.”

The report also proposes a national compensation scheme for survivors of sexual abuse and “the creation of a Child Protection Authority (CPA) in England and in Wales. The CPAs will have powers to inspect any institution associated with children. They will not replace current inspectorates in relation to the statutory authorities, but may require inspection of those authorities by existing inspectorates. The CPAs over time will become centres of expertise, and may extend their child protection functions to other forms of harm experienced by children.”

There are also 17 other recommendations. They vary from tougher controls of the internet to extending the debarring and disclosure scheme for staff to those working overseas with children to the end of pain compliance techniques for children held in custody.

The problem is that again unfortunately these measures come at a new time of austerity and fresh spending cuts so I can’t see a government committed to lifting the burdens of regulations wanting to implement them soon.

The problem is immense and the report estimates that child sexual abuse costs the country £10 billion and of the 13 million children in the UK “Babies, toddlers and children are potentially at risk, with current
estimates indicating that 1 in 6 girls and 1 in 20 boys experience child sexual abuse before the age of 16.”

But it is going to take a lot of action and public pressure to make the government act and also create a gamechanger situation for the millions of children suffering sexual abuse which is a global problem.

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The economic horror yet to come: Shocking report from Barnardo’s on family poverty

Jeremy Hunt – cutting benefits in the cost of living crisis

Yesterday Jeremy Hunt, the new chancellor, announced the biggest Budget U-turn in history, throwing out nearly all of Liz Truss’s and Kwame Kwarteng’s tax cuts and announcing a big curb on help for those with rising energy bills.

But this only the half of it. In less than two weeks time big cuts will be announced for public expenditure in a wealthy country and there will be more grim news for the poor – whether pensioners or low income families whatever pledges are given for compassionate Conservativism. But what is the position now before the axe falls on public spending amid a cost of living crisis?

This is the answer given in a well researched report by Barnardo’s the children’s charity, drawing on work done by the polling organisations, Yougov, and the non Tufton Street think tanks, the Institute for Public Policy Research and IPPR North. See Barnardo’s press release here.

Barnado’s logo

More than half the parents contacted have ALREADY cut back on food for the family and one in five parents have struggled to supply sufficient food. Over a quarter of parents say their children’s mental health has been affected and one in five taken out new credit cards – boosting the profits of the banks just as curbs on bankers’ bonuses have been lifted. Sadly a quarter have had to sell some of their possessions to make ends meet and a small number have had to return pets to animal rescue centres because they can’t afford to keep them.

Among the professions, three out of five people are supporting a child, young person or family experiencing poverty and three in five practitioners have either given food or pointed families to food banks. The Mirror today gives a dramatic account from other charities backing up this food crisis.

Barnardo’s calls for more benefit help not less

The charity is calling for an extension of free school; meals to all families; help for all vulnerable children to be able to participate fully in school life; strengthen targeted social security payments to help young people and families manage better; improve mental health services to help children and introduce more family hubs to support people and children.

The problem is what journalists are hearing is likely to be the opposite – real cuts to social security – a mental health service starved of resources and no compassion to extend free school meals.

Banardo’s doesn’t cover issues facing pensioners but given comments on my site the most likely changes for them are the end of the triple lock, the raising of the pension age again- and using the excuse that families are struggling in work to say pensioners can’t have a good deal.

What can’t be exaggerated is that more and more people are being driven into poverty whatever the government says ( they claim the opposite). So unless you are banker or a very highly paid executive getting a big national insurance reduction or an MP or minister life this winter is going to be very grim.

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Pension Justice stalemate: WASPI and Backto60 step up rival campaigns just as the new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt plans new spending cuts

Jeremy Hunt, the new chancellor of the Exchequer

And a Parliamentary Petition is laid to change another pension injustice affecting millions

The chaotic and collapsing government of Liz Truss is facing rival demands to settle the long running dispute affecting 3.6 million 1950s born women demanding compensation for maladministration and inequality over the six year delay in paying their pension.

Ian Byrne, the Labour MP for Liverpool, West Derby, has tabled a motion supporting Backto60’s demand for full restitution of the lost money – up to £50,000 in some cases- payable through a special temporary Parliamentary measure – to avoid changing the 1995 Pensions Act which set the higher retirement age for women.

Ian Byrne MP

Some 35 MPs have backed him including the former Labour shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who got Labour to back a £58 billion compensation package in the 2019 election campaign; former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn and host of other Labour MPs, including Ian Lavery, Tony Lloyd, Mike Amesbury, Richard Burgon and Clive Lewis. It is also supported by Alison Thewlis, the SNP Treasury spokesperson and Chris Stephens, SNP Fair Work and Employment spokesman. Two members of the Democratic Unionist Party, Jim Shannon and Gregory Campbell, also backed the motion. The full list is here.

Chloe Smith, work and pensions secretary

The initiative from Waspi involves getting its members to send a template letter to their MP asking them to back their version of compensation for 50s women. For avoidance of any doubt here is the full text which would be sent to Chloe Smith, the new work and pensions secretary.

Chloe Smith MP

Secretary of State

Department for Work and Pensions

Caxton House

Tothill St

London, SW1H 9NA

XX October 2022

Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State!

I write in the hope that you may be able to ‘reset’ the government’s relationship with the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign, whom I met during the Summer Recess.

Parliamentary answers (see UIN14559) confirm that no Minister in your department has met the campaign since 2016, which is something I am hoping that you and colleagues will be prepared to put right.

As you will know, last year the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has found that the Department was guilty of maladministration, in failing to communicate significant changes to the State Pension Age, which were legislated for in 1995.  Specifically, the PHSO has concluded “the opportunity that additional notice would have given them to adjust their retirement plans was lost…DWP failed to take adequate account of the need for targeted and individually tailored information… Despite having identified there was more it could do, it failed to provide the public with as full information as possible.

While the PHSO is continuing to investigate the harm caused to women born in the 1950s, as a result of this maladministration, CEO Amanda Amroliwala has also made clear that the government need not wait for further reports before making an offer of compensation.  In a letter to our parliamentary colleague, Andrew Gwynne, she said, “We must now consider the impact of these failings on the women affected and what recommendations may be needed to remedy any associated injustice. We have suggested to the Department for Work and Pensions that they consider being proactive in this respect”.

Meanwhile, WASPI have recently commissioned research which establishes that, by the end of this year, 220,000 women will have died waiting for compensation since their campaign began in 2015.  Sadly, another woman dies every 14 minutes.

I have been struck during my conversations with the campaigners that they are therefore extremely pragmatic about achieving a resolution quickly.  They are not looking for a long fight with the government, preferring to accept a fair, fast one-off sum for those whose retirements have been devastated by mistakes made at DWP.  Specifically, they are not looking to receive ‘lost’ pension amounts, but rather to be compensated for the maladministration at DWP, which caused them to take decisions they might not otherwise have taken, had they been given proper notice of changes to the law.  Quite sensibly, they are suggesting higher levels of compensation for those given the shortest notice of the longest delay to receipt of their State Pension.

They have been through four stages of complaint at DWP and now face two further stages of the PHSO process.  All the while more of the women affected die waiting, so they are keen to see the proactivity suggested by the PHSO from your department.

Would you prepared to meet with me and with Angela Madden, the Chair of the campaign, together – both so that you can understand the (surprisingly reasonable and pragmatic) position of the campaign, and that they can hear directly from you?

While both they and I recognise that you could not make immediate commitments in any such meeting, I do believe it would be helpful to open a dialogue now rather than have the group getting more and more frustrated that government will not talk to them.  The PHSO’s ongoing investigation is not a reason to postpone discussion, since the substance of maladministration has already been confirmed.

At some point, government (of whichever political stripe) is going to be required by the Ombudsman to make an offer of compensation, so it makes sense to begin the conversation now rather than brooking further delay, during which time – sadly – more and more of the affected women will pass away.

WASPI want compensation for maladministration and nothing for restitution

The letter is a massive reduction on the demands made by the MPs. For a start they want NO rather than FULL restitution for the up to £50,000 lost by 3.6million pensioners. Instead they want an unspecified payment before the Ombudsman decides what level of compensation for maladministration. There is no mention of the £10,000 to £20,000 a head compensation promised by Angela Madden to the 50 people attending the Labour Party fringe meeting last month.

There also is a misconception that the Department for Work and Pensions is required by the Ombudsman to meet them after he has issued his report. This is not true the Ombudsman has no power to require anybody to follow his decisions – as has been shown ( see below) in another case where millions of pensioners have been cheated out of a Guaranteed Minimum Pension also promised in the 1990s.

Finally the letter speaking for the 3.6 million people say they are “reasonable and extremely pragmatic people” quite happy to accept a fast buck settlement of few quid to end this dispute. This is not reflected in the comments I receive on this site.. People are livid, angry, despairing of politicians and feel deliberately cheated by the Establishment of what they see rightly as their dues. They are fed up about being thought to be a soft touch just because they are older women. They are prepared to take on the government and refuse to vote for any politician determined to deprive them of their lost pensions.

New petition on Guaranteed Minimum Pensions

Meanwhile a Parliamentary petition has been tabled by Chris Thompson, a retired pensions expert, to restore indexation for a guaranteed minimum state pension for people outside the public sector.

“I want the Government to change the law to reinstate uprating of state pensions in respect of contracted out occupational pensions known as Guaranteed Minimum Pensions (GMP).

“I believe it is not fair that the DWP ceased to uprate state pensions in respect of certain pension entitlements when the new state pension was introduced. I believe this with done without adequate consultation or notice, and should be reversed. “Sign this petition

This followed a victory for two people after they complained of maladministration ( sounds familiar) by the DWP in not informing them of the change depriving them of indexation when the new pension came into force. The Ombudsman laid down what the DWP should to inform people of their rights, but the DWP has not followed this through properly and refused to engaged with anyone. Over a lifetime this could be worth thousands of pounds of lost pensions – and I urge 50swomen to sign this to put more pressure on the DWP. You might be entitled to extra compensation as well as your claim for your lost pensions.

Finally I don’t like to be the harbinger of bad news -but the total disaster of Liz Truss’s government – means we are now going to be faced with a further two years of austerity after she wrecked the British economy.

Sadly this will mean that the government will be extremely reluctant to compensate other people on top of subsidising people’s energy bills and introducing measures to balance the books. I see Angela Madden has managed to get a meeting with former Tory leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt, the current leader of the Commons, who appears to be involved in a plot to topple Truss with Rishi Sunak. The trouble is it is the DWP who are the ministry who will decide this – and they have just been asked by Jeremy Hunt to impose more cuts on top of long term savings to sack 91,000 civil servants across Whitehall. I can’t see them having any interest in settling this at the moment.

One bright spot will be a report by Australian judge Jocelynne Scutt is expected to pull together all the injustices in this case following the tribunal earlier this year. The report is imminent.

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