Exposed: The Whitehall high flyer who stole ministry secrets to help Adam Smith International bid for overseas aid contracts

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Raja Dasgupta: pic credit Daily Mail and keyword suggestions

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This is Raja Dasgupta. He was a fast stream entrant to the civil service elite. He had a  good career . He started in the private office of  Alan Duncan ,the minster for international development in 2011.

He was promoted to climate change manager in South Africa in 2012 and then became head of the business effectiveness team in 2014 also in South Africa.

His Linked In profile says : “I have played a leading role on strategic business planning for DFID’s regional Africa programme, directly advised and worked with UK International Development ministers, and officially represented the UK during international treaty negotiations at the United Nations.”.

But in June last year he joined Adam Smith International – a British private overseas aid contractor ( annual income £130m) which relied on 80 per cent of its money from the Department for International Development – as a senior manager based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Now he has proved to be the catalyst that has brought down ASI Ltd – which has been effectively banned from bidding for any more contracts until the organisation has proved to the ministry that it has been completely reformed. Three senior founder directors, Peter Young ( in his youth a far right Tory), Andrew Kuhn and  Amitabh Shrivastava have resigned and the founder executive chairman,William Morrison, is to leave once the reforms are completed.

Three separate sources in England and Africa  (and the Mail on Sunday) have named Raja  Dasgupta as the civil servant who gave confidential ministry  information to ASI Ltd which gave them a competitive edge to bid for contracts across Africa.

One source said : “when moving to ASI in South Africa he took with him DFID country plans and country specific private sector engagement plans that DFID would then rank bids against, it set out specific priorities and specific sectors and markets that DFID wanted to focus on…This then allowed ASI to bid on contracts specific to these Southern Africa private sector engagement plans as set out and created by DFID and FCO.( Foreign and Commonwealth Office).”

Certainly the official findings of a DFID report – which does not name him – confirm this.

“The withdrawal by ASI is the result of serious concerns about the company’s behaviour:

  • ASI employees sought to make use of improperly obtained DFID documents shared within ASI by a former member of DFID staff.
  • The documents in question were draft internal DFID documents which contained information clearly confidential to the Department.
  • The documents were nevertheless shared widely within ASI, including to senior personnel, in full knowledge that ASI should not have had access to the documents.
  • This was done with a view to exploiting the material to ASI’s commercial advantage.
  • At no point did ASI or any of its employees question this or raise concerns with DFID.
  • DFID has conducted its own forensic investigation into these allegations. There have been serious questions over ASI’s ethical integrity. It is therefore right that ASI is taking action to address this.”

I tried to contact Raja Dasgupta by ringing his Nairobi office. There was no reply nor message facility to leave my name. I tried to contact ASI’s media team and did leave a message about whether Raja was still working for them. They have not come back to me.

Reprehensible as his actions were, this story has wider ramifications. He is not just a rogue  chancer or trader even if DFID seem to pin the blame on him. The culture exposed at Adam Smith International is a damning indictment of the British company. They knew they had access to confidential material which could be used for commercial gain. They wanted to make more profits in a company that already paid six figure salaries  and huge dividends to its top people. They were millionaires dealing in poverty. That is why – even if it is reformed – DFID are right to say there will be no “quick fix” which allows them to resume business next month.

But it also raises questions about DFID and its capacity to monitor what is going on. While the aid budget has gone up – the staff budget has been cut. So fewer people are monitoring larger sums of aid. DFID will not release the  full forensic report into what happened – either to the public or to the Select Committee for International Development, which holds the ministry to account. What have they got to hide.

This story began when the Mail on Sunday exposed the firm trying and failing to hoodwink the Select Committee on International Development by creating favourable reports of their work. It has now morphed into an example of how British private contractors can try and rip off the British taxpayer for private gain by any means they see as necessary.

 

 

Independent Police Complaints Commission largely drops investigation into Met Police handling of Operation Midland

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IPCC largely clears Met Police of disciplinary charges in their handling of Operation Midland Pic Credit: Wikipedia

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The IPCC has announced on Budget Day  that it is dropping disciplinary proceedings against most of the police officers who carried out the £3m investigation into  allegations of a historic Westminster paedophile involving prominent figures, Mps and former government ministers.

In particular they have cleared all the officers facing possible disciplinary charges who investigated complaints by ” Nick ” who has been accused in a separate  independent report of possibly perverting the course of justice by raising the allegations. This is subject to a separate investigation by Northumbria Police.

The IPCC says: “The IPCC has also discontinued its investigation into allegations the DAC, DSupt and DCI failed to properly investigate allegations made by a complainant ‘Nick’ which lead to an extended investigation causing prolonged and undue stress to those under suspicion.

“There is no evidence to indicate bad faith, malice or dishonesty and no indication any of the officers may have behaved in a manner which would justify disciplinary proceedings.

” The information available indicates the investigation was extensive and carried out diligently with the majority of the decisions made appropriately recorded.”

They have dropped  complaints made by some of the people involved that the police exceeded their powers in seizing material from the homes they raided once they got search warrants.

The only investigation that will continue is into whether the police breached rules in applying for a search warrant on homes by not disclosing all the relevant information to a district judge

The Met Police had previously apologised to Lord Brittan’s family for shortcomings in the investigation-particularly the delay in informing him that they had dropped the investigation.

The full statement from the IPCC is as follows :

Following a comprehensive assessment of the available evidence relating to the conduct of five Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) officers linked to its Operation Midland, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has determined the scope of its investigation.

Operation Midland was an investigation into allegations of non-recent sexual offences said to have been committed by prominent public figures.

There is an indication that a detective chief inspector (DCI), a detective inspector (DI) and a detective sergeant (DS) may have behaved in a manner that would justify disciplinary proceedings in that they may have failed to accurately present all relevant information to a district judge when applying for search warrants for three properties.

It has been determined that there is no such indication in respect of similar allegations against a deputy assistant commissioner (DAC) and a detective superintendent (DSupt). As a result this part of the investigation against them has been discontinued.

The IPCC has also discontinued its investigation into allegations the DAC, DSupt and DCI failed to properly investigateallegations made by a complainant ‘Nick’ which lead to an extended investigation causing prolonged and undue stress to those under suspicion. There is no evidence to indicate bad faith, malice or dishonesty and no indication any of the officers may have behaved in a manner which would justify disciplinary proceedings. The information available indicates theinvestigation was extensive and carried out diligently with the majority of the decisions made appropriately recorded.

The MPS also referred the conduct of the DAC relating to allegations that an investigation into Lord Brittan was extended without good reason to do so thereby causing significant distress to Lord Brittan and his family. The evidence indicates a significant delay in making the decision to take no further action in the case but does not indicate the DAC may have behaved in a manner which would justify disciplinary proceedings. As a result the IPCC has discontinued this part of theinvestigation.

The IPCC has also discontinued investigating allegations that there were irregularities in the seizure of exhibits during the subsequent searches. There is no evidence to indicate that any of the officers involved may have breached professional standards.

IPCC Commissioner Carl Gumsley said:

“The allegation that incomplete information may have been provided to a district judge when applying for search warrants is serious and the IPCC will thoroughly investigate this matter.

“However, a thorough assessment into the other matters that were referred to the IPCC has been carried out. After considering the information resulting from that assessment, I am of the opinion that there is no indication that these matters would amount to behaviour which would justify disciplinary proceedings. Consequently, I have taken the early decision todiscontinue the independent investigation into those matters.

“In coming to that conclusion I have been very conscious of the fact that the force has already acknowledged its shortcomings in the investigation into the late Lord Brittan and has apologised to Lady Brittan.

“It is also important to acknowledge the climate in which Operation Midland and the investigation into Lord Brittan were being undertaken. At this time there was much concern that cover-ups by the ‘establishment’ had taken place and there was widespread intense scrutiny on both investigations. The way both investigations were conducted should be considered in that context and in line with policies which existed at that time.”

A British made overseas aid scandal that has ended in ruined reputations for the people who promoted it

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The Mail on Sunday story that started the scandal. Is there more to this?

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In the last few days one of Britain’s bigger contractors to our overseas aid programme has voluntarily suspended participating in bidding  for any new work and seen the resignation of three of its principal founders.

Adam Smith International – turnover £130m  and making a £17m profit in 2015 – makes  a lot of its money promoting overseas aid programmes funded by the  British taxpayer in places from Afghanistan to Jordan, Nigeria, St Helena, Syria. Iraq and Libya to name but a few. It also received funds from  among others the Canadian government, the European Commission and the World Bank.

However last year it faced an expose in the Mail on Sunday which revealed that it was attempting to hoodwink  a Parliamentary committee investigating the role of  private contractors by encouraging favourable views of its work.

That committee – Commons Select Committee on International Development – produced a damning report last month which concluded it had tried to mislead Parliament.

It concluded that Adam Smith International behaved improperly and it was only the failure of the company to convince MPs that they are not being reported to the Committee of Privileges for misleading Parliament.

The report said : “Adam Smith International has acted improperly …It overstepped the mark in soliciting the submissions of written evidence, including  applying pressure to beneficiaries to submit evidence with implied or explicit references to continuation of funding.

“ASI sought to unduly influence the International Development Committee by engineering the submission of what at first sight appeared to be independent evidence of its value and effectiveness as a mechanism of development delivery. We are very concerned at the serious lack of judgement displayed by ASI…, the actions of ASI went well beyond what was appropriate.

“That we did not accept the material in question as evidence meant that we were not misled or influenced. This reduces the seriousness of the impact and therefore we are not seeking a referral of this matter to the Committee on Privileges.

“Nevertheless, we deplore the sort of inappropriate conduct that ASI staff have engaged in—particularly the attempts to conceal ASI’s involvement in collecting the beneficiary testimonials and the inappropriate pressure that was put on beneficiaries to provide testimonials”.

The committee were not wholly satisfied and planned a further investigation with a report due at Easter.

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Then last week the top people in charge of the company quit.

William Morrison, Executive Chairman of ASI, said in a statement on its website:

“The company’s mission is to foster the social and economic development of some of the poorest and often most conflict-ridden countries in the world. Our comprehensive reform emphasises the importance to our staff of this mission.  We regret that certain deficiencies of policy and procedure resulted in our failure to meet the highest standards of corporate governance, such that we did not meet the expectations of DFID and the public, to whom we are accountable.”

The organisation is to reform itself as “an enterprise with primary focus on a social mission, with a mandate to consider its triple bottom line, taking into account its social, environmental and financial performance.”
It will also establish a foundation and reinvest a significant percentage of net earnings in developing countries, in part through the new foundation.

It announced three founding directors – Andrew Kuhn, Amitabh Shrivastava and Peter Young – will step down. And William Morrison himself , a founding director and ASI’s Executive Chairman, will step down after leading ASI through the restructuring.

Looking back through early Companies House accounts show the firm originated as an off shoot of the Adam Smith Institute – a neoliberal think tank – and its first directors included two founders of that think tank Madsen Pirie and Eamonn Butler. The Institute was recently revealed in a survey to be the least transparent about where it got its money.

One of the other directors Peter Young, who has just quit, had been there 24 years.

The highest paid director was paid £223,000 a year and the remaining directors shared another £500,000 a year between them. Malcolm Rifkind, the former Tory foreign secretary, is also a non executive director.

The company was nearly struck off the Companies House register  in December – but the action was withdrawn in February.

One can only wonder whether there is more to this story than even meets the eye – given how quickly it has started a damage limitation exercise. One waits the MPs findings with growing interest.

Britain: A nation of paedophile voyeurs

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Police chief Simon Bailey, also in charge on Operation Hydrant co-ordinating cases of allegations of child sexual abuse Pic credit :BBC

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Simon Bailey,  the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, has caused a storm of controversy this week by suggesting  that people who view pornographic pictures of children on the net should not be prosecuted.

He wants to limit prosecutions to people who direct  child sexual abuse on line and those seeking to groom young people on line so they can later rape them. As he says:

“There are tens of thousands of men seeking to exploit children on line with a view to meeting them with a view to then raping them and performing the most awful sexual abuse on them. That’s where we believe the focus has got to be, because they’re the individuals that pose the really significant threat.”

He wants people who just view child sexual abuse to be given a caution and put on the sex offenders register because he says the police haven’t the resources to prosecute them.

He told the Times : “We’re able to asses whether a paedophile viewing indecent images of children is posing a threat of contact abuse and in circumstances where that individual does not pose a threat of contact abuse they should still be arrested, but we can then look at different disposal orders than going through the formal criminal justice system.”

He described this group as the ” tip of the iceberg”.

Now what is shocking about this is the scale of the problem. We are now having the police say although they are prosecuting 400 people a month they cannot cope with the numbers who are committing this  crime because it is so widespread. What does this say about the nation we now live in?

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Yvette Cooper Pic credit : Twitter

Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs select committee, has responded very robustly to this in a letter she released to Simon Bailey.

” This raises some very serious concerns about the scale of online child abuse, about the level of resourcing the police have available for it, about the systems the police has in place to deal with this new and increasing crime and also about the priority being given to it by police forces.”

“You also referred to there being a significant number of “very low-risk” paedophile offenders and you stated that the police have become very adept at assessing the risk to children in terms of which offenders will move on from viewing indecent images to committing contact abuse offences.

“This was certainly not the case a few years ago when the police indicated that making such assessments was very difficult. I would therefore be grateful if you could set out the evidence to support your statement, including the changes which have taken place in the last few years to bring about the improvements in risk assessment to which you refer.”

Finally she warns that will people who are not prosecuted still go on the Disclosure and Barring Service.

“Specifically, could you explain, under the current disclosure and barring rules, if a case was dealt with outside the criminal justice system, what information would then be available to organisations carrying out checks on people applying for voluntary or paid positions with children. ”

He has until March 7 to reply. I hope he will be summoned to explain himself before Parliament.

His assessment seems to suggest we are turning into a nation of paedophile voyeurs because the offence is so widespread. This would suggest we are becoming a very sick nation indeed.

Has Theresa May got it wrong over the Brexit negotiation plan?

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Theresa May, Prime Minister Pic Credit: conservatives.com

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Theresa May is about to trigger Article 50 and go into negotiations with the other 27 European Union countries to sort out arrangements covering British trade with this huge market. It is a complete mystery how Britain is going to play its cards and Theresa May doesn’t want to give anything away.

However  a fascinating  post  from Stewart Wood, a former adviser to  Labour PM, Gordon Brown and  later to  Ed Miliband, suggests that she does have a strategy but it may be the wrong one.

Drawing from his experience in Whitehall  he suggests that Theresa May plans to draw from her experience as home secretary where she successfully negotiated an opt out on police and criminal justice matters – choosing to opt back in to measures she accepted.

She plans to use this to apply to the whole British negotiation.

He writes : “Her plan is for the UK to leave the single market en bloc, but renegotiate continued access to it on preferential terms for some key UK industrial sectors as part of a wider free trade agreement. According to this vision, these lucky sectors would continue to enjoy de facto membership of the single market, but without the requirement to be bound by decisions of the European Court of Justice. Problem solved, our Prime Minister thinks.”

So will this work? Not according to Stewart Wood because  the mechanism she is using does not apply here.

” So it can work again, right? Wrong. The strategy of “exit then cherry-picking” worked with the JHA decision in 2014 for a simple reason: it was set up as an “exit plus cherry-picking” deal in the Lisbon Treaty itself. It is a colossal error to think that the same approach can work in the case of Brexit – a negotiation of phenomenally greater complexity, played on multiple chessboards simultaneously, where interests between the EU and the UK are nowhere near as simply aligned, and where opt-outs have not been negotiated by existing treaty provisions.”

I gather Stewart Wood’s views are reflected in Whitehall thinking. But whether Theresa May is taking any notice is another matter.

What it does mean is that if he is right  the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and the Scots Nats are going to have a field day if they decide to hold the government to account. Also all the sectors – from the car industry, the financial sector and technology to name but a few – might vote with their feet to maintain unrestricted access to the EU. Interesting times.

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By-election horrors:Labour’s dilemma and the faux fear of UKIP

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Labour’s: What future? Pic Credit :BBC

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Yesterday morning’s results for Labour were  very bad news. For the governing party which has presided over years of austerity and facing a real crisis over the NHS  to win Copeland from Labour is a disaster for the Opposition. Ed Miliband, after all ,managed to win a mid term by-election  in Corby from the Tories, even if he went on to lose the seat at the next general election.

Ignore any specific excuses -. the locality, nuclear industry,a bigger  rural seat – if Labour want to be in government they have to appeal to a broader sector of people and win marginal Tory seats back -not lose marginal Labour seats to the Tories. Theresa May cannot believe her luck – her message that the Tories will govern for all the people and not the privileged few has resonance whatever the facts.

It is not that Labour don’t have good policies for the NHS, community care, social housing, the railways – to name but a few – but they  have no overall vision of what type of society they want Britain to be in the twenty first century and can’t seem capable of explaining it. Also some local councils in Labour areas have the problem of being seen as the Establishment because they been in power for decades. And :Labour’s stand on just defending the NHS is not enough – that has been made very clear in Copeland.

Labour’s win in Stoke on Trent looks good news – given UKIP threw everything at it including their new leader – as part of their strategy for a new dawn replacing Labour as the working class party. But note that the Tory vote held up well and that the turn out was  36.7 per cent which was even below the 46.5 per cent turn out on the same day at a council by-election in Devon which saw a shock Lib Dem win from the Tories. That means the majority of people in Stoke on Trent were disengaged despite  austerity, Brexit and the NHS.

But we should not be so surprised over UKIP’s defeat – anyone watching council election results – outside their Essex and North Kent heartlands – would have realised they are a busted flush post the referendum. In council election after election their vote has been falling and they have even failed to get candidates to stand in seats where an existing UKIP councillor had quit – for example in Norfolk and Newquay in Cornwall. Their latest humiliation was in the Forest of Dean where a Green candidate who came last in a previous election won a seat  from UKIP. Note in Copeland UKIP came fourth behind the Liberal Democrats.

To my mind Labour has to refocus its attack on the mainstream parties. It has to challenge the Tory mantra that they are governing for everybody and  take into account the revived Liberal Democrat campaign in opposing Brexit. Otherwise they will continue to lose seats to both parties – particularly at local level with the May council elections looming.

This means that Labour’s current position on Brexit – to support it  but then pledge to hold the government to account over the  EU negotiations – has to be real. This means that if the deal for future trade,jobs and freedom of movement for Brits is going to be bad, they should combine with the Lib Dems, Greens and Scot Nats and even the Northern Irish parties if they oppose it, and demand a referendum on the terms. This will be a referendum on the facts of what real life will be like after Brexit not one on a vague hope of ” let’s take control”.

There is one other thing Labour needs to do. What was completely unreported this week was an extraordinary council by-election in Winklebury in  Tory run Basingstoke and Deane. Here a Labour candidate overturned a safe Tory majority,increasing the party’s vote share by 31 per cent and getting almost double the Tory vote on a 29 per cent poll.

Labour’s Angie Freeman told the local paper: “I really wanted to win this seat so I could do something for my community.It’s very humbling to know they believe in me and trust me and I’m determined to do my best for this community.

“I live here and know the issues that affect people well, so I will look to actively tackle the problems we’ve got.

“I’ve seen Winklebury go from a thriving community to become such a rundown area.

“We’re losing everything.First the GP went and now with the school too, enough is enough, so I will fight it as hard as I can.”

From what I can gather people in Winklebury couldn’t care a damn whether the Labour Party was led by Jeremy Corbyn or Tony Blair. But they did care that a local person wanted to fight for them under the Labour banner to protect their community. They obviously didn’t believe that Theresa May or Basingstoke Tories that they were governing for everybody.

Now Labour has a lot of new members who joined and the May council elections are going to be the next big political event. Doesn’t it make sense for Labour to galvanise these Young Turks and get them to stand for local council seats and vigorously campaign on local issues? After that we can tackle the issue of the leadership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rerun Dave Prentis election urge candidates at Unison malpractice hearing

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Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison Pic Credit: Twitter

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Candidates who fought Dave Prentis for general secretary  of Britain’s second largest union  urged the certification officer yesterday to order a rerun of the election because of malpractices  by his campaign team exposed at a four day hearing.

The call which is also backed by a long standing member Jon Rogers was fiercely opposed by Unison’s lawyers  as a ” disproportionate ” response and even interfering with fundamental human rights by insisting the election should be run again.

The clash over remedies came at the final day of the hearing when all sides were asked to make submissions to the presiding certification officer, judge Mary Stacey, who chaired the hearing.

The case had been bought by his three rival candidates, Heather Wakefield, John Burgess and Roger Bannister. and long standing member Jon Rogers.

One of the central points of the case is that senior Unison officer, Linda Perks, exceeded her role in convening a meeting in union time to plan a campaign to support Dave Prentis which is against union rules. The information came to light after a tape of the meeting was leaked.

Her action, which led to disciplinary proceedings, is not defended by the union. The dispute is whether her action was part of a much wider breach of union rules – which forbid officials from using union time and resources by ” Team Dave ” – amounting widespread malpractice. The union refuses to accept this – the  other candidates  says this is central to their arguments.

There is also the question of whether Dave Prentis knew this was happening – the complainants suggest he did – the union insist he didn’t. Judge Mary Stacey promised she would make a finding of fact on this issue if she can.

Yunus Bakhsh, the lawyer representing Jon Burgess, in his submission , said : ” The tape and the Team Dave emails lifted the lid on what we submit was a quite shocking level of deceit. subterfuge and rule breaching by a group of paid officials who occupied the highest positions in Unison…. These officials had a  total disregard for the rules of the union they felt they could act with impunity in using union resources, funds and property to campaign for Dave Prentis.”

Ms Ijeoma Omambala , barrister for Heather Wakefield, was also highly critical of the role of the Electoral Reform Services, who received a fee of nearly £1 m for supervising the election, in not acting to take up complaints themselves. Instead they left it to Unison to investigate the complaints – when many of the officials who did so were members of  the Team Dave campaign team. She described the ERS’s action as amounting to ” a dereliction of duty.”.

In her submission she says:” Ms Wakefield has sought to challenge unfairness and cronyism when she has encountered it. her efforts and those of her colleague complainants have revealed systematic manipulation of Unison rules, resources and funds on a startling scale.

“The Respondent (Unison) would have the assistant certification officer characterise this dispute as ” a little local difficulty,” regrettably the damage has spread far wider. It encompasses activists, branch officials, regional officials, the union’s senior management team and its President.”

Anthony White, barrister for Unison, while accepting that some enforcement order could be made by the judge, fiercely challenged  whether there was any evidence that there was any widespread malpractice at Unison. In an exchange between the softly spoken judge, he refused  to accept any suggestion that the election should be rerun. He cited that it would cost £1m for Unison members and saying that  it had not materially affected the result which showed overwhelming support for Dave Prentis. He also defended  ERS saying they had provided “a helpful witness” with enormous experience of elections.

He  attacked the other complainants for what he called using ” absolute privilege ”  to make allegations of corruption in Unison. ( This means they cannot be sued for what they said at the hearing).

He also insisted that evidence submitted by Mike Jackson  on previous malpractice at Unison general secretary elections  involving Dave Prentis- which I believe may have only been published in full on this blog – had gone unchallenged because it was ” irrelevant ” to the hearing.

This is challenged in the submission from Heather Wakefield who regarded Mr Jackson’s evidence as an example of past malpractice.

The judge is unlikely to deliver a verdict for a month but when it comes it will be one of the ground breaking rulings that will decide how elections for union general secretaries will be conducted in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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