Now -read the book!

Here is a link to my memoirs which, if you are a glutton for punishment, you can purchase online at
Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Monday, April 20, 2020

Attempts to discredit "leaked document" and threats of legal action - a bit of history

Last week, just as I had finished reading all 851 pages of a recently leaked document, an email came round from the Labour Party General Secretary to the Chairs and Secretaries of all Constituency Parties warning against circulating the document, telling us that “any individual who shares or distributes the report or its contents on an unauthorised basis will be immediately exposing themselves to potential significant civil and criminal liability.”

Whilst taking time to reflect upon whether this advice should preclude individuals from commenting upon the content of a document which many have read, and which is widely available, I thought it might be worth remembering events in connection with the last election for General Secretary of UNISON, which began with the “leaking” of a recording – and transcript – of a private meeting, and led to attempts to discredit that “leak” and to threaten legal action.

The context was that, during an election for UNISON General Secretary, paid officials of the trade union (many of whom are also members of the Union – as they are entitled to be) are permitted to campaign personally for (or against) any candidate, but not to use any UNISON resources (including the time for which they themselves are paid  by the Union) so to do (rather as Labour Party staff are not supposed, in their paid role, to be partisan in a Leadership election).

Leaked information highlighting official misconduct

On 1 December 2015 an anonymous blog published allegations about a staff meeting which had taken place in UNISON’s Greater London Regional Office a few weeks previously. These allegations were supported by a transcript and recording. On the face of it, this was shocking evidence of staff, under the direction of a senior official (the then Regional Secretary) campaigning for the incumbent candidate whilst at work, in clear breach of the Rules of the Union.

As I was, at that time, a member of the National Executive Council (NEC) of UNISON (and also – in the interests of full disclosure – an active supporter of one of the challenger candidates) I took it upon myself, in association with fellow NEC members, to raise this matter with senior officials of the trade union. I expressed my concerns – and cooperated with an investigation when it was established.

The full story – eventually – came out as a result of a hearing in front of the Assistant Certification Officer whose decision can be read in full online. In time, UNISON accepted that the recording was accurate and – following an investigation – disciplined the most senior official present at the staff meeting in question. However, that was not how everyone in the UNISON hierarchy responded at the time in 2015.

I did not comment in detail at the time about that response – but did comment once the decision of the Assistant Certification Officer (ACO) had placed all these matters in the public domain. Responses to this dramatic disclosure included attempts to undermine the disclosure itself – and threats of legal action.

An attempt to discredit the document making the allegations

On the day that the outcome of the UNISON General Election was announced an email was issued, about which I can do no better than repeat what I said in 2017;

At paragraph 218 of her decision the ACO notes that on the same date as the results were declared an email was issued by UNISON’s then President, which she goes on to describe, in the following paragraph, as “quite an extraordinary email”. The email (which was subsequently circulated on behalf of the Regional Convenor, by staff in the Regional Office, to every branch in London) is worth quoting in full;

“Dear Colleague

As you know a number of serious allegations have been made against our union in London.

The complaints are being investigated.

Whilst it is not our practice to comment on an ongoing investigation on this occasion we believe there is one aspect that warrants public disclosure.  This can be done without compromising the rights of those involved in this matter.

The complaint presented by Jon Rogers relies heavily on an anonymous recording.  Given the seriousness of this tape the union commissioned an independent forensic report of the recording.  The Presidential Team and the Trustees of the union now have the full report from the Audio Forensic Service.

The forensic analysis was undertaken by an accredited audio specialist and the company is used by the High Court for audio evidence.

The report clearly states that “the probability of tampering is exceptionally high”.  On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), the Independent Expert rates the tape as a 5/5.

The results have been passed to the Investigating Officer and the ERS and as the Presidential Team and Trustees we are also asking for a formal investigation of the providence of the recording.

Please share as appropriate.


The ACO, at paragraph 220 describes this email as “a classic example of an attempt by the victors to write the history (regardless of accuracy) and denigrate those whom they see as their vanquished adversaries.” She goes on to note, in the following paragraph, that “it is unsurprising that no witnesses came forward to Mr McKenzie’s investigation after the email had been sent. The final sentence of the email encourages the email to be forwarded as widely as possible. Just the day before Mr Rogers had been assisting the investigation and encouraging people with relevant evidence to come forward to Mr McKenzie.”

The anonymous blog published a riposte to these allegations (and, it is worth repeating, by the time UNISON had to deal with the matter formally, the Union had accepted the broad accuracy of the transcript and recording).

Threats of legal action arising from the disclosure

On the same day that an email was sent round UNISON by its elected lay leadership challenging the accuracy of the evidence of malpractice by a senior official (and naming your humble blogger). I also received a letter threatening legal action. Again, I can do no better than repeat my words from 2017;

In the following paragraph the ACO notes that on that same date your blogger received correspondence from a firm of lawyers instructed to issue a threat of libel proceedings by an individual.

I was not the party who disclosed information about this matter in the course of the proceedings before the Certification Officer and would never have revealed this had it not now been included in a public legal judgment as a result of disclosures by other parties.

I say no more than that you will be able to read paragraph 223 for yourself when it is published on the website of the Certification Officer.

For the sake of completeness, paragraph 223 of the decision reads as follows;

“Also on 17 December, immediately after the announcement of the election results, Mr Rogers received a threat of libel proceedings issued by Collyer Bristow solicitors in Bedford Row who had been instructed by Mr Prentis in a personal capacity under the civil litigation pre-action protocol. Mr Rogers provided the apology requested (p.2054) which he has stood by.”

I don’t like to blog about myself (he lied, unconvincingly) but I do remember receiving that letter (not least because it arrived on the day I completed the purchase of a new flat!) It was a little unpleasant to be singled out for implied criticism in an email circulated to the entire trade union by its elected lay leadership, and more than a little unsettling to face a threat of libel proceedings. Again, I probably cannot do better by way of comment than to remind readers of what I said nearly three years ago;

“I have shared here with you these extracts from the decision of the ACO as they relate to myself because I want to make the point that it is necessary, in fighting for democracy in our movement, sometimes to expose oneself to criticism and attack.”

I haven’t decided whether to comment further on the 851 page document I spent so much time reading last week, but I don’t need to refer to that document to observe that, when an unauthorised disclosure alleges misconduct by one or more powerful and entitled individuals it is to be expected that much effort will go into discrediting the disclosure and that threats will be made of litigation. 

No sensible person will allow these to distract them from the content of the disclosure itself.

No comments: