'Whistleblowing' tribunal awaits IT evidence
An employment tribunal examining “whistleblowing” allegations of corruption on social housing maintenance contracts has been halted to allow an independent IT expert to examine email evidence submitted by both sides.
Alan Strong, formerly a regional commercial director at Morrison Facilities Services (MFS), alleges that he was sidelined in his job after raising whistleblowing accusations internally within the company on 24 October 2012.
The IT expert has been appointed by the Central London Employment Tribunal after emails submitted in evidence by Strong did not match the email records held by Mears Group, which acquired MFS on 8 November 2012.
The independent reviewer will look for any evidence that emails or records could have been tampered with.
The tribunal was due to run from 16 to 24 January, but was halted earlier this week. A hearing to determine the next steps in the case is now scheduled to be heard on 21 March.
"Any organisation that has had to deal with a disgruntled former employee can have their reputation put at the mercy of 'no win no fee' type arrangements where mud flinging is designed to pressurise businesses into settling spurious claims."
Alan Long, Mears Group
In a “particulars of claim” document published on his legal adviser’s website, Strong alleges that that two named MFS directors profited from collusion with two named subcontractors, after overcharging clients for work done on social housing properties across London and the south east.
Strong also alleges that one of the subcontractors was also sharing excess profits on MFS contracts with a manager at client One Housing Group, as well as the MFS contacts, and he had been told that a similar arrangement was also happening at the London Borough of Lambeth.
But Mears Group strongly denies Strong’s claims, questioning his motivation and methods. In an emailed statement, Alan Long, executive director of Mears said: “Any organisation that has had to deal with a disgruntled former employee can have their reputation put at the mercy of ‘no win no fee’ type arrangements where mud flinging is designed to pressurise businesses into settling spurious claims. While it may be easier to settle, we have taken the decision to challenge unsubstantiated claims head on. Unfortunately, while the Employment Tribunal continues we are unable to respond to the specifics of this case. We do, however, strongly refute all of the allegations raised by Mr Strong and remain committed to defending this case.”
A spokeswoman added that the tribunal had been adjourned before Mears Group has been able to give its “rebuttal” evidence.
One Housing Group has also issued a statement, which reads: “We are concerned to hear media reports from the tribunal case of Alan Strong alleging that staff at One Housing Group were involved in improper financial transactions in relation to contracts with Morrisons Facilities Services (MFS). We were previously unaware of Mr Strong’s allegations.
“One Housing Group takes any claim of fraud or improper conduct extremely seriously so we are today [20 January] instructing our legal team to further investigate Mr Strong’s claims and seek both clarification and evidence to support his allegations.
“Alongside this we are also engaging our auditors, TIAA, to carry out an independent review of our records relating to our contract with MFS. Until our investigations are complete it would be inappropriate to make further comment.”
According to the documents published on the website, run by legal adviser Settlement Agreements, Strong joined MFS in May 2012 from Paragon Community Housing Group. Paragon and MFS later entered litigation after Paragon terminated a two-year deal with MFS early.
Strong's statement says that his role and responsibilities at MFS began to be gradually eroded from 24 October. Mears acquired MFS on 8 November, and Strong says that he repeated his whistleblowing allegation to Mears executives in December 2012. He resigned in January 2013, but worked out his notice until April 2013.
The statement concludes by saying that he has not been able to find work since and feels he has been “blacklisted”.
In a further twist, Strong’s home was burgled last week, leading to the loss of several computers and hard drives.