In July this year Unite was subjected to a major campaign of criticism regarding allegations of misconduct in the affairs of Falkirk Constituency Labour Party – in essence that the union had tried to manipulate the selection procedure for a Labour candidate for the constituency outside the Party’s rules. The union was enjoined by a range of political and media voices to take these allegations seriously and investigate them.
The core of the allegations, which have now resurfaced in a distorted form in the media, were contained in an internal Labour Party report into Falkirk. Unite has not received a copy of this “Falkirk report” to this day, although a senior Unite official was allowed to read a copy at Labour Party headquarters in July. This report included serious allegations against Unite itself, against Stevie Deans (Chair of Falkirk CLP and also of Unite Scotland) and against Karie Murphy, the candidate Unite was supporting for the Labour nomination. This report could in no sense be considered a final investigation, since it was no more than a list of allegations, some submitted by a rival candidate for the Labour nomination, Ms Linda Gow. Those preparing the report had spoken neither to Mr Deans, nor to Ms Murphy nor to any representative of the union. Therefore on grounds of natural justice alone, and without considering further the adequacy or otherwise of the report, it could not be considered a final investigation into what had occurred in Falkirk. It was, at most, a “case for the prosecution”, without the defence being called.
Since the report was also handed to Police Scotland, it was natural for Unite to engage solicitors in Scotland, to represent the interests of the union . Bridge Litigation of Glasgow was so engaged, and on July 22 were emailed a list of potential witnesses who may have been prepared to provide statements relating to the allegations contained in the original “Falkirk Report”. This list included four members of the Kane family.
It is important to understand that the members of the Kane family are not, and never have been, members of Unite. They were not recruited to the Labour Party by Unite, and the union did not pay their first years’ subscription (as it had done legitimately for those Unite members it had recruited to the Party, under the rules as they stood). Indeed, this allegation was not even made in the “Falkirk report”. Unite has had no contact with the Kanes throughout, although they are part of Mr Deans’ family.
At the time of this investigation solicitors had been retained by Mr Deans, supported by Unite. Mr Deans was contemplating legal action on a number of grounds and this was a matter that had, of course, also been referred to the police. On 30th July Donnelly Kinder solicitors sent to Mr Deans a statement that looked to clarify the position of the Kane family in regard to their Labour Party membership and an amended statement was sent by them to him the next day. This was not a matter of the Kanes “withdrawing their evidence”. That phrase appeared in the Labour Party statement issued on September 6th 2013, it was not used by Unite. The Kanes were instead clarifying, or supplementing, the material in the “Falkirk report”. The statement drawn up by Donnelly Kinder was sent to Mr Deans, for onward transmission to the Kanes, his relatives, as at this stage solicitors acting for Mr Deans had not made direct contact with the Kanes. However, on further consideration, and having taken further advice, this statement was never used, or given to the Kanes. It was felt that instead Bridge Litigation, a firm from the Scottish jurisdiction and familiar with the taking of formal precognitions (the taking of which is standard procedure in Scotland), should make contact with all potential witnesses including the Kanes.
The reference to a statement in an email leaked by Ineos to the Sunday Times (27/10/13) is out of context - it is a reference to a confidential exchange between a solicitors firm (Donnelly Kinder) and a client (Mr Deans) and has given rise to confusion. It is a reference to a statement that was never used and never forwarded to the Kanes or to the Labour Party and can therefore have had no influence on proceedings whatsoever. The reference in the Sunday Times to a Unite official having drafted the (unused) statement, is also incorrect.
In fact, qualified solicitors from Bridge Litigation attended on the Kane family at their home and took statements from them clarifying their Party membership situation on August 1 2013. Affidavits were then drafted by Bridge Litigation for members of the Kane family. On August 23 Kevin Douglas, Solicitor and Notary Public of Gair & Gibson, solicitors of Falkirk, attended the Kanes at their home, when these affidavits were notarised, Mrs Lorraine Kane making a handwritten amendment to her affidavit in relation to a particular point.
On September 2 Bridge Litigation emailed the Labour Party copies of the affidavits from the Kane family, and the Labour Party acknowledged receipt the same day. This is the only statement submitted by Mrs Kane to the best of Unite’s knowledge, additional to the statement included in the initial “Falkirk report”. Unite was not involved in the drafting of the Kanes’ affidavits. All preparation and drafting was carried out by solicitors who in turn, as would be expected, retained entirely independent solicitors for such affidavits to be notarised.
A similar procedure was adopted in relation to statements taken from some of the other individuals named in The Sunday Times (3/11/13). In addition, Unite itself verified that all of its members who it did recruit to the Labour Party under the then-extant Union Join scheme had indeed willingly consented to join the Labour Party. In view of all this new or clarified evidence, it was evident that the allegations asserted in the original “Falkirk report” could no longer hold water. The Party then issued the statement on September 6, which made it clear that Unite, Mr Deans and Ms Murphy had done nothing wrong and had broken no rules. Police Scotland had much earlier found no basis for any criminal investigation in the matter.
The material published in the newspapers in the last ten days, and in the Sunday Times in particular, adds absolutely nothing to the material the Labour Party already had to hand when it made that decision in early September. Indeed, it is nothing but a rehash of the much older allegations contained in the original “Falkirk report”, committed to paper before any of those accused had been provided with an opportunity to challenge or rebut the charges laid against them. It is doubtless for that reason that the Sunday Times declined to publish Unite’s refutation of the allegations printed on November 3, allegations entirely drawn from a partial version of the original “Falkirk report”, since it would have made it clear that the sensational “new evidence” was nothing of the sort. This recklessly misleading media coverage has generated considerable confusion, which this statement will hopefully contribute to clarifying.
The Labour Party is therefore entirely correct to say that, once it had independently established that Mrs Kane remained content with her affidavit of September 2, no new evidence has been produced which would justify a fresh investigation.
On this flawed and flimsy basis, a tremendous media witch-hunt has been launched against Unite. This is testimony only to the extent to which sections of the press and broadcast media are much more capable of grasping the agenda of Lynton Crosby than they are of inquiring into elementary facts. The public is ill-served by this sort of journalism.