Victims of blacklisting could seek compensation from government, lawyers concur

Economic League file
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Over 21-23 February, the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) published a number of closing statements. These were for Tranche 1, relating to undercover policing in 1968-1982. The statements addressed issues raised during past hearings. They include claims of collusion between successive governments and a private blacklisting agency.

One definition of blacklisting is:

denying people employment for a particular reason, such as political affiliation, involvement in trade union activity or a history of blowing the whistle.

Blacklisting can wreck people’s livelihood and can even lead to people’s deaths.

‘A case to answer’

A legal challenge by blacklisting victims who seek compensation has its precedent. In 2016, around 250 workers received millions of pounds in compensation in an out-of-court settlement with construction companies. That’s because those companies subscribed to blacklisting services, provided by the Consultancy Association – a cut-down successor to the Economic League.

Now, UCPI lead counsel David Barr KC has conceded that, in coordination with undercover police, Special Branch leaked intelligence to private blacklisting companies:

Read on...

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In his closing statement to the UCPI, Barr pointed out:

Another purpose for which SDS [Special Demonstration Squad] intelligence reports might have been relied upon by Special Branch was for vetting purposes. We cannot rule out that SDS intelligence reports were leaked by Special Branch officers to private sector organisations, which then used them for blacklisting purposes. The provision of intelligence of this sort to private sector organisations such as the Economic League [EL] was against regulations. However, as we have noted in previous submissions, there appears to have been some recognition that Special Branch officers were, in practice, likely to be tempted to do so.

When the question was raised about the potential for a civil case against the government for its part in blacklisting, Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) said: “There’s a case to answer”.

Undercover agencies and blacklisting

Another closing statement to the UCPI was given on behalf of the Co-operating Group of non-state core participants. It argued that “state agencies” passed on intelligence to “external agencies”, including employers. Furthermore, it argues that SDS reports were used for blacklisting:

The evidence before this Inquiry reveals that state agencies tasked with countering ‘subversion’ deliberately disseminated intelligence gathered to external agencies…

The dissemination of intelligence included providing information to employers. The evidence of the senior officers disclosed in T1 makes repeated reference to SDS reports being used for “vetting”, but this was a misnomer as, in reality, the information was being used to blacklist named individuals.

The Canary previously published evidence from a UCPI opening statement. It included the admission that successive UK governments colluded with the Economic League:

records suggest that subversion in industry was the principal concern of Government… In this connection there are references within the documents to IRIS Ltd. and the Economic League. It seems from the documents that government was aware of these entities, used them to further its agenda, encouraged their activities and considered them useful.

Then there’s this from the 2016 Creedon (Operation Herne/Reuben) report on blacklisting:

Special Branches throughout the UK had direct contact with the Economic League, public authorities, private industry and trade unions.’

More evidence of blacklisting collusion

Anti-blacklisting campaigner Dave Smith and researcher/journalist Eveline Lubbers provided an example of state collusion with the Economic League. They quoted Home Office civil servant James Waddell advising prime minister Edward Heath that:

the general policy of not giving information from official sources… is well-established.

Waddell added:

ministers have generally accepted that the most we should do is refer the enquiring industrialists to unofficial sources like the Economic League.

Waddell is also quoted as telling Heath:

“we ought not to be too sweeping in anything said about infiltration”, explaining that Special Branch (in addition to MI5) did indeed infiltrate subversive bodies and that “denials about their interest in the unions may be disbelieved”.

Human rights contravened

Journalist Mark Watts observed that Barr noted it was “highly questionable” that the UK had complied with the Convention regarding undercover policing operations from the Tranch 1 period (1968 to 1982):

Neil Sheldon for the Home Office, on the other hand, argued that the UK did not incorporate the Convention into UK legislation until 1988:

However, the UK ratified the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – and was the first to do so – in 1951.

More compensation cannot be ruled out

Around 700 companies subscribed to the EL. That organisation alone blacklisted at least 40,000 workers over several decades.

Spies At Work author Mike Hughes previously told the Canary:

After forty years of studying the history of the Economic League I had given up hope of seeing this sort of conclusive evidence that the League was engaging not just with front line domestic security services, but were 100% integral to “counter subversion” policies at the very highest levels of government. And those were the governments of Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, and Thatcher.

UK legislation bans blacklists “used by employers or employment agencies for the purposes of discrimination in relation to recruitment or in relation to the treatment of workers”. It only applies to trade union members, or people participating in trade union activities.

However, given the recently-revealed evidence of government collusion, there’s now a possibility for a civil case. Also, if the UK legal system fails to provide an “adequate remedy”, a case can be raised with the European Court of Human Rights. Thus, further compensation is possible.

Featured image supplied by the author

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