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When are we going to stop whistleblowers being sacked?

So after informing the authorities in the public interest that the gas market pricing system was being rigged, Seth Freedman, an employee of ICIS Heren, a lead company in the market, has just been sacked. The man who told the public about price-fixing in the gas retail market (shades of the Libor scandal in banking) is evicted from his job, while those who cheated the public wholesale and have amassed illegal wealth have, so far at least, gone unpunished.

Significantly this latest reversal of justice occurred 14 years after the 1998 Public Interest Disclosure Act was supposed to give protection to whistleblowers who reported serious fraud or malpractice at their place of work against victimisation or dismissal. The current legislation clearly must be strengthened since the history of the last quarter century shows unequivocally the essential role that whistleblowing can play.

  • The Herald of Free Enterprise capsized off Zeebrugge in 1987 and 193 died. The inquiry found that staff had warned middle management 5 times before the disaster about the ferry sailing with its bow doors open and that a suggestion that lights should be fitted to the bridge to indicate whether the doors had been closed had been ignored.
  • The Piper Alpha oil platform exploded in 1988 off the coast of Scotland, killing 167 people. The inquiry found that workers didn’t want to put their jobs in jeopardy through raising a safety issue which might embarrass management.
  • The Clapham rail crash in 1988 killed 35 people. The inquiry found that a supervisor had noticed the loose wiring a few months earlier, but did nothing because he didn’t want to ‘rock the boat’.
  • The BCCI bank was closed down in 1991 as a result of a 19-year old fraud causing estimated losses worldwide of £2bn. The inquiry found that BCCI had an ‘autocratic’ environment in which non-one dared to speak up.
  • At the Ashworth Hospital scandal in 1992 the inquiry into a brutal 3-year regime of physical and mental abuse found that the few staff who had been brave enough to speak out were attacked, received death threats and their property vandalised.
  • In the cancer misdiagnosis inquiry in 1993 it was found that 2,000 bone tumour cases had to be re-examined after a senior pathologist at Birmingham’s Royal Orthopaedic Hospital had misdiagnosed 42 cancer cases. Two consultants had expressed doubts about the diagnoses over several years, but they failed to speak up through official channels.
  • At the Lyme Bay canoeing tragedy in 1993 in which 4 children drowned, it was found that some time before the accident 2 instructors had written to the Head of the Centre warning that he should carefully examine safety standards or children might die.
  • At the Arms to Iraq inquiry (the Scott report) in 1996 it was found that an employee had written to the Foreign Office telling them that arms equipment was being produced for Iraq.

Either then Seth Freedman was illegally sacked contrary to the provisions of the 1998 Public Interest Disclosure Act or that Act is deficient and can be evaded with impunity, in which case it should be urgently replaced by a much more watertight Act.

One Comment

  1. treborc says:

    What can you say of course they should, but it does seem both Labour and the Tories are not to happy when the whistle is blown on their shift, be it about the NHS or care homes.

    But also Union have to do more to protect people, I have to say with all the problems cuts to wages and cuts to jobs and the welfare, I have hardly heard to much from my Union the GMB, I think people will be looking at whether the £8 quid I pay a month is worth paying.

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