MPs have taken evidence from head of now-defunct Consulting Association on unlawful 16-year surveillance operation against trade unionists
There are renewed calls today for a public inquiry into blacklisting after the man responsible for running a secret employee vetting operation said dozens of construction companies involved in public contracts, including the Olympics, used his services.
Ian Kerr also revealed to MPs on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee that he had files on around 200 environmental activists but these were never seized when investigators raided his firm.
Kerr ran the West Midlands-based Consulting Association from 1993 until it was shut down following a raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office [ICO] in 2009.
The ICO found files on more than 3,200 people which mostly related to their trade union activities.
They were used by some of the biggest names in the construction industry to filter out what Kerr called “troublemakers”.
MPs heard that McAlpines, Balfour Beatty “and possibly Skanksa” had used the Association for their Olympic contracts.
Other schemes companies had checked employees on were the headquarters for GCHQ, hospital PFI projects, power stations and the Jubilee Line tube extension. The ongoing multi-million pound Crossrail project had been discussed by companies which subscribed to the Association, Kerr said.
Steve Murphy, general secretary of construction union UCATT, said: “There is an urgent need for a public inquiry into the blacklisting scandal. Kerr has cast some light but we need the full information so that blacklisted workers can receive justice.
“UCATT has always warned that the Consulting Association was not the only blacklist in existence and Kerr has confirmed that is the case.
“This is why we need effective measures to outlaw blacklisting and for blacklisting to become a criminal offence.”
Justin Bowden, GMB National Officer, said: “Ian Kerr today blew off the lid which the construction companies like Carillion, Sir Robert McAlpine and Balfour Beatty had tried so hard to keep from coming off.
“They were clearly in it up to their necks and many questions remain to be answered. The biggest of which is when they are going to compensate those whose lives they blighted.”
MPs heard that the Association was established in 1993 as the Economic League, a notorious blacklisting organisation, was being wound down due to media exposure. Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd paid £10,000 to two of the League’s directors for a list of names.
Ian Kerr, who had worked at the League infiltrating left-wing meetings since 1969, was then taken on as the Association’s chief officer.
Construction companies paid around £2,500 a year to subscribe to the Association, supplying information on individuals, and a further £1.50 to check names.
Kerr and his staff of three, which included his wife as book-keeper, would collate this as well as monitoring the radical press and organising regular meetings for subscribers. Kerr earned £47,500 a year on top of a car, life insurance, private health cover and a Christmas bonus.
45 companies were subscribers to the Association over its lifetime, averaging around 20 a year.
They took organisational responsibility with David Cochrane, McAlpine’s head of human resources, the Association’s chairman in its final years. It was McAlpine’s which paid Kerr’s court fine.
But it wasn’t just trade union members who were snooped on.
Ian Kerr said that he had around 200 names of environmental activists which started being collected after projects such as Twyford Down and the Batheaston Bypass attracted protestors.
That material was not seized by the ICO because it did not believe it was covered by their search warrant. The names, along with everything subsequently returned to him by the ICO, Kerr destroyed.
Ian Kerr showed little remorse for his actions, describing himself as simply as “like a speaking clock” repeating back information supplied to him.
Manchester electrician Steve Acheson was one a dozen other blacklisted workers who attended the House of Commons hearing.
“The secret files the Consulting Association kept on me were used to unfairly dismiss me on job after job for more than raising genuine safety issues such as drying facilities and Weils Disease caused by rat’s urine,” he said.
Kerr, who will be supplying the MPs with the names on people he worked with, said that he believed the service he provided was still going on “in some form or another”.
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