'Dirty tricks' link of would-be Lib Dem MP

Chris Blackhurst reports on the role Uxbridge by-election candidate Keith Kerr played in a puzzling controversy involving allegations against British Airways
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The Independent Online
Keith Kerr, the Liberal Democrat candidate in the forthcoming Uxbridge by-election, is not shy in coming forward. He describes himself as "the most senior black manager in any of the UK's top 100 companies".

According to his media guide, issued for the press covering the poll for the seat left vacant by the death of the Tory Sir Michael Shersby, Mr Kerr is a senior manager in British Airways' customer services department. But Mr Kerr is reticent about some aspects of his career. Kenneth Keith Kerr, to give him his full name, played a leading role in one of the "dirty tricks" controversies that has dogged BA these past few years. At one point, Mervyn Walker, BA's then legal director, apologised for Mr Kerr's "rude" behaviour.

In an earlier job, Mr Kerr was a senior manager in internal audit at the airline. He was put in charge of investigating the complaints against BA by John Gorman, a former policeman. Mr Gorman has repeatedly alleged he was the victim of a campaign of harassment by the airline. Mr Kerr was not responsible for any of this intimidation.

The campaign began after Mr Gorman complained of finding a condom in an in-flight meal in January 1990. He claims that instead of sympathy he received abuse. This vilification escalated when, in January 1993, he made another complaint, this time that he had found a piece of glass in an in-flight drink.

He made his complaints during the period when BA was exhibiting paranoia about its arch-rival, Richard Branson's Virgin. Suspecting Mr Gorman was working for Virgin, BA, he has alleged,went on the offensive. He was arrested for conspiracy to defraud BA. When no charge was brought he received an anonymous phone call: "We'll get you next time, you arsehole!"

At Christmas 1993, after a further threat and vandalising of his car, Mr Gorman went to Robert Ayling, the chief of BA. Mr Ayling ordered an investigation, carried out by Mr Kerr. Mr Gorman claims he received another anonymous call saying: "If you believe that British Airways are going to investigate this matter, you are sorely mistaken."

After he attended a meeting with Mr Kerr at BA's offices at Heathrow, he came out to find his car had been broken into. He says that valuables had not been touched but papers relating to BA had gone.

On 10 November 1994, Mr Gorman was due to fly on BA to Rio for a holiday. At the airport he was handed a letter at the check-in desk which said that he was not welcome on BA, that the consequences for him in continuing his complaint against the airline would be "devastating", that he was in the pay of Mr Branson and should "consider your position very carefully, before further serious damage is contemplated against you..."

The letter was unsigned. Later, in November 1994, Paul Foot, the investigative journalist, was sent a leaked memorandum from Aviation Defence International, an airline security firm. Marked "strictly confidential", dated 7 November and addressed to Mr Kerr, its sender, Peter Goodenough, an Aviation Defence manager, informs Mr Kerr that "the letter we discussed will be deposited one hour prior to departure, at the reception desk outside the first-class lounge at Terminal 4. This should avoid any identification of the person delivering it."

Mr Kerr was reluctant to discuss the Gorman affair. He confirmed: "I conducted an internal investigation into John Gorman. I did an internal inquiry on the processes within BA."

t Screamin' Lord Sutch, founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, announced last week that he was back on the political scene and is to stand in Uxbridge.

David Sutch, 56, dropped out of the race for Tony Blair's Sedgefield seat at the general election after his mother, Annie, became very ill. She died on the eve of polling day.