Housing association whistleblower accused of reporting company to former Labour minister Sadiq Khan begins unfair dismissal claim

 

A whistleblower, who claims she was wrongly accused of reporting her company to shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan, began her case for unfair dismissal today.

Noreen Heslop, 45, insists she was unfairly sacked after 18 years of service because she complained to her union about alleged financial irregularities and discrimination against women and ethnic minorities at Wandle Housing Association.

Shortly after Unite took her concerns to the MP for Tooting, and he requested a meeting with the chief executive, she was suspended and put under investigation.

The south London housing association denies all allegations, saying the former receptionist was dismissed for gross misconduct which had nothing to do with her work with the union.

Today a preliminary hearing before London South Employment Tribunal heard how Ms Heslop believed the company was overpaying certain contractors with whom its chief executive Sara Thakkar had personal contacts, denying tenants value for money. Having taken her fears to her manager and been told not to interfere, she started scanning invoices, which she emailed to a private account.

As a shop steward for Unite, Ms Heslop also began gathering evidence, convinced that repeated restructures of the housing association had unfairly targeted ethnic minority and female workers as well as union members.

The union took her concerns to Mr Khan who, having also received separate complaints from tenants, requested a meeting with Ms Thakkar in July 2012. Within days Ms Heslop was suspended and told she was under investigation.

She believed it was because the company thought she had complained to the shadow justice minister, she said in a statement: “In fact, I had never communicated with Sadiq Khan and I therefore (asked) my own MP, Chuka Umunna, to request Sadiq Khan to confirm that I had had no contact with him.”

After a housing association investigation discovered the documents she had sent to her private account, she was sacked in March this year for 11 charges of gross misconduct, predominantly misusing the company's IT system to take sensitive and confidential information as well as criticising the association in front of potential recruits.

Madeline Power, representing Ms Heslop, said: “The claimant's position is that she was in the process of gathering evidence when she was disciplined and investigated because of a breach of email policy. The breach was that she emailed these documents to herself because of her concerns.”

However, Melvyn Harris, representing the housing association, said that allegations of misconduct against Ms Heslop were “thoroughly and carefully” investigated and had nothing to do with “protective disclosure” or whistle blowing.

“There is no connection between being suspended, being investigated, being brought to disciplinary hearing and finally being dismissed. There is no link whatsoever to union activity. It is simply conjuring something out of the air,” he said.

Today Ms Heslop's interim relief application to remain on salary until the case goes to a full hearing later this year was refused on the grounds that she could not prove that she had a “pretty good chance” of winning her case as there was a difference between supplying information as a whistle blower and simply making allegations. The full hearing was set for December.

A spokesman for the housing association said: “Wandle denies that it dismissed Miss Heslop for any reason connected to trade union membership or activities. An employment judge sitting at London South refused an application for interim relief from Ms Heslop on the 5th April 2013. A tribunal date has been set for December 2013, therefore it would be inappropriate to comment any further at this time.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones