Aslef official accused of forging cheque

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Leaders of the beleaguered train drivers' union were under pressure last night to call in the fraud squad to investigate alleged financial malpractice by a senior official.

Leaders of the beleaguered train drivers' union were under pressure last night to call in the fraud squad to investigate alleged financial malpractice by a senior official.

Already under suspension for allegedly downloading pornography on his office computer, Mick Blackburn, assistant general secretary of Aslef, is now accused of forging the signature on a cheque of the organisation's leader, Shaun Brady, who is in turn suspended for his involvement in the infamous "battle of the barbecue''.

Mr Blackburn, who is said to be the "controlling mind'' behind Mr Brady's Blairite faction in the union, is also accused of aiding and abetting the forgery of a union reference for one of his relatives.

The assistant general secretary, a former Communist, is facing other allegations, including a claim that he used Aslef members' money to hire a car in Portugal for his personal use. It is understood that the Aslef official will deny any impropriety at a disciplinary hearing in mid-August, which will not cover the cheque issue.

On the issue of forging Mr Brady's signature, Mr Blackburn said that he would need to think before responding. "I have signed hundreds of cheques,'' he said. The accusation arises from an allegation made to the union's left-dominated executive by an administrative assistant in the general secretary's office.

The employee, Christine Hutchinson, asked for a £600 advance on her salary, which required the signatures of both the general secretary and the assistant general secretary. She alleged that Mr Blackburn had signed his own name on the cheque and then Mr Brady's.

As a consequence of the signed deposition by Ms Hutchinson, the executive is understood to have asked to see all of the cheques authorised by the men since Mr Brady took up his post.

A spokesman for the union said the ruling executive was aware of the cheque issue, but that it was not the subject of "disciplinary procedures". He added, however, that it may be the subject of further inquiries.

The general secretary faces a disciplinary hearing on 12 August for allegedly bringing the union into disrepute for being involved in a brawl with Aslef's left-wing president, Martin Samways, who has since resigned. The president had denied hitting Julie Atkinson, the general secretary's personal assistant, in the fracas at the union's Hampstead headquarters in north London.

Mr Brady has said that his only involvement in the altercation was an attempt to restrain the president and that he had not hit him.

At the request of the executive, Aslef was recently the subject of an inquiry by Matthias Kelly QC, who said the organisation had become a "laughing stock'' partly because of the fight at the barbecue on 20 May. The union had looked increasingly "foolish if not ridiculous'' since Mr Brady took over in October last year, Mr Kelly found.

The general secretary has denounced Mr Kelly's report as "total rubbish'', alleging that the author was a friend of the previous general secretary, Mick Rix, a left-winger, and therefore biased against him.

If, as expected, the union's disciplinary committee decides to dismiss the present general secretary, he will have six weeks in which to appeal.

The Aslef annual conference, which had been due in June, was postponed by the executive until late September so that members could have the opportunity to digest the Kelly report.