'Battle of the barbecue' union leader faces credit card accusations

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The union leader suspended for his involvement in the "battle of the barbecue" faced allegations yesterday of excessive credit card spending and accusations that he kept a "sick" picture of a rival with a gunshot wound in his head.

The union leader suspended for his involvement in the "battle of the barbecue" faced allegations yesterday of excessive credit card spending and accusations that he kept a "sick" picture of a rival with a gunshot wound in his head.

Documents seen by The Independent show that Shaun Brady, the Blairite general secretary of the train drivers' union Aslef, spent £20,126.11 of his organisation's money in five months, largely in pubs and restaurants but also in Sainsbury's, and Tesco.

More bizarre was the discovery of a picture of his left-wing predecessor Mick Rix in his desk drawer. Superimposed on the photograph were target rings and a hole had been etched in Mr Rix's forehead. Above the picture was the heading: "One round, .22 ammunition at 25 yards."

Mr Rix, who was beaten by Mr Brady in elections for the leadership last year, has reported the matter to the police: "I worry about the mental state of the person who did this. Although I may not take the matter seriously, my partner and my family do," he said.

The left-dominated executive of the union has ordered an investigation into the discovery and into expenditure by Mr Brady and his ally and assistant general secretary Mick Blackburn. Documents showing Mr Brady's credit card spending reveal two bills for meals at the "Groucho Grill" in London each exceeding £700. On 19 December, he spent £730.07 at the restaurant and £59.63 at The Flask public house in Hampstead. On 15 December, he signed for a total of £777.86 at the grill in two separate transactions and £29.98 at The Flask. On 11 January, he spent £341.89 at Tesco.

His most regular haunt however was the Three Horseshoes, a pub near the union's headquarters in Hampstead. The returns show that the general secretary spent £515.77 in 30 visits during the five-month period. Another 20 pubs enjoyed Mr Brady's patronage.

Mick Blackburn, assistant general secretary, who was suspended for involvement in a fracas on 20 May at a barbecue at Aslef's headquarters, has also been accused of excessive credit card expenditure. He spent £6,020.62 of the union's money between November 2003 and March 2004, including £289.10 on 16 visits to the Three Horseshoes. On 26 November, he spent £6.59 of union members' money in the "Donkey Store".

An additional allegation, also being investigated by the executive, is that pornography was downloaded on Mr Blackburn's union computer.

A spokeswoman for the general secretary said the "target" picture of Mr Rix had been sent to the general secretary anonymously and that he did not condone the sentiments it conveyed. "He regards it as sick. He was appalled by it and did not think it appropriate that anyone should see it," she said.

In a statement, Mr Brady added: "Every element of expenditure can be demonstrated to be legitimate Aslef business. I will have no problem in advising the executive committee of the details necessary to support this. I am, however, disappointed that the executive is taking these matters to the press before discussing them with the individuals involved. It hardly represents good trade union practice."

His spokeswoman said that £6,000 of the credit card spending was made up of rent for accommodation near the union's Hampstead headquarters and £3,500 for office furniture for the Aslef building.

The larger bills for meals involved dinners for senior officials including members of the executive and the spending at the Three Horseshoes pub was for entertaining representatives of union branches.

Mr Blackburn also insisted his credit card expenditure was on legitimate union business and strenuously denied downloading pornographic images. He said that a number of people had access to his terminal and that hackers had infiltrated the computer system.

An independent report on the fight at the barbecue - which also led to the suspension of Martin Samways, the left-wing president - is due to be completed within the next day or so.

Another inquiry ordered by the executive into the union's finances over the past 10 years, is due for completion later this month. The investigation, conducted by Matthias Kelly QC, will receive copies of Mr Brady's and Mr Blackburn's credit card returns.