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I could lose job over brawl at barbecue, admits Aslef chief

The suspended leader of the train drivers' union Aslef admitted last night that his job was on the line after spending several hours defending himself of charges following the infamous barbecue brawl.

Shaun Brady could become the first general secretary of a union to be sacked in more than a decade after an unseemly fracas with the union's president. He had appeared confident as he arrived at a disciplinary hearing yesterday and insisted he would "robustly defend" himself. But he left conceding that it had been an "upsetting" and stressful day.

The 41-year-old - who faces seven charges, including one of bringing the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (Aslef) into disrepute and another related to the use of a credit card - has said he will contest every allegation.

He was suspended along with the assistant general secretary, Mick Blackburn, and president, Martin Samways, five days after a union gathering on 20 May. It is alleged that Mr Brady, a Blairite, was involved in a brawl with Mr Samways, a left-winger, at the union's Hampstead headquarters.

Mr Brady said the president had "turned up drunk at the party, abused people and then lashed out at a member of staff".

Mr Samways denied hitting Mr Brady's personal assistant, Julie Atkinson, while the general secretary has insisted that his involvement was simply to restrain the president. Mr Samways, 57, resigned in June, conceding that he had brought "huge shame" on the union and saying he was quitting for the good of the organisation. In the words of Matthias Kelly QC, who conducted an inquiry into the running of Aslef, the whole incident has helped to make the union a "laughing stock".

Mr Brady turned up yesterday to face the seven-member executive accompanied by train driver Len Worboys, amid claims he had been denied legal representation at the hearing.

Mr Worboys described the disciplinary system as "antiquated", adding: "Unfortunately he will have to make do with me." He said the charges were "without foundation".

Mr Brady, a former driver at South West Trains, was elected to the post in July 2003 in an unexpected victory over Mick Rix and had clashed with the more left-wing executive committee, of which Mr Samways was a member.

Two months ago Mr Kelly's report accused Mr Brady of handling the union's staff "aggressively and insensitively" and engaging in a damaging power struggle. The report, which Mr Brady dismissed as "absolute rubbish", said an "atmosphere of paranoia gripped the union" after the general secretary took office and a "smear campaign" was conducted against Mr Rix.

If, as expected, the union's disciplinary committee decides to dismiss the suspended general secretary, he will have six weeks to launch an appeal. Mr Blackburn faces a disciplinary hearing next week.