Anti-bullying union boss 'made woman cry in poll dispute'

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Indy Politics

The man elected general secretary of one of the largest unions on an "anti-bullying" ticket allegedly reduced the organisation's president to tears over her attempts to set up an inquiry into claims of ballot-rigging during his election.

A memorandum marked "strictly private and confidential" claims that Kevin Curran, general secretary of the GMB general union, may have attempted to "interfere, intervene and influence the decisions" of the association's general purposes committee in his letters to its chairwoman, Mary Turner. Ms Turner is also lay president of the union.

The internal memo from the committee to Mr Curran, dated 21 December, expresses concern about the "tone and content" of two letters he sent to the president. Ms Turner is said to have broken down when she told the committee about the contents of the communications.

Over the past decade the GMB has gained a reputation as one of Britain's worst employers after a succession of employment tribunals in various parts of the country in which senior officials of the union were accused of bullying staff.

Mr Curran promised to end the bullying culture in the union after he won an election in April 2003 which is to be the subject of an inquiry. Supporters of the general secretary allegedly filled in ballot forms sent to "ghost members" - people who had either died, left the union or failed to pay their subscriptions.

In its memo to Mr Curran, a copy of which has been seen by The Independent, the committee said it was "amazed" to find that the general secretary was querying the membership of the committee setting up the inquiry. The memo argues that the general purposes committee (GPC) was properly constituted and expresses astonishment that the general secretary thought he could determine its membership in discussions with the president.

"As a committee we are concerned at the tone and content of your two letters to the National President. The GPC supports the President's view that your two items of correspondence are full of inaccuracies and could be perceived as attempts to interfere, intervene and influence the decisions of the GPC," the memo says.

The memo took exception to Mr Curran's assertion that the committee of inquiry would not be independent. It said the GPC was convened to draw up the terms of reference of the investigation and appoint a legally qualified chairman, but not to conduct the inquiry itself.

The general secretary, who denies any involvement in alleged vote-rigging, sent a letter to the executive on 11 January arguing that any accusations about the ballot should have been made within a month of the result. He said he had been banned from attending the GPC, which was unconstitutional. The accusations about the ballot were "outrageous" and other candidates' behaviour would also have to be investigated. He had not been given any details of the allegations and was not in any position to object to the members of the inquiry team.

A friend of Mr Curran said: "He feels at the moment that [the investigation] is being done unconstitutionally."He added: "It is regrettable if anyone was reduced to tears, but the circumstances mean that people are getting very emotional."

* Amicus, the biggest union in the private sector, has launched an inquiry into financial allegations against Lucy Kelly, one of the organisation's three deputy general secretaries.