Aslef calls in lawyers over 'misuse of funds' claims

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The Independent Online

Leaders of one of Britain's most powerful unions have ordered a massive independent inquiry into the organisation's affairs amid allegations of "misuse of funds'' and damaging leaks of inaccurate information.

The executive of the train drivers union Aslef has called in a top barrister to investigate the organisation's affairs over the last 10 years amid bitter battles between right and left over the administration of the union.

The decision to open the union's books - the most comprehensive such inquiry since the Lightman report into the affairs of the National Union of Mineworkers - was taken by a 5-3 vote of the executive at an eight hour meeting on Friday. Leaders of Aslef decided on the full-scale investigation after a leaked draft report alleged "shambolic'' financial management and called into question a severance payment enjoyed by the left winger Mick Rix, a former leader of the union.

The executive decided that the document was inaccurate, but ordered a much fuller inquiry by Mathias Kelly QC, a former chairman of the Bar in an attempt to establish the facts.

The report will cover the stewardship of Mr Rix, who was general secretary until June last year and Lew Adams currently a board member of the Strategic Rail Authority, who was Aslef leader until 1998.

The executive registered its concern over the leaking of the draft report which had been compiled by Paul Blagborough a former Labour Party finance director. Mr Blagborough wrote a confidential letter to Martin Samways, Aslef president and Shaun Brady, its present right-wing general secretary - both of whom had received copies of the report - expressing "serious concern'' over its disclosure to the Mail on Sunday

Mr Samways said the document had been stolen and that he had reported the matter to the police. It is understood that the paper has since been found.

While the Blagborough report called into question the financial management of the union under Mr Rix, the new investigation will also examine the leadership of Mr Adams.

Behind the scenes, there has been a longstanding battle between left and right in the union. In particular, there has been considerable acrimony between Mr Rix and the present general secretary who has enjoyed the support of Mr Adams.

The motion passed by the ruling committee of the union on Friday said that it was "appalled'' about misinformation published on the basis of the Blagborough report. The resolution said the name of Aslef had been "besmirched and dragged through the gutter'' over the past few months.

The executive said Mr Kelly would have the opportunity to appoint his own staff as part of the inquiry, including a junior barrister, and forensic information technology specialist and finance specialists. All "operations, activities and decisions,'' will be investigated between 1 January 1994 and 26 March 2004.

The Blagborough report argued that the union had made poor investments and had misused assets. It also alleged that computer files had been systematically wiped.

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