TUC attempts to tidy up after 'battle of the barbecue'

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The Independent Online

Desperate attempts were being made yesterday to cut a secret deal to minimise the damage caused by "the battle of the barbecue" to one of the country's most powerful unions.

Desperate attempts were being made yesterday to cut a secret deal to minimise the damage caused by "the battle of the barbecue" to one of the country's most powerful unions.

Members of the left-dominated executive of the train drivers' union Aslef believe that all those suspended for their involvement in the recent al fresco fight at the organisation's headquarters should be dismissed, but it is understood that TUC officials are anxious to avoid the possibility of any fresh disclosures by litigants claiming unfair dismissal.

It is believed an inquiry into the fracas, which involved the top two Aslef officials, has received conflicting evidence. One version of events was that Shaun Brady, the union's Blairite general secretary, hit the left-wing president Martin Samways. Allegedly Mr Samways had hit Mr Brady's female personal assistant.

However, some witnesses gave evidence that contradicted this account to the TUC-sponsored inquiry. The six-page report drawn up by the three-member panel was delivered to the union on Friday and is due to be presented to the Aslef executive tomorrow.

Intermediaries from Congress House, including Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, were trying to establish whether there was a means by which the two main protagonists and Mick Blackburn, the assistant general secretary, as well as three members of staff suspended for their involvement in the fight, could be allowed to remain in their jobs. Such a course would avoid "messy litigation" and the inevitability of more damaging disclosures.

However, some members of the Aslef executive are arguing that the only way out of the crisis is for all concerned to be dismissed for allegedly bringing the union into disrepute and for fresh elections to be held for all senior posts, including their own seats on the executive.

Supporters of Mr Brady staged a demonstration outside the Aslef headquarters in Hampstead, north London, last Monday protesting about the executive's decision to suspend the union's annual conference, which was due to start on the same day. The ruling committee took the decision to postpone the assembly on the grounds that delegates needed to see the report into the fight at the barbecue and another document scrutinising the organisation's finances over the past 10 years.

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