Union chief suspended over inquiry into ballot

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The Independent Online

The leader of the GMB union, one of Labour's biggest donors, was dramatically suspended from office for allegedly interfering in an inquiry into ballot rigging during his election.

The leader of the GMB union, one of Labour's biggest donors, was dramatically suspended from office for allegedly interfering in an inquiry into ballot rigging during his election.

Kevin Curran, a prominent supporter of Gordon Brown, was accused of attempting to put pressure on a QC who was appointed by the union to investigate the alleged voting irregularities.

Yesterday's suspension, and the inquiry into the alleged ballot scam, will embarrass Labour in the run-up to the general election expected on 5 May.

Mr Currancontacted John Hand QC, chairman of the inquiry, allegedly emphasising that financial control of the union and the inquiry resided with him as general secretary. It is understood that Mr Curran maintained he was merely carrying out his duties as the organisation's chief administrator.

The executive, meeting in London, twice demanded an apology from Mr Curran for the alleged interference, but he refused on both occasions. He has been suspended on full pay until the inquiry is completed. It is understood that he has been banned from the organisation's offices and that he has also been ordered not to speak to the press. The executive said it hadno choice other than to suspend him.

The inquiry is investigating allegations, first revealed in The Independent, that supporters of the general secretary filled in ballot forms sent to "ghost members" - people who had either died, left the union or failed to pay their subscriptions. The GMB leader, elected on an "anti-bullying" ticket allegedly reduced the union's president to tears over her attempts to set up the inquiry.

The executive alleged that the GMB leader's letter to Mr Hand was the third time he had tried to interfere.

A friend of Mr Curran said that the general secretary had written to Mr Hand to inquire if he needed any assistance and to assure him he would receive any help he needed. "He did not make a secret of the letter, but the executive seems to have taken great offence and suggested that he apologise. He refused to do so because it was not an attempt to interfere, but an offer of assistance." He said Mr Curran would be speaking to his legal advisers.

"This is a very serious turn of events. He believes he did the right thing by writing to John Hand. He has no reason to apologise for doing his job."

On the tone of Mr Curran's letters to the president - and the allegation that she was reduced to tears - the friend said: "When allegations are flying around, a person will want to put his case very strongly and make sure the investigation is robust and independent." He added: "It is regrettable if anyone was reduced to tears, but the circumstances mean that people are getting very emotional."

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