Whistleblower saved company pounds 40m loss

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The Independent Online
A whistleblower who exposed a pounds 1m-a-year waste disposal fraud prevented the loss of a pounds 40m investment and hundreds of jobs in Britain, the whistleblowers' charity said yesterday.

Public Concern at Work said the case highlights the need for a whistleblowers' Bill, which is due to return to the Commons in July when the Government will have to decide whether to try to vote it down or not. Ministers have not acted to block it - while making clear their opposition despite the widespread cross-party support the Public Interest Disclosure Bill enjoys.

In the waste disposal case, an employee realised that colleagues were stealing costly new material from a customer while allegedly collecting its waste. He contacted the charity whose lawyers notified the firm which hired commercial investigators. The fraudsters were caught red-handed, the police were called in, a pounds 1.25m-a-year fraud was exposed, and prosecutions are pending.

"Once the company realised why profits had been so poor, it reversed its plans to divert a pounds 40m investment to Germany, so saving hundreds of local jobs," the charity said.

In other cases, an employee of a food wholesaler realised his firm was supplying rotten meat to supermarkets. He informed the supermarkets who found the allegations true. The employee was sacked, later winning compensation and a job with a local competitor who, the charity said, "saw the benefits of having someone on the staff who was prepared to look after the interests of its customers".

The examples are from more than 300 involving serious malpractice at work which the charity says it dealt with during its second year and which it argues reinforce the case for the Private Member's Bill sponsored by the Labour MP Don Touhig. It would protect whistleblowers from unfair dismissal and punishment, providing they have raised their concerns internally first and with the relevant regulatory authorities. Whistle- blowers would have to establish that they acted in the public interest and would not be protected if they attempted to profit from their actions.

Guy Dehn, the charity's director, said "good businesses welcome whistleblowers", as evidenced by support for the Bill from the Institute of Directors and big companies such as Cadbury Schweppes, Esso and the National Westminster Bank.

But, he added: " Without legal protection for whistleblowers, responsible firms will continue to be ripped off by rogue operators, and public safety will be endangered."

9 Public Concern at Work: Second Annual Report. 42 Kingsway, London WC2 6EN. pounds 5. Helpline 0171-404-6609.