Whistleblowers poised to win legal protection

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The Independent Online
Whistleblowers who alert the public or media to fraud or other criminal practices could soon be protected, because the Government is considering giving its support to a new law that would safeguard their jobs.

Richard Shepherd, a Tory MP, drawn tenth in the Private Members' Bill ballot, is putting forward a whistleblowers' Bill which could only pass with government support. Public Concern at Work, the body which gives legal advice to whistleblowers, is confident, however, that it will become law.

Many Labour MPs, several of whom are now on the front bench, have expressed support for the legislation.

Guy Dehn, the director of Public Concern at Work, said: "I am sure that there will be whistleblowing legislation by the end of this parliamentary session".

In its annual report published today, Public Concern outlines a series of cases where whistleblowers have prevented the continuation of crimes in organisations, both in the public and private sectors.

In one case, Judith Jones, the deputy matron at Denison House, a small private nursing home in Selby, North Yorkshire, noticed semen on an old woman's cardigan and hair. Suspecting that the owner of the home, John Tiplady, was abusing the residents, Ms Jones contacted Public Concern at Work and was eventually able to obtain evidence which led to Tiplady's conviction and a four-year jail sentence.

Another case involved the non-executive directors of an NHS trust who were concerned over the way that the trust was being run by the chief executive, including the authorisation of large ex-gratia payments to senior employees without board approval. Their complaints eventually led to the early retirement of the chief executive.

Public Concern at Work received 500 requests for legal help in the past year and 219 of these clients had evidence of serious malpractice at work. However, some of those who approached the organisation could not be offered help because of the lack of legal protection.

An accountant who is being forced to submit fraudulent bonus claims to a manufacturer, showing a lesser profit than the company is making on the sale of vehicles, has not been able to alert the authorities because of fears he would be sacked. Told that there could be no legal protection, he wrote to the organisation: "The employment laws need to be strengthened to stop unscrupulous employers."

Mr Dehn says: "Almost all inquiries into major disasters report that staff had seen the dangers but either had been too scared to sound the alarm or had raised the matter with the wrong person or in the wrong way."

He said these included the rail inspector who did not report the loose wiring prior to the Clapham train crash that killed 35 people, and the five warnings that ferries were sailing with open bow doors before the Zeebrugge disaster which killed 193. The collapses of Barlow Clowes, BCCI and Robert Maxwell's group were also compounded by the "culture of fear and silence" within those companies, he said.

Whistleblowing legislation would give the protection of the industrial tribunal to people who had "reasonable grounds" to alert the authorities to misbehaviour within their organisation.

The whistleblowers' hotline is on 0171 404 6609.