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Union threatens to make life difficult for McAlpine over Cullum’s court absence

13 Apr 16 Construction unions are now gunning for Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd after Cullum McAlpine 'declined to give evidence' (or so they say) in the blacklisting court case that is set to start next month.

Cullum McAlpine testifying to the Scottish Affairs Committee in January 2013
Cullum McAlpine testifying to the Scottish Affairs Committee in January 2013

The Unite union said it would challenge the company every time that the company tenders for public procurement contracts unless director Cullum McAlpine gives evidence at the High Court.

Cullum McAlpine has already admitted before a House of Commons committee three years ago that he was the founding chairman of the Consulting Association, the organisation that grew out of the ashes of the Economic League in 1993 to manage a list of construction workers considered ‘subversives’ and a risk to employers. He admitted that he was responsible for the commercial success of the blacklisting operation. However, he said that if there were names on the list that should not have been on the list, it was nothing to do with him or his company, as he merely used the service and was not in charge of running it.

The unions representing blacklisted workers therefore consider him a key witness in the forthcoming damages hearings but he is refusing to cooperate, they say. Unite said that the decision by Cullum McAlpine not to take the witness box was "a further gross insult to the thousands of construction workers who have lost their jobs because of the Consulting Association and the Economic League before it".

The revelations about Cullum McAlpine came when the companies’ evidence was filed for the High Court trial which is due to start on Monday 9th May – and is expected to last 11 weeks. 

However, a spokesperson for McAlpine said that Cullum McAlpine not only had not refused to appear in court but had not even been asked.

The case will centre on a number of legal issues, including defamation, breaches of the 1988 Data Protection Act, conspiracy and misuse of private information. The outcome of the trial will determine the level of compensation those ‘blacklisted’ may receive.

Unite is supporting the claims of about 290 construction workers for damages for years of lost income because they were ‘blacklisted’. The claims are against Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Balfour Beatty Engineering Services and more than 30 other firms.  

Unite director of legal services Howard Beckett said: “Despite last October’s unprecedented admission of guilt by construction firms involved in blacklisting, those that masterminded this campaign of blacklisting are still twisting and turning to avoid appearing in court where the media and public will be present.

“It is Unite’s belief that that Cullum McAlpine, as founder chairman, was the key architect in the operation of the Consulting Association until it was raided by the Information Commissioner in 2009. The fact that he is refusing to give evidence to help bring closure for the suffering that our members and their families have endured is shaming.

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“You judge the character of a person if they are prepared to stand up and defend their actions in open court – you don’t skulk in the legal twilight protected by a platoon of expensive City lawyers.

“How can a company run by a man who hides from his victims and the justice system ever hope to convince ministers that they have learnt from the sins of the past and deserve to be involved in public procurement contracts.

“Unite says loud and clear to Cullum McAlpine: Turn up and give evidence or expect your dispute with us to go on long after this litigation has concluded. We will object at every turn to your company benefiting from public procurement contracts.

“It is only now after sustained legal action, with the support of Unite, that the lid is being finally lifted on a scandal which has ruined countless lives and led to hardship for many more. However, the stain of blacklisting won’t be removed until there is a full public inquiry and the livelihoods of the blacklisted are restored by the firms involved giving them a permanent job.”

But a Sir Robert McAlpine spokesperson said: “The statement from Unite is incorrect.  Cullum McAlpine has not refused to give evidence in court – the claimants have never requested his evidence.  Mr McAlpine has already appeared before the Scottish Affairs Committee in 2013 where he provided information and answered questions from the committee on the setting up and operation of the Consulting Association.  Sir Robert McAlpine, together with the other seven defendants in the court action, has made a full apology to all those affected by the activities of the Consulting Association.”

Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and Vinci issued a joint apology in October 2013 for setting up and using the Consulting Association to operate an industry blacklist. The eight contractors set up The Construction Workers Compensation Scheme, which as of February 2016 had paid out £5.6m in compensation to 71 blacklisted construction workers. Other victims are holding out for legal redress rather than settling.

Howard Beckett said: “Many Unite members who are the victims of blacklisting have rejected the employers’ financial offers. The employers make mention of headline figures in regard to their top offers, but the reality is that they continue to attempt to buy off the majority of claims with low offers.

“The employers need to understand that compensation is only one part of the blacklisting struggle and until the employers are prepared to issue unreserved admissions as to the practices they undertook, prepared to disclose all documentation they hold regarding the blacklist and show a willingness to positively intervene in favour of employing victims then the fight goes on.”

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