The tribunal opened in Belfast yesterday in which former administrator, Marion Thomas, who worked at the BNP’s call centre in Dundonald, in east Belfast, is claiming unfair dismissal, breach of contract and unauthorised deduction of wages.
At yesterday’s hearing Mrs Thomas, from Comber, Co Down made a number of criminal allegations against her former employers including that:
- she was “held against her will” in a van in Comber on 26 November 2010;Her niece’s husband, Neil Kernaghan, also from Comber, had also taken a case against the BNP but settled yesterday for an undisclosed sum.
- on the same date she was given a total of £7,500 in cash from the BNP in a Tesco car park;
- she was made to stamp invoices to suppliers as paid when they weren’t.
A barrister for Mrs Thomas, Barry Mulqueen, described how she had been employed with the right-wing party from 20 November 2009 until 21 December 2010.
“She was employed in the position of an administrator in December 2010 when the respondent (the BNP) closed the operations in east Belfast,” Mr Mulqueen said. “We simply allege that the claimant’s dismissal was unfair. Her dismissal was procedurally unfair - she was not given adequate notice. There was no consultation process. There was no effort to offer alternative employment.”
The BNP was represented by Patrick Harrington who argued that Mrs Thomas wasn’t dismissed but was made redundant and that the party tried to offer her a job at one of their offices in Britain.
“We say the procedure that followed was a reasonable one,” Mr Harrington said. “Alternative employment was offered. Employees were asked for alternative suggestions for how redundancies could be avoided.”
Mrs Thomas told the tribunal that she had never been a member of the BNP. She said she worked for a marketing company called Ad Lorries Ltd, owned by Jim Dowson, which had been based on the Upper Newtownards Road. The company took on the BNP as clients in 2009 and moved to new premises in Dundonald. Mrs Thomas described how the Dundonald offices became “the main fundraising centre of the BNP”.
“There were about 30 employees in east Belfast at one time,” she said. “It was the main fundraising centre of the BNP. It sent out appeals. The call centre drummed up more membership. It was very successful.”
Mrs Thomas claimed that none of the BNP employees had a contract.
The panel heard Mrs Thomas was told she had been sacked on 26 October 2010 in a phone call from her original employer, Jim Dowson.
“Mr Griffin had been on to him (Dowson) in relation to his daughter and the outcome of the advisory council meeting in which I asked for an item to be raised,” Mrs Thomas said. Mrs Thomas explained that she had questioned Mr Griffin’s daughter, Jennifer Matthys for covering up a mistake made by her husband, Angus Matthys.
“He had put the wrong postage on mailing which meant it was £900 short,” Mrs Thomas said. “She (Jennifer) has access to the BNP bank account and she did a transfer online.”
Two weeks later Mrs Thomas was reinstated and her “sacking” was put down to a “misunderstanding”.
The panel was told yesterday that Mrs Matthys had declined to attend the hearing, saying she felt intimidated. However, the tribunal later heard there was a major fallout between Jim Dowson and Nick Griffin which led to the BNP being put out of the Dundonald offices last November. As a result of this Mrs Thomas acted as a “mediator” between Mr Dowson and BNP members which culminated in two meetings on November 26 in Comber when computer equipment, including the BNP database, and £7,500 in cash were transferred in a Tesco car park.
Mrs Thomas met Clive Jefferson, BNP national elections officer, in the car park in the morning where she was given £2,500 in cash to give to Mr Dowson.
“I was asked to check certain items of property were delivered to Mr Jefferson,” she said. “The money was agreed between Mr Dowson and Mr Griffin.”
She was then told to return in the afternoon to collect the rest of the money. Mrs Thomas then repeated allegations she made on a recent BBC Panorama programme that she was “held against her will” for an hour in the cab of a van by BNP members until the computers arrived.
She described how Mr Jefferson, Adam Walker, party manager and Ian Kitchen, a security man sat with her in the van and told her she couldn’t leave until the computers arrived.
“I felt uneasy because Mr Jefferson was getting agitated,” she said and described how there were several phone calls between him and Mr Griffin while they waited. When the equipment arrived, she described how Mr Jefferson took £200 from the £5,000 cash and said he was “keeping it for the inconvenience”.
BNP representative, Patrick Harrington told the tribunal these are “very serious criminal allegations” and revealed that Mrs Thomas had never reported the incident to the police.
The tribunal also heard that the BNP was in serious financial difficulty and that the party owed £275,000 to suppliers, including many Northern Ireland firms.
“They were very, very deeply in debt,” Mrs Thomas said. “I was to contact the suppliers to come to a manageable agreement with them.”
Mrs Thomas was asked specifically about an east Belfast printing company called Romac Press.
Mrs Thomas told the tribunal that dates were changed on invoices to show the company had been paid within the specified time for the Electoral Commission.
“Some were stamped ‘paid’ and they were not,” she said, claiming Mr Jefferson authorised this. “I said to Mr Jefferson you can’t do that, you can see they have not been paid. He said just keep on doing it.”
The tribunal heard that a meeting was held in a Newtownards hotel last December in which Mr Harrington argued Mrs Thomas was offered redundancy or a relocation package. However, Mrs Thomas described these suggestions as “rubbish”.
The tribunal heard that a letter from Nick Griffin stated that Mrs Thomas’ employment was only from April to December 2010 and as she had worked for less than a year, was not entitled to bring a claim of unfair dismissal. The BNP representative argued that Mrs Thomas would
have been dismissed anyway for a number of reasons. One of these was for using the BNP’s database for a rival organisation, the nationalist campaigning group, Britain First which Mrs Thomas admitted she works for voluntarily.
The hearing continues today (Tues)
Party's Ulster links and how early success turned sour
The British National Party (BNP) opened a call centre in 2009 in Northern Ireland to raise funds and membership around the UK and was very successful. At its peak it had up to 13,000 members but since then this has fallen dramatically to around 2,000 members.
The employment tribunal taken by the former call centre administrator charts the difficulties the BNP found itself in at the end of last year. The party ran up massive debts during the 2010 general election campaign.
The tribunal in Belfast yesterday heard the party owes £275,000 to many of its suppliers. One of those companies is the small family firm, Romac Press, which went bust recently after being owed £44,000 by the BNP.
BNP chairman Nick Griffin, the party’s most high profile member, recently claimed that the party now owes just £52,000.
A BBC Panorama programme last month explored the shady financial dealings of the party. It obtained evidence that Mr Griffin, elected as an MEP in 2009, ordered then party treasurer David Hannam to inflate fictional costs so that the party could keep as much of the European grant money as possible. Mrs Thomas also appeared on this programme alleging the incident she repeated at the tribunal yesterday that she was “held against her will” in Comber, Co Down.
The BNP is under investigation by both the European Union and the Metropolitan Police following allegations of fraud and breaches of electoral law. The BNP has strenuously denied any wrongdoing.
Mr Griffin had a close relationship with Belfast-based business man, Jim Dowson, who became a party fundraiser in 2007 and has helped set up BNP offices all over the UK. Mr Dowson helped set up the BNP call centre in Dundonald and appointed his sister-in-law, Marion Thomas as office administrator. Dowson claims to have severed links with the party when he became aware that they were not paying their bills.
Air charged but most famous face is missing
The air was charged as the industrial tribunal got under way in Room 10 of the Gasworks site in Belfast yesterday. The tiny room seemed even smaller with the imposing presence of several heavyweights from the British National Party (BNP) lining the back row.
In the foreground sat the lone figure of Marion Thomas, the BNP’s former administrator at the Dundonald call centre, where she claims she was unfairly dismissed. In a strong Scottish accent, Mrs Thomas, who now lives in Comber, Co Down, gave a gripping account of her dealings with the party in the run-up to her dismissal last year.
Throughout the hearing yesterday she referred to party chairman, Nick Griffin, but the BNP’s most familiar face was not in attendance. Instead Mr Griffin was represented by his best pal and former National Front leader, Patrick Harrington.
Mrs Thomas alleged that she was originally sacked by the party after a row with Mr Griffin’s daughter, Jennifer Matthys. However, the panel was told Mrs Matthys had declined to attend the hearing, saying she felt intimidated.
As Mrs Thomas gave graphic details of BNP fallouts, false invoices and fishy meetings in a Comber car park, the back row began whispering loudly.
Tribunal chair, Noel Kelly, ticked them off as if they were insolent pupils in a classroom. They were in fact five of the BNP’s nine leading organisers. Among them were brothers, Adam and Mark Walker, the party manager and political research officer respectively. National elections officer and treasurer, Clive Jefferson, who hobbled in on a stick.
Ian Kitchen, Yorkshire regional organiser who was present when Mrs Thomas alleges she was “held against her will” in a van in Comber. And Angus Matthys, Griffin’s son-in-law, who worked in the Dundonald call centre before it folded.
An anti-fascist protest had been expected outside the tribunal offices yesterday but demonstrators are expected to appear as the hearing continues over the next two days.
Here is a BBC News report from last night