Instead of admitting wrongdoing, the University’s response was to have its University Secretary, Mr Donald Beaton, send a series of allegedly threatening and intimidating letters to Dr and Mrs Fredrics and to their solicitor in which Mr Beaton accused them of having committed crimes in the collection of evidence, and accused their solicitor of having been “complicit” in the commission of these alleged crimes. Mr Beaton threatened to report Dr and Mrs Fredrics and their solicitor to the Information Commissioner for criminal prosecution under the Data Protection Act 1998 and to seek a court injunction with attached costs unless Dr and Mrs Fredrics turned over all copies of the recordings and transcripts thereof.
Dr and Mrs Fredrics, not being legally qualified, were terrified by these letters, believing that they might, indeed, have inadvertently committed the crimes alleged by Mr Beaton, who cited all sorts of obscure provisions of the law to justify his accusations of criminal wrongdoing. At the time, they were residing in virtual exile in the US, having lost their right to live and work in the UK after Dr Fredrics’ dismissal, where they were awaiting the outcome of Dr Fredrics’ application for Highly Skilled Migrant visa status. Their immigration solicitor advised them that were they to be charged with a crime or even simply reported to the Information Commissioner, they could very well be barred from entering the UK, where they had all their worldly possessions, including their 21-year old cat. Not having access to a criminal solicitor, they remained in a state of panic for several months until Dr Fredrics’ visa was approved and they were able to return to the UK.
Once they returned to the UK, they sought legal advice and were told that Mr Beaton’s accusations were entirely without merit, that they had done nothing illegal and that they were simply the victims of witness intimidation. Mr Beaton and the University took no action as they had threatened to do, and Dr and Mrs Fredrics held on to the recordings and transcripts, as to turn over all copies would be to risk their becoming compromised or destroyed altogether.
The next step for Dr and Mrs Fredrics was to seek redress and a stop to the alleged ongoing acts of intimidation by filing criminal charges against Mr Beaton. Thus after a hearing on the facts, a panel of three Magistrates duly advised by the Clerk of the Court issued a summons on 20 April 2007 to Mr Beaton to appear to answer charges of Witness Intimidation, a violation of the Criminal Justice and Police Act of 2001.
Once the charges were filed and the summons issued, Mr Beaton allegedly continued through his solicitors to send intimidating letters to Dr and Mrs Fredrics, despite the fact that their solicitors explicitly wrote to Mr Beaton’s solicitors asking that no further direct approaches be made to Dr and Mrs Fredrics. Accompanying a letter of 1 May were copies of one of the earlier letters sent by Mr Beaton to Dr and Mrs Fredrics. Interestingly, this letter contained a dated fax header, which was clearly marked “Office of the Vice-Chancellor”. The date of the header was 6 March 2007, the date of one of Mr Beaton’s letters to Dr and Mrs Fredrics, and prior to their having filed charges against Mr Beaton. This gave rise to Dr and Mrs Fredrics’ suspicion that the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof Peter Scott, had been aware of the sending of these letters and that he had in all likelihood authorized their sending, which would, therefore, implicate him in the acts of Witness Intimidation. Given that Prof Scott had been recently nominated by the Prime Minister for a Knighthood, it was quite troubling to Dr and Mrs Fredrics that he might have been inappropriately involved not only in the allegedly corrupt grievance appeal hearing, but also, in the alleged attempts by the University to cover up the evidence of the conduct of these proceedings.
After a preliminary hearing on 10 May 2007, the Crown Prosecution Service, in an apparently political decision, took over the case from Dr and Mrs Fredrics and on 22 June 2007, dropped the charges on the grounds that there was “insufficient evidence” that a crime took place. The basis of their decision was that the Act does not explicitly refer to Employment Tribunal proceedings under its list of “relevant proceedings”.
Could Parliament have intended for witness intimidation to, in effect, be legal when it involves parties to an Employment Tribunal, a bona fide civil proceeding with the full weight of law behind it? Or was this merely an oversight in the wording of the Act? Could a panel of three duly advised Magistrates have got it all wrong? In any event the implications are positively chilling – parties to Employment Tribunals and their witnesses can now be freely intimidated with an eye towards perverting the course of Justice. Whistleblowers who take their employers to Tribunal must now be especially careful that they do not fall victim to such acts, for which they will have little or no recourse under the law.
Also from Freedom to Care: Three Fundamental Human Claims
• Every human being has an inalienable right to accountable behaviour from organisations (whether public, private or independent) whose activities significantly affect their quality of life and that of future generations.
• Public officials and private sector directors and managers (whether of for-profit or non-profit organisations) have a duty to explain and justify their intentions, actions and omissions to all those whose quality of life is affected thereby.