Long-serving Westminster Council employee John Gilroy was dismissed after taking notes from a colleague's desk
Published: 6 June, 2014
EXCLUSIVE by WILLIAM McLENNAN
A WHISTLEBLOWER has been sacked by Westminster Council for “gross misconduct” after he removed two pages of handwritten notes from a colleague’s desk.
John Gilroy, who worked as a street warden for 17 years, took two pieces of A4 paper from City Hall which he said proved “malpractice” in his department and intended to raise the alarm with council bosses.
Minutes of a disciplinary hearing, seen by the West End Extra, show Mr Gilroy had said he took the documents “in good faith” and believed he would be safe from prosecution under laws that protect whistleblowers.
But hours after he removed the pieces of paper, the council reported him to the police for theft and he was arrested at his home. After being interviewed for 12 hours, he was released on bail and the Crown Prosecution Service later decided there was no case to answer.
Instead, Mr Gilroy faced a lengthy disciplinary process conducted by the council during which he was accused of theft and told that taking the pages was an act “likely to result in the loss of trust and confidence of the employee or which may bring the council into serious disrepute”.
As part of his role as a Unison shop steward, Mr Gilroy had been representing a colleague in an unrelated disciplinary hearing when he stumbled across the documents, he said.
He admitted taking the pieces of paper, but said he had intended to return them after making photocopies.
In the hand-written notes, which formed the initial stages of an investigation into allegations against a co-worker, a department manager had written: “Probably guilty.”
Mr Gilroy said this showed that the proper process had not been carried out and believed a conclusion had been reached before an investigation had been completed. Explaining why he decided to take the documents, he said: “This was the overriding consideration and should have taken priority.”
The claim of malpractice is still being investigated, but the disciplinary hearing was told that whistleblowing protection “only covers the disclosure itself and not the conduct of the employee leading to that disclosure”.
Mr Gilroy had made an earlier “protected disclosure” about alleged overtime irregularities of department managers, which is also under investigation.
A letter, sent to Mr Gilroy by City Hall’s director of housing, Ben Denton, said: “You had no permission to take these documents and my view is that any reasonable person, acting in a professional manner, would have approached the owner of the documents and asked whether they could have a copy. In this instance, this did not occur.”
Last month, Mr Denton had decided Mr Gilroy should be immediately dismissed without notice and said it was “completely inappropriate” to take the documents.
He wrote: “The taking of information which was not intended for you, gives rise to a loss of trust and confidence in you.
“I am satisfied that these allegation I have found proven constitute gross misconduct and that they seriously impair the council’s trust and confidence in you as an employee.”
Mr Gilroy has launched an appeal against the dismissal and is in the process of taking Westminster Council to an employment tribunal.
A hearing is expected to take place next month to assess Mr Gilroy’s claim he was victimised for his trade union activity and for whistleblowing.
A Westminster City Council spokesperson said: “While others may have been talking about Mr Gilroy’s dismissal, an appeal procedure is now under way and Westminster City Council believes it would be inappropriate to comment further until it has been concluded.”