A Northern Ireland woman claimed she was unfairly sacked from the British National Party (BNP) after a row with party leader Nick Griffin’s daughter, an industrial tribunal has heard.
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 allegations against her former employers including that:
- she was “held against her will” in a van in Comber on 26 November 2010;
- 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 were not.
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.
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”.
She claimed that none of the BNP employees had a contract. The panel heard Mrs Thomas was told she had been sacked on October 26, 2010, in a phone call from her original employer, Jim Dowson.
“Mr Griffin had been on to him (Dowson) in relation to his daughter,” Mrs Thomas said.
She explained that she had questioned Mr Griffin’s daughter, Jennifer Mathys, for covering up a mistake made by her husband, Angus Mathys.
Two weeks later, Mrs Thomas was reinstated and her “sacking” was put down to a “misunderstanding”.
The panel was told yesterday that Mrs Mathys 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, was 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 Kitchens, a security man, sat with her in the van and told her she couldn’t leave until the computers arrived.
She 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.
Mrs Thomas was asked specifically about an east Belfast printing company called Romac Press.
She 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.
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 using the BNP’s database for a rival organisation, Britain First, which Mrs Thomas admitted she works for voluntarily.
The hearing continues.
How 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 this was very successful.
At its peak it had up to 13,000 members but since then this has fallen to around just 2,000 members.
The employment tribunal taken by the former call centre administrator Marion Thomas 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 that 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 recently claimed that the party now owes just £52,000.
A BBC Panorama programme last month explored the shady financial dealings of the party.
Mrs Thomas also appeared on this programme alleging the incident she repeated at the tribunal that she was “held against her will” in Comber, Co Down.
The BNP is under investigation by both the EU and the Metropolitan Police following allegations of fraud and breaches of electoral law. The party has strenuously denied any wrongdoing.
Mr Griffin had a close relationship with Belfast-based businessman, Jim Dowson who now claims to have severed his links with the party. Mr Dowson helped set up the call centre in Dundonald and appointed his sister-in-law, Ms Thomas, as office administrator.
Air charged but Griffin 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 heavyweights from the BNP in the back row.
In the foreground sat the lone figure of Marion Thomas, the BNP’s former administrator who claims she was unfairly dismissed. In a strong Scottish accent Mrs Thomas, who lives in Comber, Co Down, gave a gripping account of her dealings with the party.
Throughout the hearing, she referred to party chairman, Nick Griffin, but the BNP’s most familiar face was not in attendance.
Instead Mr Griffin was represented by ex-National Front leader, Patrick Harrington.
Mrs Thomas alleged she was originally sacked by the party after a row with Mr Griffin’s daughter, Jennifer Mathys.
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.