Thursday, April 05, 2012

once a scab, always a scab

The government have a secret underground bunker that they can escape to in case of attack. From 1952-92 it was at Kelvedon Hatch in Essex. In the 40 years of its service the lawns were trimmed to bowling green standards and the fixtures and fittings were kept polished and gleaming. There was nothing else for the bored staff to do as the facility was always on green alert.

Except once when it went to amber. It wasn't the Cuban missile crisis. It wasn't during Les Evenements of 1968. It was the miners' strike of 1984. The government really feared they'd misjudged the nation and that if people in unions banded together against the freshly militarised police force it could go to civil war. Sometimes you're a lot closer to victory than you dare to think.

But the government had spent a couple of years stockpiling coal so the electricity supply would stay on, they had the media sewn up (the BBC re-ordered footage of police attacking miners and the miners retaliating, putting the miners' response first making it appear an unprovoked assault on police), and they bludgeoned and bribed the impoverished strikers.

Some scabs, centred around Nottinghamshire, returned to work and formed their own breakaway union, the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM). Their chief Neil Greatrex and his deputy Mick Stevens led the organisation for many years. They later set the Nottinghamshire Miners Home Charity which ran a home for ex-miners in Chapel St Leonards near Skegness. Greatrex gave himself salaries of over £100,000 plus having his mortgage paid by the UDM.

In the late 1990s the Labour government set up the Coal Health Scheme to dish out £8bn of compensation to 750,000 miners who have been affected by serious medical conditions from their work. Typical New Labour, they had it administered through private solicitors who creamed off millions.

Neil Greatrex and Mick Stevens set up a company called Venside which made over £20m in fees from the solicitors involved in the scheme for referring claims to them. One of those companies was Doncaster firm Beresford's which took up to 30% of the miners' compensation. Partners James Beresford and Douglas Smith's joint earnings went from about £182,000 in 2000 to £23,273,256 in 2006. Taking such 'success fees' is unlawful and they were banned from being solicitors. However it is not criminal and they did not get prosecuted, walking away having trousered millions.

This money should have been caring for diseased old miners. There will be thousands having unnecessarily hard lives because the money went to buy luxury refits at the homes of people like Beresford, Smith, Greatrex and Stevens.

Seeing the UDM's firm so eagerly referring miners to such a dodgy company who were ripping miners off, the scandal put the Serious Fraud Office on the sniff around Greatrex. They discovered that, not content with his riches, over a period of years he had £150,000 worth of work done on his and Stevens' houses, paid for by the charity they'd set up. Police found that he'd got false invoices for the work, saying it was for lifts and a kitchen at the care home. Greatrex and Stevens were charged with 14 counts of theft.

Their trial took place this week. Greatrex lied to court saying the work was in lieu of salary, never mind that it said the work had been done on a care home that the builders never even saw. Even though Mick Stevens can be presumed to have noticed his home improvements, and even though he countersigned the dodgy cheques, he was acquitted of all charges.

Neil Greatrex was unanimously convicted by the jury of theft. The judge said he'll be getting a prison sentence. But, like James Beresford before him, he gets to keep the money.

1 comment:

Nick. said...

Greatrex got four years. How the mighty have fallen.