A Dundee Labour councillor who was sacked for allegedly submitting false timesheets while on the payroll of Police Scotland says he feels “vindicated” after being awarded more than £22,000 for unfair dismissal.
George McIrvine, who represents the Coldside ward, was dismissed after being accused of filing “illegitimate” timesheets for his police job, while attending political events, including the election of Richard Leonard as Scottish Labour leader in 2017.
It had been claimed he breached force guidelines for years without anyone realising and attended the events on work time, to further his own political career.
Mr McIrvine began working as a criminal intelligence analyst in 1986 before taking on a full-time secondment to Unison as a trade union representative in early 2010.
He also held the position of branch secretary and Labour link officer within Unison and his duties involved representing the Unison membership at conferences, activities and events, as well as liaising with the Labour Party.
Mr McIrvine was put on precautionary suspension in July 2018 after submitting timesheets detailing his attendance at the 2017 STUC conference in Aviemore, a May Day rally in Glasgow and a Labour link conference in Brighton.
Other submissions included attendance at a TUC conference in Brighton, the election of Richard Leonard as Scottish Labour leader and subsequent trip to a pub, and a demonstration in Glasgow Green.
Mr McIrvine was told in July 2018 that he was being investigated over a number of allegations, including falsification of claims in respect of paid facility time, abuse of authority or position and a “serious breach” of Scottish Police Authority values.
Following the appointment of Inspector Steven McKinnon as investigating officer, he was notified of further allegations, including undertaking other paid employment without the permission of Police Scotland and working while receiving sick pay.
During an interview, Mr McIrvine confirmed he had carried out and been paid for a five day induction with the charity CornerStone while on sick leave because he was considering leaving his current job for personal reasons.
He attended the induction to become a care worker for the charity but decided not to go ahead with the new appointment.
Mr McIrvine was dismissed for gross misconduct at a disciplinary hearing on May 29 2019, with detective chief superintendent Sean Scott – who chaired the hearing – concluding the timesheets were “on the balance of probabilities, illegitimate”.
Mr Scott concluded that Mr McIrvine had deliberately misrepresented the time he recorded on November 18 2017, when he attended the election of Richard Leonard, and that this “demonstrated a lack of integrity and honesty”.
An appeal hearing was postponed until September last year because of the coronavirus pandemic but the appeal was ultimately not upheld.
However, a subsequent employment tribunal concluded there were no reasonable grounds for believing that Mr McIrvine was guilty of misconduct in relation to the timesheets.
It noted that both Mr McKinnon and Mr Scott, as investigating officer and disciplinary officer respectively, had little or no understanding of trade unions and the role and function of an employee on secondment to a trade union.
It was also accepted that Mr McIrvine had no job description, guidance or direction on his role but since 2010 “undertook duties, activities and attended events that were agreed to and supported by Unison for whom he was working on secondment”.
The tribunal found police bosses proceeded on the basis that the timesheets submitted by Mr McIrvine constituted a claim for paid time but in reality these were “simply an account of the activities undertaken”.
No reasonable basis
It said Mr McIrvine did not seek to hide his attendance at the events and despite Mr Scott placing “considerable reliance” on the Labour leadership event “there was no reasonable basis to find that the claimant was being dishonest about activities undertaken in his personal time”.
While the tribunal accepted there were reasonable grounds to believe Mr McIrvine was guilty of misconduct in regards to carrying out paid work while on sick leave, the chair of the appeals panel had previously confirmed this would not be sufficient on its own to see Mr McIrvine dismissed.
It found no reasonable employer would have dismissed in the circumstances of Mr McIrvine’s case and awarded him a basic award of £9,646.87 and compensatory award of £12,424.34.
Speaking after the hearing Mr McIrvine, who was represented by Jay Lawson from legal firm Muir Myles Laverty (MML), said: “It’s been years but I have finally been vindicated.
“It’s had an impact on my family and today’s judgement, whilst I always felt it was going to be the right decision, it has become reality today and I’m just looking forward to us moving on from this now.”
Ryan Russell, head of employment at MML Legal said: “We are delighted with the outcome for Mr McIrvine and his family. Mr McIrvine has waited a long time for this moment.
“It is incredibly sad after 33 years’ service he was unfairly dismissed. We always felt he had a very strong case from the outset and that there were significant failings by the decision makers in the process which has now been confirmed.
“The case will have implications for many moving forward and we hope that it will also provide some clarity moving forward.
“It can be difficult for people to have the mental stamina to take on such a large employer who have unlimited resources but this case proves again that justice can prevail against the odds.”