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Whistleblower wins court battle against police authority


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Former director of financial accountability hopes judgement will act as a 'catalyst' for change.

Amy McDonald asked for an investigation into DCC Fitzpatrick's relocation payments

Amy McDonald asked for an investigation into DCC Fitzpatrick's relocation payments


The Scottish Police Authority called into the question the professional reputation of a whistleblower after she sounded the alarm about “inconsistent” payments to senior officials.

Former SPA director of financial accountability Amy McDonald was treated unlawfully and unfairly after lodging a formal complaint about a £70,000 relocation payment made to former Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick and several pay outs to other unnamed senior figures, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Now-retired DCC Fitzpatrick was paid relocation expenses totalling £18,000 in 2014/15 and £49,000 in 2016/17. 

Ms McDonald could see no “exceptional circumstances that would support this as a valid payment” and emailed her superiors. She took her complaints to former Justice Secretary Michael Matheson in 2017 after facing long delays and lack of interest in the allegations.

She felt increasingly excluded as former SPA chief executive John Foley even stopped responding to her emails.

The employment tribunal ruled the authority caused “significant detriment” to Ms McDonald and ordered the authority to pay her £7,440 for injury to feelings.

DCC Fitzpatrick wrote to Mr Foley to express her “extreme concern” a security breach had led to her details of her home address had been put in the public domain “in connection with an employment tribunal matter concerning staff at the SPA”.

But Ms McDonald’s solicitor pointed out the document was not in the public domain and contained only a reference to the town where DCC Fitzpatrick had previously lived, not her current address.

“The claimant’s person and professional standards were being criticised by two members of the board,” the ruling says.

“Although the Tribunal accepted that the directors had genuine concerns about anonymity, the Tribunal considered that the criticism of the claimant went further than that and suggested that the claimant had acted improperly and in breach of her duty to the respondent.

“There was reference to the claimant having privileged access to information about the payments but that she had not had full knowledge of the circumstances.

“The Tribunal considered that there was a clear suggestion that by drawing attention to the payments the claimant had acted improperly and unprofessionally and had misused her position.”

Tribunal judges Susan Walker, Hugh Boyd and Peter Kelman were satisfied Ms McDonald suffered injury to her feelings.

“It is important that whistleblowers are supported when they make allegations. However, instead, it was suggested that the claimant had acted improperly and unprofessionally in making the disclosures,” their written judgement said.

“On 27 January 2017, the claimant emailed John McCroskie [head of communications] with her concerns about a relocation payment that was to be made to DCC Fitzpatrick.

“She said that she did not consider there were exceptional circumstances that would support this as a valid payment. John Foley was on holiday at the time and Mr McCroskie was standing in. On his return to the office, Mr Foley was made aware of this email.

“He did not consider any investigation was required as he knew about the circumstances of the payment and had agreed them himself. He did not respond to the claimant’s email and nor did John McCroskie.”

Ms McDonald’s lawyer Margaret Gribbon, of Bridge Litigation, said: “My client welcomes the employment tribunal’s judgment and in particular its findings that the SPA acted unlawfully when two of its board members suggested that she had acted improperly and unprofessionally when she raised concerns alleging misuse of public funds.

"It found that my client was subjected to a ‘significant detriment’ by the SPA."

Ms Gribbon added that the Scottish taxpayer was entitled to expect higher standards from a “governance body with an annual budget of £1 billion” and added that she hoped the judgment would act “as a catalyst for the SPA to examine its practices and cultures”.

A spokesman for the police authority said: "The SPA responded to the claims brought against it. This process has been time-consuming and expensive for all concerned however it was considered important that the SPA defend the claims. 

"The SPA's focus remains firmly on improvement, including any further learning that is to be taken from this case."

DCC Fitzpatrick retired last month.

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