Thought it might be interesting to post articles relating to Whistle blowers in all areas of the 'system'. Especially those cases that are in the Public Interest to Know the Truth.
Wednesday, 12 November 2003, 13:46 GMT
The whistle blower comes of age
After all the twists and turns of the Hutton Inquiry, the accusations and bitter recriminations, it's easy to forget the essence of Dr David Kelly's act.
Like countless other employees, most of whom never make the local papers let alone the national press, Dr Kelly was a whistle blower.
The role of the whistle blower in bringing public bodies and private companies to account is the subject of a new programme, in BBC Four's Timeshift series.
The programme traces the history of how courageous employees have taken to informing on their bosses when they believe they have witnessed a cover-up in the workplace.
"The whistle blowers that I interviewed or researched in the course of this programme showed a steely determination to make public the misdeeds they witnessed in the public and private sectors," says Gerry Dawson, who produced the programme.
"To the simple question 'With what you know now would you do it again?' all replied 'Yes'"
Gerry Dawson, producer, Whistle Blowers
The likes of Steve Bolsin and Harry Templeton may not be household names, but their decision to speak out helped paved the way for a wider acceptance of whistle blowing.
Mr Bolsin, an anaesthetist a Bristol Royal Infirmary, was first to raise the alarm about the large number of infant deaths during heart surgery at the hospital.
Several years earlier, Mr Templeton tried to raise his concerns about the dubious running of Robert Maxwell's Mirror Group pension fund. He soon found himself sacked.
These cases have helped shift the balance of credibility from employer to employee. Today, the rights of "whistle blowers" are enshrined in law.
"Nobody in Britain now has a problem when they want the whistle blown," says Guy Dehn, Public Concern At Work
"When your kid is being treated by an incompetent surgeon, or when your pension fund is being stolen, you rightly say: 'why didn't anyone who was there do anything about it?'"
The idea of the whistle blower in British society only emerged clearly in the early 1980s, when three civil servants - Cathy Massiter, Sarah Tisdall and Clive Ponting - risked prosecution under the 1911 Official Secrets Act to reveal what some government departments were really up to.
Cathy Massiter, an MI5 agent, disclosed the extensive use of phone taps against the government's political opponents - notably against CND. She escaped prosecution, possibly in case too much would be revealed in a court case.
Sarah Tisdall, a junior clerk in the Foreign Office, was not so lucky. She revealed that Michael Heseltine wanted to mislead Parliament and the British public about the deployment of cruise missiles.
Acting out of conscience
The establishment wanted to make an example of her and succeeded in so doing by sentencing her to prison.
The year after, however, the 1911 Act was itself sentenced to history when a jury refused to convict a senior civil servant, Clive Ponting, who revealed the real operational details of the sinking of the Argentinean battle-cruiser Belgrano during the Falklands War.
The jury accepted Ponting had acted out of conscience, with integrity, and would not let the law to be used to punish such an act.
The need for protection was also evident in the private sector.
In 1987 the cross-Channel ferry Herald of Free Enterprise sank outside the Belgian port of Zeebrugge with the loss of 188 lives.
She had sailed with her bow doors open and the sudden inrush of water made a tragedy inevitable within a few seconds. Yet the public inquiry heard that the Herald and sister ships had sailed with bow doors open before but no-one had acted effectively to stop this dangerous practice.
In 1998 Britain at last enacted legislation, known as the Whistle Blowers Act. The Act gives some protection to employees who raise serious concerns within the workplace and suffer from so doing.
"The whistle blowers that I interviewed or researched in the course of this programme showed a steely determination to make public the misdeeds they witnessed," says Mr Dawson.
"They did not do so for personal gain but because they seemed to share a belief in a strong moral code and realised that they and their families would suffer from the pressure and the likely loss of employment that their actions would trigger.
"Few seemed to flinch or express regret: to the simple question 'With what you know now would you do it again?' all replied 'Yes'."
Yet as investigative journalist Duncan Campbell commented at the time of the Hutton enquiry "Whistle blowers invariably lose, and lose badly."