Whistleblower awarded £7k in police watchdog case

John Foley, former chief executive of the Scottish Police Authority. Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
John Foley, former chief executive of the Scottish Police Authority. Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament
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A former director turned whistleblower at Scotland’s police watchdog has been awarded more than £7,000 by an employment tribunal after it ruled she had suffered injury to her feelings as part of a grievance appeal.

Amy McDonald, a former director of financial accountability at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), claimed there was “significant wrongdoing” and “gross misuse of public resources” at the public body, which helps set the £1 billion annual Police Scotland budget.

Ms McDonald, who sat on the SPA’s finance and audit committees, claims she was sidelined from meetings after alerting senior SPA figures to the potential misuse of public funds.

An employment tribunal in Glasgow has since ruled that members of the SPA board criticised Ms McDonald and her professional standards as part of a grievance appeal.

The tribunal, chaired by employment judge Susan Walker, ruled that those comments could “reasonably be considered a significant detriment”.

At a hearing in March, the tribunal heard Ms McDonald make a series of claims, including that John Foley, a former chief executive of the SPA, personally signed off on a £165,000 “golden handshake” deal for an executive who had been arrested for domestic abuse weeks previously.

In its ruling, the tribunal stated: “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.”

It awarded Ms McDonald £7,000. Once interest is taken into account, the amount stands at £7,440.

In its ruling, the tribunal also criticised Mr Foley, stating that his evidence was “unsatisfactory in some respects,” with “confusion around whether he was aware of the contents of the claimant’s grievance or the grievance appeal and when”.

Ms McDonald’s solicitor, Margaret Gribbon of Bridge Litigation in Glasgow, welcomed the outcome.

She 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’d acted improperly and unprofessionally when she raised concerns alleging misuse of public funds.

“The employment tribunal found that my client was subjected to ‘a significant detriment’ by the SPA.

“As a governance body with an annual budget of £1bn, the Scottish taxpayer is entitled to expect higher standards from the SPA in its treatment of whistleblowers.”

She added: ”It is hoped that the employment tribunal’s judgment will now act as a catalyst for the SPA to examine its practices and cultures to ensure that both its staff and the public alike can be confident that those brave individuals who, in good faith, allege wrongdoing in the public sector, can do so without fear of being victimised.”

A spokeswoman for the SPA said: “We note the judgment of the employment tribunal which found in the SPA’s favour in all but one of the claims raised against it.

“This case has been complex, time-consuming and expensive for all concerned and, while the majority of our arguments were upheld, the SPA will consider the judgment in detail to understand and address any learning from it.”