« DB Schenker Rail takes majority stake in NordCargo | Main | ITF signals further breakdown on Thai Railways »

HR boss put tracking device on workers' cars, court told

Irish Independent: January 16 2010
By Tim Healy

Irish Rail claimed yesterday its human resources director was a "law unto himself" amid new claims he had placed tracking devices on employees' cars to see where they went.

Differences over the level of fraudulent practices in the company, allegedly costing up to €8.7m, formed the background to the suspension of the company's human resources director John Keenan, the High Court heard yesterday.

Mr Keenan, who has been HR boss at the rail company for 15 years, sought an injunction to lift the suspension imposed on him on December 3.

Irish Rail said it was entitled to suspend Mr Keenan as he delayed for 10 days before informing chief executive Richard Fearn about an equality tribunal award of €189,000 to a woman who alleged gender discrimination over promotion in the company. Mr Fearn had lost confidence in Mr Keenan as a result, it was claimed.

The company said Mr Keenan's suspension should continue as a holding position pending investigations.

It is now also alleged Mr Keenan was involved in 32 instances of surveillance of employee computer records, incorrect accessing of sensitive medical records and the placing of tracking devices on employees' cars to see where they went.

The company claimed yesterday that Mr Keenan used his office as a "personal fiefdom" and was a law unto himself.

Mr Keenan denied the claims and said the new allegations could be explained in terms of his role in an internal cost audit unit in Irish Rail. He added that the company could conduct its investigation without suspension and his summary suspension was in breach of all normal procedures.

Counsel for Mr Keenan said his suspension was not based on any rational or reasonable basis and he had not delayed in informing the chief executive of the equality tribunal decision. There was also no basis for claiming he ran a personal fiefdom within the company.

In affidavits from Mr Keenan, the court heard that there was a lengthy and controversial series of events within Irish Rail over fraudulent practices involving collusion between certain company personnel and third-party contractors. Mr Keenan said he was responsible for the company's cost audit committee and had recommended engaging forensic accountants to look into the matter.

Losses

In the accountants' report in 2007, it was found the company had made estimated losses from the fraud of around €8.7m over a three-year period.

Mr Keenan claimed Mr Fearn argued the estimate was outside the terms of reference of the report and wanted it removed but he (Mr Keenan) advised against this. The figure was later reduced down to €2.5m.

Mr Keenan said he got an irate phone call from John Lynch, chairman of the CIE group of which Irish Rail is a subsidiary, in which he berated Mr Keenan for reporting the loss at such a high level. Mr Lynch again told him to "button" his lip after accusing him of leaking the information to a newspaper.

Mr Justice John MacMenamin reserved judgment until next week.