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Network Rail paid off discrimination claimant with public funds

An independent inquiry has found that Network Rail misused public funds to buy off sex and race discrimination claims by senior employee Victoria Lydford.

The inquiry by Anthony White QC found that Lydford was paid off to avoid admitted and established misconduct by HR director Peter Bennett − and Network Rail’s failure to deal effectively with that misconduct − coming under public scrutiny.

However, White reported that in the other three similar cases put forward by rail union Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) there was no basis for the allegation.

White’s inquiry looked into 12 allegations of misuse of public funds and serious financial impropriety, including allegations that former chief executive Iain Coucher received illicit payments from Network Rail.

White found that allegations that Coucher enjoyed a “company funded Porsche (£13,000 a year allowance)” were true, but said Coucher was contractually entitled to it, and said: “Coucher and Network Rail have always been open about this.”

The report also said, “it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the TSSA… introduced a series of increasingly serious allegations of financial impropriety against Coucher for which it had no substantial evidence.”

All other allegations were reported to be groundless. Network Rail and rail union TSSA said they welcomed the report.

Network Rail chairman Rick Haythornthwaite said that with regard to the misuse of public funds White is “essentially expressing disagreement” with the conclusions of internal investigations undertaken in 2008.

“With regard to the implied criticism of the company’s internal governance and levels of transparency, the new Network Rail board has been alive to the issues raised and has already taken action to make significant changes,” he added. “Network Rail is profoundly different today in terms of both its leadership tone and standards of acceptable behaviour.

“We want to thank Antony White QC for all his careful and detailed work over the past four months and we fully accept his conclusions as set out in his summary published today,” said TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty. “We accept his findings that Network Rail did misuse public funds buying off one of its employees’ race and sex discrimination claims.”

“We unreservedly accept his findings that all allegations of financial impropriety against Coucher were unfounded.

“The time has come to move on and we now look forward to building a more constructive relationship with David Higgins and his new management team in the future.”

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