Helen has been a personal friend for many years. We met through my husband, who was a shop steward in the Construction Industry. Phil had referred many of his injured colleagues to Helen, because she has a fantastic reputation in the industry. She’s a lawyer with a heart, she’s not about the money, it’s about getting justice: compensation to hold families together when people get hurt and can’t work, through no fault of their own.
Helen knew that Phil and I were very politically active, and we share a deep sense of social justice and integrity with her. When I needed legal help, I had to find a lawyer with those values, not solely focused on making money. Helen upheld and supported those values throughout my case.
After some years as a senior buyer and procurement specialist, I went to work for a Trade Union, setting up a central Purchasing function, responsible for making the best use of the members’ money. My remit covered virtually all aspects of financial expenditure: we spent members’ money negotiating favourable centrally held contracts on areas such as company cars, mobile phones, hotels: these were big budgets. The remit was to spend that money in ways that benefited British workers and our members: for example, specifying cars with the highest UK manufactured content. In many ways, it was a very politically sensitive role, and one that was very suited to me.
The General Secretary who appointed me was replaced by a more left-wing candidate, partly because of the support that Phil lent to his campaign amongst construction industry workers. I and many of his supporters were deeply saddened to see him renege on his campaign promises and this brought me and my husband into direct conflict with him on a number of occasions. At first, I tried to reason with him, but that didn’t work: the GS felt threatened by those who had worked hard to elect him and wanted rid of us.
I was suspended on full pay, allegedly for carrying out political activity within the Union. My PC and files were searched for damning evidence: but nothing was found. I was appalled to have my integrity called into question, my profession was a big part of my life and my reputation was being sullied.
I was investigated, with two other Union employees, for 6 months, going through the Union’s internal disciplinary process. They could not touch my husband as he was not a union employee, he was a duly elected lay official.
My team were very loyal and supportive, but the process took a heavy toll on me. I felt vulnerable, tearful, unsteady, even though I knew I’d done nothing wrong. I knew I needed help and advice to deal with the investigation, because I saw this was heading for a sacking and a tribunal. As I was not allowed to be represented by a lawyer during the in-house process, Helen offered me support. She advised on the correct procedures and how to respond to emails and conduct myself in interviews. As I was to be put up against the Union’s own top employment lawyers it felt very David & Goliath. Her work was meticulous, the very foundation of the case, and vital to my ultimate victory.
I was sacked eventually, and Helen could fight for me openly now. She was outraged: she instilled in me ‘you know you’ve done nothing wrong, they know that too, but they’ll go through the process, no matter what the cost to get rid of you’. With Helen by my side, I got my inner strength back.
The case went on for another 18 months. Helen along with others helped me to select a law firm and specialist barrister for the case: lawyers who had hearts, who could see my pain, but who could be clinical in applying the law. We were told that the Trade Union pressured many law firms not to take my case, so it was a calculated risk for anyone to take me on. Helen had not charged me anything up to this point, yet she was so committed, she did whatever it took.
When the case went to Tribunal, we had to reject any panelists that had any links to my employer just to be sure their decision would be sound. The case was listed for three weeks and collapsed after 2 days, they offered to settle. We negotiated a glowing employment reference, payment of my legal fees, and a substantial settlement.
I’m a stoic strong person, not easily un nerved, but the sheer onslaught during the investigation and tribunal made me start to doubt myself. Throughout, Helen gave me huge support. She explained all the processes, dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s for me, and helped manage my responses. Without her support and hard work I would have undoubtedly made mistakes, and Helen prevented my anger from compromising my case.
This happened in 2007 and I’ve moved on. I relocated to rural Kent, bought a business, and work from home in peace and serenity amidst beautiful scenery. I’m my own boss. Going through the case I learned so many new skills, and I now help others in the same boat when I can, so I can give something back.
Helen gave me immeasurable, professional, practical and emotional support, during one of the most stressful periods of my life at a time that I needed it most. She always gave me the maximum number of options, and paid the maximum attention to detail to every task she undertook. Helen’s work is not just a job to her, it’s a complete way of life.