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Effectiveness of whistleblowing policies back in spotlight

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Following the findings of the Dame Janet Smith Review, lawyers at Moore Blatch are urging employers to consider the effectiveness of their own organisation’s whistleblowing policy. 

The review which was organised to conduct an impartial, thorough and independent report of the culture and practices of the BBC during the years that Jimmy Savile worked there reported on its findings recently. The final report also included an investigation into Stuart Hall, after he pleaded guilty to 14 charges of indecent assault – a further investigation carried out by Dame Linda Dobbs investigated his activities during his time at the BBC. The review which took three years to complete found that over 100 BBC staff were aware of the rumours about Jimmy Savile’s sexual misdemeanours, but despite this no one chose to report these, with some assuming that they were either untrue or management were already aware. Similarly, Stuart Hall’s behaviour had come to the attention of staff but had also not been reported. The review concluded that there was an ‘atmosphere of fear’ at the BBC where celebrities were treated with ‘kid gloves’ and were seen as ‘untouchable’.

Since the report, the BBC has pledged to overhaul its whistleblowing and child protection policies – but what lessons can other employers learn from the investigation? Former co-lead lawyer on behalf of 60 Jimmy Savile child abuse victims, reporting on The Pollard Review and Operation Yewtree investigations, as well as liaising with The Dame Janet Smith Review, Trevor Sterling of Moore Blatch solicitors comments: “We believe that since these initial investigations began there has been a considerable move forwards in relation to abuse inquiries and how survivors are treated on reporting these incidents. 

“We hope that the current report will also serve a wider purpose to other organisations to ensure an internal robustness on whistleblowing policies so that serious allegations such as these are not allowed to continue, as they did in the case of Savile and Hall. “Whilst the review concluded that the higher echelons of the BBC were unaware of behaviour as there was a failure to effectively report incidents; it is clear from the investigations that for whistleblowing policies to succeed there must be a strong commitment by top management to ensure that the culture of an organisation effectively supports such disclosures and that policies are communicated to employees throughout the organisation.

“Employee confidence that their complaints will be properly and thoroughly investigated, without adverse consequences to themselves will be an important factor in ensuring that serious issues like this come to the surface,” adds Katherine Maxwell, employment partner at Moore Blatch. A report looking into whistleblowing in 2013 considered and reviewed cases from 2012 and followed their outcomes. Whistleblowing charity, Public Concern at Work carried out the research and found that only 10 percent of the cases considered were resolved by the employer, in 37 percent of cases the employer denied that there was a concern, and in 26 percent of cases the employer ignored the concern.

For those that raised concerns, less than 10 percent had a positive reaction, with 33 percent of individuals being dismissed following a report and 22 percent of people either victimised, disciplined, or both by their employer. Katherine concludes: “Statistics like this show the scale of the problem – employers must be able to provide employees with a safe and just environment for disclosure – in certain cases arrangements with outside organisations for independent investigations may help to provide employees with more confidence and ensure that serious issues are bought to the attention of employers sooner.”

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