By Oliver Farrimond
BELEAGUERED Livingston MP Jim Devine was last night desperately fighting to salvage what is left of his battered political reputation after a day of legal wrangling.
The Labour MP – who is currently being investigated over an alleged expenses fraud –appeared before an employment tribunal in Edinburgh yesterday to challenge a decision in August to award a claim of unfair dismissal to a former employee of his constituency office.
His former front-office manager, 45-year-old Marion Kinley, claimed that she was unfairly dismissed and her employment contract breached while working for the Westminster MP for Livingston and West Lothian between June 2006 and October 2008.
It comes at the same time as Devine faces a criminal investigation over abuse of parliamentary expenses, after he was found to have claimed more than £2,000 for electrical work, performed by a company with a false address and an invalid VAT number.
He is one of three Labour MPs to be probed over various expenses claims.
Yesterday’s appeal came after employment judge Ian McFatridge upheld Miss Kinley’s complaint, after dismissing Mr Devine’s response on a technicality because it had not been presented to the hearing in the correct way.
However Devine, who has been barred from standing for Labour in the next General Election by Party HQ, challenged the decision in a review hearing yesterday (Fri).
He claimed that he had been on holiday at the time, and that the forms had been sent to the wrong address.
Mr Devine seeks the right to deny all the allegations against him.
He said: “The tribunal office was writing to my office in Livingston, which then posted it up to London.
“I did not receive this correspondence until several weeks later when I was on annual leave.
“I do not live in Livingston, I live in Blackburn, and that’s the problem.”
He added that he had submitted his responses online, and that this had also caused a delay.
“It did not come to my house so I had no time to prepare for a response and next thing I know, an award was made.”
Solicitor Gordon Milligan, representing Miss Kinley, responding to the claims, described Mr Devine’s behaviour as “incredible”.
He said: “He has shown a repeated failure to comply with the time limits without any reasonable explanation being given.
“With his background as a trade union official, I find it incredible that he has such a lack of regard for the rules and procedures of the tribunal.”
Mr Milligan added that he would be seeking compensation for Miss Kinley for wasted costs incurred by the review hearing.
The ruling, which is now expected next week, could be the final nail in the coffin for Devine, who won his Westminster seat in a by-election following the death of Robin Cook in 2005.
The 56-year-old’s brief parliamentary career will come to an end at the next General Election, after being investigated expenses and subsequently deselected by the Labour Party NEC.
‘Simply not true’
He now faces criminal charges if the claims are proven against him, as well as the possibility of damages to be awarded to Miss Kinley.
As well as arguing his reasons for failing to provide a proper claim, he also had to demonstrate to the tribunal that the contents of his response would have a reasonable chance of defeating Miss Kinley’s claim.
Mr Milligan said: “The respondent advised his staff that Miss Kinley was being investigated by the fraud squad, and he has also claimed that she was also being investigated by ‘special branch’ for illegally funding a gambling addiction.”
“This was simply not true, and there is no reference to any of this in his submitted response.”
A written decision is expected to be given within one week.