By Cara Sulieman
DISGRACED former Labour MP Jim Devine has been ordered to pay his former office manager more than £35,000 in damages after she won an employment tribunal against him.
Devine failed to show for the hearing in Edinburgh today (thurs) where Marion Kinley won her claims for constructive unfair dismissal and breach of contract.
Judge Jane Porter awarded Miss Kinley, 47, a total of £35,308.45 in compensation, including £10,516 in expenses which the ex-MP pocketed instead of passing on to his employee.
Delivering the decision, Ms Porter branded ex Livingston MP Devine’s actions as both “bullying and harassment”.
Afterwards 47-year-old Marion, from Glasgow, said: “It’s been two and a half years of just unbelievable lies being told about me by Mr Devine.
“He just seemed to think he could treat people anyway he wanted to and tell lies about them and he was going to get away with it.
“Fortunately he didn’t this time.”
Miss Kinley told how shamed Devine had persuaded a friend to call her pretending to be a journalist looking into MPs expenses.
She had received a message on her work mobile in March 2008 from a woman saying she was a freelance journalist investigating expenses at Devine’s Livingston constituency office.
When Miss Kinley contacted Devine about it, he said he would sort it out.
But when he got back to her, Devine claimed that a paper was preparing to print an article with full details of Miss Kinley’s salary, and that they would be claiming that Miss Kinley was having an affair with Devine.
Just a day later, Miss Kinley discovered that the whole incident had been a hoax orchestrated by the MP.
The office manager told the tribunal: “On March 29, 2008, which was a Saturday, there was a message on my work mobile from a woman who said she was a freelance reporter from the Sunday Telegraph.
“She said it was to do about MP expenses and she wanted to speak to me in regards to that and in particular about Miss Kinley’s salary and I was to give her a ring back.
“I rang Jim first and told him about it. He said ‘I knew it, I knew it, I had a reporter on to me last week’.
“When I said I was happy to call her back, he said ‘just you leave it, don’t you phone her back. I will look into this.'”
The following day, Miss Kinley received a call from Devine saying that he had spoken to Alan Cochrane, the Scottish editor of the Telegraph.
Devine claimed that Mr Cochrane had told him the paper would be running an article on the fact that Miss Kinely had the second highest salary in the House of Commons.
Miss Kinley said: “He said: ‘This is fucking serious, Marion.
“‘This woman is a reporter and doing a big article on my office and the reason they are doing it is because you are the second highest paid in the House of Commons.
“‘They are going to print all your details in the paper and they are going to say that I’m paying you that much because you and I are having an affair.
“I said to him, ‘no amount of money in the treasury would entice me to have an affair with you’.
“I wasn’t having that printed. I was actually more worried about that than them printing my salary.”
The ex-MP then told his employee to double check the office expenses claims – including staff salaries for the past year – which Miss Kinley was responsible for.
Working through the night, Miss Kinley made sure everything was in order before she returned to work the following day.
But when she came into the office the following day, the office manager realised it was all a big hoax.
She said: “I went into work and checked my emails and I had access to Jim’s email. There was one marked urgent so I opened it.
“It was from Fiona Fox mostly about the Embryology Bill. She is the Director at the Science Media Centre in London.
“But at the end there was a PS said that ‘I phoned that poor woman in your office and left the message. Hope you’ve put her out of her misery. Remind me never to work for you’.
“There was another one from her which had been sent on Saturday which read ‘I phone that poor woman in your office and now feel awful’.
“I just felt absolutely sick. I still don’t understand why he did what he did. I was just shaking – I just couldn’t believe it.
“I just gathered up my stuff and went home sick.”
Miss Kinley went on to say that she phoned and confronted Ms Fox when she got home and asked her what was going on.
She told the tribunal that Ms Fox had said: “I’m really sorry but Jim asked me to do it. I don’t know why but he seemed to think it would be hilarious.
“I’m really sorry, he phoned me back later on on Saturday night and said it hadn’t worked anyway but thanks.”
That was the last day that Miss Kinley was at work.
She wrote a letter of grievance to Devine – which she has never heard back from – and went to her doctor and was signed off sick.
When other staff members asked Devine where Miss Kinley was they were told that she was having a “wee break”.
Eventually, when Miss Kinley still wasn’t back, Devine started to tell them that she wouldn’t be back as she was being investigated by the police.
Miss Kinley said: “Another member of staff had a conversation with Jim in June 2008 and asked about me.
“He said to her ‘between you and me she’s not coming back. She’s being investigated by the police for fraud for making fraudulent claims.’
“He said the reason I had made these false claims was because I had a gambling addiction and I went to the casino three times a week.”
In September 2008, Devine sent a letter to Miss Kinley about her extended sick leave, asking if he could contact her GP.
But when Miss Kinley tried to return to work on October 6, 2008, Devine suspended her on full pay over allegations that she had made false claims.
It was the start of ongoing discussions between Devine and Miss Kinley that eventually led to her resignation in May 2009.
The tribunal heard that at no point was she contacted by police, and that Devine tried to settle matters by paying Miss Kinley three months wage – but she would have had to sign a confidentiality agreement.
Miss Kinley said: “I wasn’t having that. I wanted him to apologise for what he had done and to tell people that he lied.
“He wanted to give me money to shut me up and make me look like a thief and had a gambling addiction.
“What he suspended me on, he just made up.”
In May 2009, Miss Kinley was contacted by the Department of Finance and Administration who said that they wouldn’t be able to pay her anymore salary as they were investigating criminal claims against her.
But this was the last straw for the office manager, who had no choice to resign as she needed to support herself and instantly filed a claim to the employment tribunal.
The hearing also heard that Miss Finley hadn’t received more than £10,000 she was due in mileage expenses for driving Devine around.
The MP didn’t have a car and relied on his office manager to take him around.
Under the rules at the time, all staff expenses were paid to the MP who then passed on the money to his staff.
But Miss Finley told how she had only received £60 from Devine – both times when he filled up her car for her and paid out of his own pocket.
When she asked him for the money every month Devine would make excuses, saying he was “skint” and would give it to her eventually.
Delivering her verdict, the judge said Devine had bullied and harassed Miss Finley during her employment.
She said: “The tribunal considered the actions of the respondent. These actions caused the claimant great upset and distress to the extent that she was signed off sick with stress.
“The respondent spread malicious untruths about the claimant.
“In short the tribunal considered that the claimant showed great fortitude through her employment during which it can only be said the claimant was subjected to a course of bullying and harassment by the respondent.”
Following the tribunal Miss Finley said she was “delighted” with the verdict.
She said: “It’s just nice that somebody else, an independent person, believes me. “