Gross Misconduct In Hackney
Hackney Council rarely fails to make it into the pages of SQUALL and this issue's story continues its long record of inexplicable, unacceptable and downright stupid behaviour. Sam Beale talks to a man barred from his local authority job as a swimming pool life-saver - because he's thought to be a squatter.
Squall 11, Autumn 1995, pg. 77.
In 1992 Martin Fahey moved into a flat on the Pembury Estate in Hackney as a sub-tenant. The original tenant moved out early in 1993 and requested that Martin and the person he shared with be put on the tenancy. Martin visited Christine Foley at Hackney’s Housing Office and asked how to gain the tenancy. She told him categorically that this was not possible.
Bemused by this response, Martin and the other tenant decided that “as we were going to be made homeless through no fault of our own, we should just stay there as long as we could”.
Martin received a visit from Ms Foley and another Council officer later in 1993. Threatening him with eviction she demanded all his personal details saying she had the right to know because Martin was in Council property. “At that time knowing little of my rights I was simply waiting for possession proceedings” says Martin. Being unclear about his position he decided not to reveal his personal details.
In May 1994 he received a letter from Christine Foley telling him to attend a meeting with her: “She was really turned around. She was being nice. She said they should have signed the tenancy to me in the first place, that it was just a formality and to give her all my details and they’d sort it out.” Martin saw his local councillor, who promised his support, and then filled out his details for the Housing Office.
In early November he received a visit from Christine Foley and two members of Hackney’s infamous eviction squad the Tenancy Audit Team (TAT). He thought this was to be a friendly chat when he first arranged the meeting: “I was offering them tea and biscuits when they first came in but they were bludgeoningly horrible, calling me a liar and a criminal and totally unwilling to negotiate.” They grilled Martin over his non-payment of the poll tax, strutting around his home looking through his and his brother’s belongings. At one point they asked him to leave his front room so they could discuss him in private.
On discovering that Martin was employed by Hackney Council as a swimming pool attendant and lifeguard Ms Foley instantly produced a copy of the Council’s ‘Code of Conduct for Employees’ which states that it is gross misconduct for an employee to squat in a Council property. She seems to have been delighted to inform Martin that she was compelled to report him and his brother (also employed by the Council) for misconduct.
Having been led to believe that this meeting would sort out his tenancy Martin was further intimidated with questions from the TAT heavies like: “When can you move out?” He replied that if there was no chance of getting the tenancy it was down to when the council deemed. “I deem tomorrow,” bellowed one of the bomber-jacketed bullies before they left. “I was in complete despair afterwards” says Martin, “I was absolutely petrified. I thought they were going to come round the next day and forcibly evict me.”
They didn’t and the next that Martin heard was a possession order: “I took it to the ASS (Advisory Service for Squatters) and we put together a brilliant defence.” The case was kicked out of court because “I de facto became the tenant on Julia’s surrender” as the flat was being let to single sharers under the Head Tenants Scheme. In such a case whenever the head tenant moves out (and with single sharers they invariably do) somebody else becomes the head tenant. This should have been Martin. For some reason Christine Foley decided to ignore this. For equally unfathomable reasons, Martin discovered that she had frozen his 10 year-old application to be housed in Hackney.
Here the story begins to look dodgier than ever. At the time Martin worked for Hackney Leisure as and when he was required by various pools in the borough. In June of this year he went for a swim at Haggerston Pool where he had worked on this basis for over a year. On entering the building Martin recalls: “The receptionist said ‘you’re not allowed in here. You’re a squatter’.” Apparently a memo had been circulated to all Hackney swimming pools explaining that Martin was not to be employed because he was squatting in Council property.
The memo had been sent out on the instructions of Simon Steward in the Personnel Department. When confronted, Mr Steward avoided the subject of Martin’s housing situation, flatly denying that it had anything to do with the termination of his employment, claiming the reason he was not being employed was the expiry of his temporary contract. He had not been asked to renew this contract and, Martin points out, casual staff regularly fill in ‘sessional forms’ to renew their contracts.
Playing the game he filled out a sessional application form and submitted it to Simon Steward who was then forced to admit that the council’s refusal to employ him was actually because he was a squatter. As Martin says: “I’d never been a squatter of this property. My original entry was gained as a sub-tenant so I can’t be considered as a squatter.”
Martin still lives in the flat on the Pembury Estate and his case has been adjourned to the county court. His housing application has been unfrozen, and there is a good chance he will gain the tenancy. His solicitor is also investigating the possibility of a judicial review over the termination of his employment.
Ultimately though he is disappointed: “I’m shocked that a Labour council will allow its officers to act in such a bullish way. There are officers who are completely bloody-minded bullies.” Christine Foley appears to be such an officer.
Martin admits that if the Council had simply taken possession proceedings in 1992-93 “I would have just moved out”. The current situation seems entirely due to the bizarre behaviour of Ms Foley (who refused to comment when contacted for her side of the story). “She’s lied to me, made stuff up and taken punitive action against me for no good reason other than to be bloody minded,” says Martin. Doesn’t that sound rather like gross misconduct Ms Foley? What does your Code of Conduct say?