October 19, 2012 6:08 pm

Labour MP makes ‘secret blacklist’ appeal

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Tom Watson, the Labour MP, has called on the Information Commission to write to thousands of construction workers to tell them their names were on a secret blacklist maintained by the industry for more than 15 years.

Mr Watson, deputy chairman of the Labour party and perhaps best known for his campaigning against phone hacking, told the Financial Times that the commission had a “duty” to release the material.

He contrasted the commission’s refusal to inform all 3,213 victims with the way that the Metropolitan Police was pro-actively approaching all phone-hacking victims.

“The Met Police have set the standard for the way that people have been notified over phone hacking,” he said.

Meanwhile Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, said it was “imperative” that the ICO did “everything in its power” to contact everyone on the list.

The ICO discovered records on more than 3,213 workers three years ago when it raided a firm called the Consulting Association, which was used by more than 40 construction companies to vet new recruits.

So far, only 194 of these people are aware that they are on the list, having approached the ICO for the data.

Some 84 workers have launched a legal action against a construction firm said to have used the blacklist, claiming that they were in effect barred from construction sites by an unlawful conspiracy by the wider industry.

The GMB trade union believes damages claims from further alleged victims could potentially reach hundreds of millions of pounds. Mr Watson said workers’ lives had been ruined by being on the construction blacklist.

“It is now incumbent on the Information Commission to let these people know…they have a duty to do it.”

Mr Umunna said thousands had “suffered huge hardship and had their lives blighted” but still had no idea that they were victims. The Labour MP said the files were “deeply shocking” both in scale and the level of personal detail.

The ICO has been urged by pressure group Liberty and the unions to contact everyone on the list. It told the FT this week that it had agreed to “explore the possibility” of doing this.

This will mean taking a sample of names, checking people’s addresses and writing to them, said a spokesman. The body will examine these responses before deciding whether to extend this process to the rest of the blacklist.

The ICO’s investigations manager David Clancy revealed on Tuesday that the 2009 raid ignored the vast bulk of materials found in the Consulting Association’s offices, with only “5 to 10 per cent” retrieved.

In evidence to the Commons Scottish affairs committee, Mr Clancy was asked if the office contained databases relating to other industries. He said he did not know, as inspecting the other materials “did not appear within the scope of our warrant”.

Committee chair Ian Davidson MP responded: “We’re not entirely happy with that… To use a police analogy, if they had found drugs, they might very well have gone on to find a couple of shot guns as well, and just simply to say that they got what they came for so they stopped… I don’t think would be acceptable.”

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it took blacklisting “very seriously”, which was why it was outlawed in March 2010.

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