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Former-Unite chair Woodhouse ‘defamed’ me

Brendan Ogle says the former chairman of trade union Unite “defamed” him in a speech to a delegate conference in Ireland 18 months ago claiming “lies” were being told about the union” on social media.

It was after Mr Ogle’s wife, Amanda La Combre, herself a Unite official, wrote a Facebook post which set out her views on how her husband had been treated on his return to work from treatment for a “very aggressive” cancer – remarks that were picked up in the Irish and British press, the Workplace Relations Commission was told today.

Mr Ogle was continuing his evidence-in-chief today on the second day of a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) hearing into his complaint under the Employment Equality Act 1998 against Unite.

He said he was still “trying to figure out” what his role in the organisation was going to be at the time of a union conference for the Irish section in Malahide in September 2022, when he said Unite’s former chairman Tony Woodhouse appeared in lieu of Sharon Graham, the general secretary.

Mr Ogle says he ran into Mr Woodhouse, whom he said he had been “trying to contact” about his situation at work.

During his speech to the conference, Mr Woodhouse referred to “the lies that were being told” about Unite on social media.

“[He] didn’t refer to me by name but referred to ‘officers returning from sick leave are always treated in the most perfect manner,” Mr Ogle said.

“He didn’t name the case, didn’t name me specifically, he made a number of other comments; and said he had ‘seen a file; there was accommodation being provided, and he wasn’t going to preside over the union being castigated or criticised in the way it had been’,” Mr Ogle said.

“I was sitting still, listening, trying not to portray any emotion. I was shocked, annoyed, upset… this was my colleague, my friend, who without any conversation with me at all, made these comments in a very public forum,” he said.

He said that when he went to a November 2022 job interview for in London he objected to Mr Woodhouse chairing an interview panel – and wrote in March 2023 to the union’s executive stating that chairman had “targeted – and following advice I can state defamed me – at the biennial conference”.

The heard Mr Ogle subsequently issued defamation proceedings against Mr Woodhouse.

There were tense exchanges in the hearing after Unite’s lead counsel, Mark Harty SC, appearing instructed by Dentons Solicitors, took issue with Mr Ogle’s barrister, Mary-Paula Guinness BL, putting sections of internal correspondence to Mr Ogle in “long speeches” – and said the union was “anxious” to start cross-examining Mr Ogle so that it could be concluded by tomorrow evening. “I’ve no difficulty with this evidence being read out [but] Ms Guinness is attempting to ensure Mr Ogle is not cross-examined,” Mr Harty said.

“I’m objecting now, I’m formally objecting, I want a ruling,” Ms Guinness said.

“What ruling?” Mr Harty said.

“I think Mr Harty should be asked to behave more professionally,” Ms Guinness said.

There were two calls of “hear hear” from the public seating area.

“I ask that we rise; I won’t accept that from here, or here,” said Mr Harty, referring to both the complainant’s legal team and the public.

Adjudicator Elizabeth Spelman rose for around 20 minutes and conferred with the legal teams, reopening the hearing around 20 minutes later to state: “I want to address a matter which arose immediately before we took a break. A number of people who said “hear hear” or cheered… I will not accept any comments or any statements like that in these proceedings.

“This is a very personal matter for [Mr Ogle]. Emotiuons are are running high. I don’t need any input form anyone else. If that happens again, I will ask you to leave the room, and you will not be permitted back in. Is everyone clear on that?” Ms Spelman said.

The case is continuing this afternoon and into tomorrow, and may yet run to eight days of evidence.

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