Just over four years ago, I was asked by a Company to investigate a large number of grievances lodged by an employee against several senior managers within the Company, but predominantly against the individual’s boss.
As I started the investigation, I advised the individual that I had never been to or worked for the Company before; didn’t know anybody who worked there; and, at that point, hadn’t met the Group Head of HR who had asked me to undertake the investigation. Consequently, I advised them that I believed that I was able to conduct an independent investigation.
This is what I did, and five weeks later, after having completed my investigation and produced the requisite report, I was asked to attend the grievance hearing to answer any questions about my work.
Before the hearing started, the individual asked if they could ask me a question. The hearing manager and I agreed. They said;
“Mr Helsby, do you remember telling me when we first met that you had never been to the company’s premises before and had never met the Group Head of HR?”
“Yes, I do,” I replied. (Because I did).
“Well…” they continued, “…I now know that you were lying when you said that, as a couple of weeks before we met I saw you leaving the building with her, one lunchtime, and I’m prepared to swear an affidavit to that effect!”
I advised the individual that they were mistaken. Had they raised this issue when we had first met, I would have been able to prove it to them (e.g. by checking details of security passes issued to Company visitors or some other means). However, despite my denial, and that of the Group Head of HR who was also present at the meeting, the individual was not persuaded that they were wrong. I don’t think they ever accepted that they were wrong (which they were) and as a result, they believed the investigation was biased and thereby severely flawed.
But, while they were most definitely wrong in their belief, I don’t think they were lying. They may have remembered – sometime after the event – seeing somebody leaving the building with the Head of HR who may have looked something like me. Believing that there was some conspiracy against them, making it more likely – in their mind – that it was me, and that I had lied to them, and was in collusion with the Group Head of HR and others.
Yesterday, people across the UK will have had widely ranging views as to whether it was Dominic Cummings or the tabloid press who had been the most selective with their depiction of the ‘facts’ of his case. Can Cummings prove that he didn’t revisit Durham on the 19th April – which he has vehemently denied – when someone has claimed to have seen him (or someone who looked remarkably like him?) there on this date? Did he visit the Castle in Castle Barnard (which presumably wasn’t open during the lockdown period), as was claimed or implied by the press or did he briefly stop just outside the (confusingly named) town of Castle Barnard as he stated yesterday?
And why, when he claims to have done all of this to protect his four-year-old child, did he strap the same child into his car seat, and go on an hour-long car journey, not knowing whether or not he was safe to drive?
Or, are all of these questions, in fact, irrelevant, because he should have found an alternative friend or relative in London to look after their young child while he and his wife got progressively more ill and self-isolated in their home?
All I know is that when I was asked to prove that I hadn’t done something, or hadn’t been somewhere, persuasion alone was not enough. The facts were not enough to persuade the individual that they were wrong.
This story will no doubt run and run and will probably end up with Cummings’ dismissal or resignation. Not necessarily because of the facts of the case, but more due to political expediency. What the general public believe, is also not necessarily totally dependent upon the ‘facts’. Because when the press has already presented them with ‘a view’ which while inaccurate in parts, better suits a particular personal or political narrative, the facts alone may not be enough to persuade them.
Time will no doubt tell.