The powerful v the courageous

It’s not always about corruption in high places, MI5 agents who expose government cover ups or executives who uncover big businesses links with the mafia.

In the public sector things tend to be less dramatic but no less traumatic for the whistleblower. In the public sector the classic whistle blower is not a chief executive but a junior member of staff and rather than a multinational company the location is a small residential or nursing home for frail elderly people or people with a learning disability. It’s not a multimillion dollar fraud although money and profit may play a part but it is about power and abuse. Whilst it may not be a foreigner country the whistle blower may find themselves isolated and ostracised not knowing who to trust and because most staff live and work locally there is every chance your children attend the same school, you shop at the same corner shops and drink in the same pub as those you have accused. And their friends! There are no mafia connections but poison pen letters, late night threatening phone calls and excrement through the letter box are distressing and frightening.

It no surprise then that your typical whistle blower is new to the workplace. In residential work it is often a temporary member of staff someone brought in to cover in the short term for sickness or holidays, someone who has worked elsewhere and knows this type of think should not happen, someone who has no intension of staying, someone who knows a manager from outside of the home who won’t ignore their concerns.

Blowing the whistle is only the start. There is the struggle to be believed, then the fear of retribution. An anonymous allegation may trigger an investigation but if no one is prepared to make a statement and appear as a witness it is difficult to mount a successful disciplinary case so there will be pressure from management at the same time as there is group pressure “not to get involved”. Investigations and disciplinary action in these cases are notoriously drawn out. Staff are suspended often for months whilst an investigation is carried out and if there is evidence of abuse a disciplinary hearing held. And at the end of it there is no guarantee those accused will be found guilty and dismissed so they could be back at work alongside their accuser.

When it’s all over and everyone else has moved on it’s not over for the whistle blower. Their actions may be vindicated but jobs may be hard to find, friends lost and family relations damaged. Everyone applauds those who expose wrong doing, yet  whistle blowers ringing up for a job often find that the job has gone.    

Blair McPherson is a former local authority Director who has commissioned investigations and chaired disciplinary hearings in response to allegations from whistleblowers.


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