British Airways paid £1m to hush up the details of a spying operation in which the phones and emails of its own cabin staff were allegedly improperly accessed during a bitter dispute with Britain’s largest union.
The payment was made to stop the union, Unite, suing BA over the operation by specialist investigators based at Heathrow. Unite claimed the private communications of 10 BA staff, some of whom were also union officials, were accessed during a period in 2011 when the airline faced renewed strike action.
The decision to deploy the airline’s in-house investigators, many of them former Scotland Yard and security services personnel, was taken at the highest level within BA, according to information given to The Independent. The use of effective espionage against members of a major UK union, by a flagship UK company worth close to £12bn, raises new questions about the scale of use of private investigators inside Britain’s largest companies.
The £1m payment by BA, designed to brush potentially damaging disclosures about its activities under the carpet, echoes the £1m that Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers paid to settle the first legal cases relating to its voicemail interceptions, including the claim of Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association.