Scapegoat vindicated

April 30, 1999

When Kate Schroder blew the whistle on a widespread qualifications fraud at the training provider Sight and Sound Education in 1996, the firm took what it celebrated as "swift action". It held its hands up and admitted procedural "discrepancies". And it immediately sacked Ms Schroder for "gross misconduct".

A statement issued at the time by Sight and Sound clearly implicated Ms Schroder in the fraud itself. After three years of unemployment, she has at last been vindicated.

A libel action by Ms Schroder against Sight and Sound has been settled out of court.

Her lawyers, Peter Carter Ruck, confirmed this week that the case has been settled, "on terms satisfactory to Kate Schroder". Although the agreement is subject to a confidentiality clause, it is understood that Ms Schroder received an apology and a "substantial" undisclosed sum.

Ms Schroder was general manager for Sight and Sound Education Limited, a provider of vocational qualifications for more than a dozen colleges and part of the training division of the Corporate Services Group. She reported what she described as "huge financial and operational irregularities" at the now defunct Greenwich College.

She had discovered that the Sight and Sound College at Greenwich had received tens of thousands of pounds by falsely claiming students had passed vocational courses.

"I went through all possible channels of line management," she said. "But after six weeks, nothing happened." Then she approached the South London Training and Enterprise Council, one of the victims of the fraud. The TEC revealed her identity to Sight and Sound, and she was summarily dismissed.

In a libellous statement widely reported in the press at the time, Sight and Sound said: "In a check undertaken in January this year, arising from complaints of trainees, some discrepancies were found in established procedures at Greenwich College. It was discovered through this internal audit that several documents had been removed, and swift action was taken by central management of Sight and Sound. The local management at Greenwich College, including Kate Schroder, was summarily dismissed."

Ms Schroder was left almost destitute. "My husband is a retired fireman on a limited pension, and between us, we have five children to look after." Getting a job has proved almost impossible. "I have made at least four job applications a week over the period - literally hundreds. I just don't get interviewed," she said.

"I have not had much redress. We have only just come to realise what whistleblowing is about. Three years ago it was akin to leprosy. And if you try to get a job, you've had it, chum."

Nevertheless, she has been turning her experiences to good use. She has been an active lobbyist for whistleblower protection legislation since 1996, and recently she was a consultant to the Public Interest Disclosure Act, and the charity Public Concern at Work. She is now doing her PhD on whistleblowing at Middlesex University.

"I've always been vindicated when I look in the mirror," she said. "But no one else knew."

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