Ulster Bank employee 'may have stolen 500k', tribunal reveals
An Ulster Bank employee who was known for his gambling and extravagant lifestyle may have stolen up to £500,000 from the bank's vault, an employment tribunal has revealed.
The details emerged in a successful case brought by a whistle-blower.
The whistle-blower tried to warn managers about the other man but ended up being scapegoated when the shortfall in cash was discovered.
As a result, he has been awarded almost £29,000 in compensation.
The tribunal refers to the whistle-blower as AB, while the alleged thief is called Mr P.
Both men worked at the bank's cash centre where AB was a team leader.
He approached his line manager as far back as 2009 because he had become suspicious of Mr P's extravagant gambling lifestyle and the control he exerted over others gaining access to the cash vault.
AB also said that Mr P ran a work-based gambling syndicate, travelled to Las Vegas for gambling twice a year and had "a drinking issue".
His concerns were not acted on so he raised them again in December 2011.
As a result, a detailed cash count took place that revealed a shortfall of £565,000.
All four people who worked in the cash centre were then suspended, including AB and Mr P.
Mr P was investigated and was ultimately accused by the bank of the unauthorised removal of £500,000 in cash from the vault and with having stolen money from the vault.
The tribunal described how the bank's investigation found that "significant amounts of cash" were being paid into Mr P's personal Ulster Bank accounts.
However the tribunal did not disclose if any money was repaid, nor if Mr P has been reported to police, nor if he is facing any criminal charges .
Despite his role in uncovering what was going on, AB did not receive any credit - instead there was an attempt to implicate him.
AB's initial suspension related to an alleged failure to make due diligence checks in relation to his signature on a cash transfer voucher.
The tribunal found that suspension was reasonable, as it formed part of an investigation.
However it concluded that a second round of disciplinary action in July 2012 was unreasonable and that an attempt was being made to scapegoat AB.
AB was not allowed to return to work for six months and described being "made to feel like a criminal." He also suffered from depression as a result.
The tribunal said that while middle managers tried to do their job fairly and independently, some senior managers were "influencing and directing" the course of events to ensure that AB was subjected to a disciplinary process with a view to making him the scapegoat.
The tribunal noted that AB was being dealt with in the middle of the bank's IT meltdown in the summer of 2012 and that one consideration for managers in that period was to have regard to "possible adverse comment and publicity".
It said the "overarching concern" of senior management in this period seemed to be about the reputation of the bank and their focus was "to try to pin the blame on an individual because his signature appeared on a voucher".
There is no suggestion of misconduct by any other staff in the cash centre.
The tribunal concluded that the bank did not understand how whistle-blowing procedures should work.
It stated: "The point is to protect people and to make the culture such that people feel safe in revealing suspicions and the basis of their suspicions particularly when it means pointing the finger of suspicion at a close colleague."
In a statement, the bank told the BBC it had learned lessons.
It said: "Ulster Bank notes the findings of the employment tribunal and has already completed a review of procedures in the cash centre.
"We take the issue of whistle-blowing very seriously and we are conducting a review of these policies and procedures to ensure that all learnings are taken on board."
Two weeks ago the bank made a legal application to prevent the tribunal judgement revealing the amount of cash involved and that the events took place in the cash centre.
The bank said this was for security reasons, but the application was rejected by the tribunal.