Rolls-Royce accused of sacking jet engineer for whistle-blowing over safety concerns

Rolls-Royce tells employment tribunal that worker's claims were unsubstantiated, but he refused to accept outcome of its investigation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 March, 2014, 8:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 March, 2014, 8:49pm


Rolls-Royce has been accused of sacking a senior engineer after he blew the whistle on allegations of potentially serious problems with the company's jet engines.

Dr Hilmi Kurt-Elli, a senior design engineer, claimed at a British employment tribunal on Tuesday that he was dismissed after raising safety concerns with the chief executive, John Rishton.

The company said it had thoroughly investigated his claims, relating to alleged errors in computer modelling used in designing engines, and found "no evidence to substantiate product or safety integrity concerns".

Rolls-Royce said Kurt-Elli was not sacked for blowing the whistle, but for his unreasonable attitude and the total breakdown of his relationship with colleagues.

Kath Durrant, Rolls-Royce's human resources director, told the tribunal in Nottingham she was horrified when she read Kurt-Elli's letter to Rishton with its "extraordinary allegations".

"I took your claims very seriously," she told Kurt-Elli. "A genuine whistle-blower coming to us should expect to be taken very seriously, and that is what I did. We would have been on your side."

Durrant said investigators were called in to investigate Kurt-Elli's claims, first made in October 2011, and Rishton was briefed on their progress.

She said Kurt-Elli refused to accept the investigators' verdict that there was no evidence of any safety problem, and he went on to accuse Rishton and other senior executives of "corruption, potentially illegal acts and behaving unethically".

Kurt-Elli, who was Rolls' vibration specialist until he was dismissed in February 2012, said it was his case "that the CEO and yourself [Durrant] conducted a sham investigation. It was designed specifically to not uncover the truth".

Durrant said: "Dr Kurt-Elli starts from the basis that everybody in the company is corrupt. I started from wanting to understand what was going on here."

She said the company had no choice but to dismiss Kurt-Elli after he refused to accept the outcome of the investigation.

"The claimant made personal attacks on everyone who would not agree with his position," she said. "I've never seen such language used against colleagues. There was no relationship on which we could continue."

Kurt-Elli, representing himself at the tribunal, said: "People have lied, people have misled."

He said the company did not follow proper dismissal procedure, a claim it denies.

Tribunal judge Richard Hutchinson said: "We have to decide whether you were dismissed because you made a protected disclosures [blew the whistle], or if it had all to do with your behaviour, not the disclosure.

"They say you made unfounded allegations about your work colleagues leading them to believe you could no longer work in the organisation. If we decide it was because of the protected disclosure, they are in trouble."

He wants £450,000 (HK$5.76 million) in compensation.

The tribunal continues.