Book Review – The Prisoner of Brenda by Colin Bateman

Our book for the month of March was the Prisoner of Brenda by Colin Bateman. Set in Belfast the story begins with the murder of Sam Mahood a notorious gangster. The chief suspect is arrested nearby but seems to have suffered a breakdown so he is incarcerated in a local mental institution Purdysburn where he is known only as the Man in the White Suit. This is an enigma that caring Nurse Brenda is eager to solve so she calls upon the Mystery Man ( former patient and owner  of No Alibis, Belfast’s finest crime bookshop, partner of long-suffering Alison , father of Page and son of a suicidal woman) to bring his excellent powers of investigation to bear. However before our hero can even begin, the Man in the White Suit is arrested for the murder of a fellow patient.  Helped by Jeff part time shop assistant, aspiring poet and unwilling babysitter the Mystery Man enters the asylum as an undercover patient. Intrigue, conspiracy and ancient Latin curses follow as the mystery unravels.

But although the plot had suspense and drew a compelling crime maze it was the characters, their relationships and their banter that made the book such a good read. I found that I cared as much for the personal stories of each of the characters as the plot. I laughed out loud many times and chuckled throughout. I actually liked the Mystery Man despite his cynicism, selfishness and neurosis.  Amongst the group the consensus of opinion was that Bateman’s humour is brilliantly unique. We would recommend the book to anyone who likes a crime story with a mix of the absurd and a bit of midnight gardening thrown in…..and if you want to know what that is you will have to read the book.

Next month we will be reading The 100 Year Old Man Who Jumped Out The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.

Balancing Act

It seems as though every month there is a new piece of legislation coming out or guidelines being issued applying to employers and imposing new obligations.  Even full-time employment lawyers and HR practitioners may struggle at times to keep up.  Yet businesses must do their best to stay alert to all the developments in the ever changing landscape of employment law to avoid unnecessary claims against them.

Recently, new guidance has been published by the Equality & Human Rights Commission on Religion or Belief in the Workplace.  These guidelines follow the recent decision from the European Court of Human Rights in the combined cases of Eweida and Chaplin -v- United Kingdom.  Both Eweida and Chaplin were prevented from wearing a visible cross/crucifix when in uniform at work.

The court found that Eweida, an airline check-in officer, had been unfairly treated by her employer’s insistence that their corporate image should take precedence over her right to express her religious belief.  The court decided that this amounted to a breach of her rights under Articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights which govern the right to express or manifest religion or belief in practice and protection from discrimination.

In the case of Chaplin, a nurse, whilst accepting that the employer’s decision to prevent Chaplin wearing a cross interfered with her Article 9 rights, the court decided that the health and safety of staff and patients outweighed the right of the employee to wear a visible cross on a chain round her neck.

In a further development in this area, in the case of Redfearn v United Kingdom the European Court of Human Rights decided that a bus driver’s right to freedom of assembly was infringed by the lack of a remedy for his dismissal due to being elected as a local councillor for the British National Party.  Mr Redfearn had insufficient service to bring a case of unfair dismissal and the Court of Appeal had earlier ruled that there was no breach of UK race discrimination law/religion or philosophical belief regulations.  The European Court considered that UK law would need to be changed either to create an exception to the requirement for a qualifying period for unfair dismissal in such circumstances or a free standing claim for unlawful discrimination with regard to political affiliation.

The decisions in the above cases are ground breaking developments which will certainly produce heated debate amongst practitioners, employers, employees and interested bodies as to why and how they should be implemented.  In any event, these decisions should serve as a reminder to employers about the importance of balancing the rights of the individual against the pursuit of legitimate commercial objectives.

Incorporation of Coopers Dinner Dance

The Annual Dinner Dance of The Incorporation of Coopers in Glasgow was held on Friday the 1 March 2013 in the Trades Hall. Sheila Carter one of our Legal Secretaries attended the dinner with Alastair Campbell, Head of our Private Client Department and presently Clerk to the Incorporation. Alastair, who has been Clerk since 1999, will be retiring from office this September. Our firm has had, so far, 162 years of close involvement with the Coopers. The original connection was with the Trades House and not with the barrel making trade. Clerks previously had to be lawyers and our firm became involved with the Coopers that way. The Incorporation of Coopers is one of 14 Incorporations which form the Trades House of Glasgow. The Craft of the Coopers can be shown to date way back in time to the Ancient Egyptians. In 1569 the Coopers were granted their Letter of Deaconhood and so began the Incorporation of Coopers of Glasgow. Over past centuries the Incorporation played an important role in the trading life of Glasgow but in present times the Incorporation concentrates on charitable functions. 198 members and guests were welcomed to the Annual Dinner Dance this month including “Coopers” from London, Irvine and Aberdeen. An excellent evening was had by all in wonderful surroundings with good food, sophisticated speakers and the music of “Dave Cormack”. The event raised £2,000 for the Quarriers Epilepsy Centre in Govan, a very worthy cause.

Quarriers’ website says of the centre “When it opens in spring 2013, the new epilepsy centre will be the only centre of its kind in Scotland – and one of the most advanced in the world – with state-of-the-art equipment offering assessment and diagnosis for people with complex forms of epilepsy as well as diagnosis of the condition where it is uncertain.”

Where there’s a Will…

I came across an article published in the Sunday Post on July 23 2006. It was headed “Where there’s a will…there’s a lawyer like Alastair.” Alastair Campbell Head of our Private Client Department was asked “The Honest Truth about Wills.” One of the questions he answered was “What is the most unusual bequest you have encountered?” It is quite a tale. Here it is. A Glasgow man called John Wilson died in 1989 leaving money to a Royal Navy Captain. All the Will said was “To Captain Donald Macintyre RN, former commander of the destroyer Hesperus who sank U-Boat 186.”John had attached a letter to the Will explaining that his brother James was Chief Radio Officer on the SS Ocean Vagabond part of a convoy sailing from Newfoundland to Hull. In January 1943 a storm scattered the convoy and The Vagabond sailed on her own for five days before being hit by four torpedoes fired from U- Boat 186.The Captain of The Vagabond gave orders to abandon ship. James was never seen again after the second torpedo hit the ship. John’s letter explained that “The radio was out of action after blast damage by the first torpedo and the radio room was in darkness. But my brother fixed the radio.” James had stayed behind and sent out an SOS. The distress call was picked up by a British Destroyer which then made its way to the scene and saved the men in the life rafts. In May 1943 U- Boat 186 was sunk by the Hesperus captained by Donald Macintyre who earned John Wilson’s everlasting gratitude. Alastair checked naval records and discovered that Captain Macintyre had died two years before John but Captain Macintyre’s son and daughter were successfully traced and given the bequest. A happy ending.