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An exclusive interview with Ibukun Adebayo a former IT director at Turning Point Charity

Ibukun Adebayo was an IT director at Turning Point Charity in the United Kingdom. She was unfairly dismissed in 2013 after she complained about offensive emails she found on the office server. Her boss then had her ejected from the office premises and accused her of hacking into the server.

Ibukun is now seeking redress in a UK court where she wants her name to be cleared of any wrong doing.

Ibukun_Adebayo

In an interview with TalkParlour.com, Ibukun talks about why she chose to sue her boss and the challenges she has faced ever since.

Why did you decide to sue Lord Adebowale?

I did not sue Lord Adebowale, I went to fight for my reputation.  I was so embarrassed to take Turning Point to court that I tried everything I could to resolve things amicably with them before resorting to the courts of law.  In my view, reconciliation should always be the first course of action in any personal or professional dispute, in my view.

Why did Lord Adebowale and David Hoare call you ‘Looney Tunes’?

Well the Looney Tunes email was sent in response to an email I’d sent to my director peers talking about the benefits of being kind to our staff just after Victor Adebowale himself had called a meeting to talk about the culture of the company and agreed to my proposition that we needed to be kind to our staff.

David Hoare’s email about a “blow-job” and about me kissing a girl was sent in response to an email I’d sent to my director peers talking about the benefits of customer service; and his religious email was in response to my efforts to urge Bill Gates and Steve Ballmore to exclude Turning Point from Microsoft’s proposed licensing fees increase.

As a result of my emails to Bill Gates and Steve Ballmore, Microsoft eventually gave me thousands of pounds for a specific IT project at Turning Point, which I didn’t get to complete as I was walked out of the office by Victor Adebowale.  Again, he’s a human being and that’s what humans do to one another isn’t it?

 

A Reporter said you rejected £0.5m from Lord Adebowale – why?

If my case were about money, rather than my career, I would have accepted their initial offers of money to leave once I found the emails instead of approaching mediators to come in and sit us down to talk; which I did before I was forced to raise a grievance.

The expected ‘done thing’ is usually to take money and go quietly, but I could never have walked into an interview and lied to say ‘I left my last job of my own will’, when I know I didn’t do so.

Even if I accepted money and then set up my private consultancy, any clients still need to trust me and that’s why I’ve said that the same Victor Adebowale who instructed HR to walk me out has to clear my name.  He hasn’t done that so far, and indeed the Chief Executive team, the Chair and most of my peer directors attended the tribunal to diminish my capabilities as a professional and to smear my character by saying I was a ‘bully’ – despite me having called for us to be ‘kind’ to our employees, and despite my department members’ and other colleagues recommendations of me on LinkedIn.  I was so shocked and scared.

Victor’s barrister can come and speak on his behalf at Tribunal and get them to pay me nothing but, when all is said and done, I have made it clear to Victor Adebowale that I will continue to challenge this ‘hacking’ allegation to the highest courts in the land.

I told them recently that it’s so sad they’ve paid a barrister hundreds of thousands to further establish his own professional credibility, whilst Victor Adebowale’s name has landed up being dragged in the mud with a UK judge describing him as one of Turning Point’s least credible witnesses.

Whilst I’m extremely proud of my Nigerian heritage and the fact that I spent 10 good years in Nigeria, I also view it as a privilege to have been born here in London and, as you know, as soon as a British born Nigerian person commits a ‘crime’, the media will drop the ‘British’ bit and say ‘Nigerian’ – it’s happened in my case, indeed one paper wrote ‘Nigerian-born’ Ibukun Adebayo.  No one wants to associate with a ‘hacker’, i.e. a ‘criminal’!

Ironically, Lord Adebowale says he dismissed me for a breach of trust while his deputy said I was excessively religious so who’s telling the truth out of the two of them?  I was delighted to view the Judge’s verdict that both Victor Adebowale and his deputy, David Hoare, were Turning Point’s ‘least credible witnesses’.

I’ve read on some sites that you say you forgave David Hoare so why did you sue him for sexual harassment?

I actually withdrew my claim for sexual harassment before the hearing.

In May this year, I attended the tribunal, upon the invitation of the Judge, to amend an injunction that Lord Adebowale had put in place to prevent the sexual details of my case from being published.  He breached multiple laws and they’ve still managed to conceal a lot with the injunction but that’s of no concern to me.  If they hadn’t dismissed me unfairly, this case would never have become public.

The original newspaper report said you admitted you hacked into your colleagues’ mailbox

No journalist was present at the first and main hearing in December 2014, else they would have heard I had overall responsibility as Turning Point’s Information Security Officer – for the detection and prevention of wrongdoing on all systems on the network, and for the investigation of information security incidents and breaches of the data protection act, the Malicious and Offensive Communications Act and the UK Equality Act.  In David Hoare’s actions, he breached all three of these laws and yet they’ve suddenly come out and said that I had no right as the company’s information security officer to uncover wrongdoing!

The ‘hacking’ that Victor Adebowale said I committed is that when my boss’s wife, from HR, asked IT to search for all emails on a server containing someone else’s name, because there were 10 other staff in the company bearing the person’s first name, I tested the search tool first using my own name as a search parameter as I did not know how to use the tool and found sexual emails, insulting emails and religious emails about me.

What has remained unreported is the multiple emails showing them planning to hire an interim CIO – John Searle – in my place at £1,250 per day for nine months to come in and make my role redundant because they wanted to pay someone else £20k more than my then salary of £84k.  Basically, they didn’t know how to tell me they wanted me to go and the difference between the UK and the US is that you have to have a cause to dismiss someone lawfully here whereas, in the US, you can dismiss an employee without cause.

What Victor Adebowale said I should have done is that, once I’d seen the first email about me, I should have gone to ask HR for formal permission to copy the emails for me instead of copying these same emails myself to ask them for mediation.

The problem is that my boss’s wife, Fiona James, and the second HR director were also involved in the writing of the emails so I couldn’t approach them before copying the emails to ask for mediation.  That is what Lord Adebowale has insisted was my ‘hacking’ offence.

When I found the emails, I didn’t originally complain as I didn’t want to get David Hoare, the man who had written the sexual, religious and insulting emails about me, into trouble.  Instead, I approached HR and a mediation company to ask them to come in to chair discussions between me and my boss.

Instead of them to stop the Interim CIO interviewing process and agree to mediation talks for me to keep my job at my same salary – they were begging me to leave as they were too embarrassed to face me, which I wasn’t happy with as I enjoyed my job, and wanted to complete some exams to transfer to the banking sector before leaving that role.  I had to therefore file a complaint about everything to Victor Adebowale.

At the end of a two month investigation into my complaint, Victor Adebowale called me into a meeting to give me feedback over my complaint, and then told HR to escort me to my office to collect my pass and laptops from me, and then to walk me out of the building on suspension for gaining ‘unauthorised’ access to the email server, in front of team members, including newcomers to my team.

A day before, he’d instructed me not to contact the Information Commissioner’s Office to clarify whether I had ‘hacked’ into the systems, whereas hacking is a criminal offence and serious incident which Turning Point was required by law to report to its two regulators, and to the police yet they refused to do so.  I contacted the ICO and Charity Commissioner’s Office all the same – and no criminal charges were filed against me and that’s why I’ve challenged Victor Adebowale to get rid of their barrister and to come and tell the world how I ‘hacked’ into the company’s email system.

How could I have hacked into a server I had overall responsibility for, using my own name and password, having been given legitimate access by the company to the system?

 

Victor Adebowale has said you are trying to embarrass him and Turning Point, and that you reported him to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the government, why?

David Cameron said, in 2013, that he doesn’t know why people from middle-class backgrounds and black and ethnic minority families have low aspirations.  Vince Cable was the minister for the department of business and innovation.  I made sure I wrote to Vince Cable and David Cameron to tell him that there are many black and ethnic minority individuals who have great aspirations, but who are being thwarted – including by our own fellow black persons, as was my case at Turning Point.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has supported tribunal cases in the past in cases where black employees have been victimised or discriminated against by white managers e.g. last year’s case of the black police woman against the Metropolitan Police.

I approached the EHRC because I was looking for their support regarding my case.  David Hoare is Turning Point’s ‘Equality and Diversity executive lead’, and Victor Adebowale is meant to be an equality campaigner – but despite the EHRC being so quick to respond to white on black discrimination, they chose not to get involved in my case because it involved a black and well-known ‘lord’.

How was the court hearing?

Tribunal was tough as I had no legal representation and they had a formidable barrister who was able to twist absolutely everything I said – but he was just doing his job, at a very high financial cost to the company.

They came to tribunal every day as an entourage of the Chair of the board, the CEO, Deputy CEO, the two Assistant CEOs, five directors and an HR officer to all give evidence against me alone – coached and led by their barrister and solicitor.

My boss, Andy James came to court to say his wife, head of HR had benchmarked the CIO salary and found it should be paid more than what the company was paying me and that’s why they’d advertised the Interim CIO role and interviewed John Searle and others behind my back – they all claimed John Searle was a program director and not a CIO and they hired him as such, despite me having introduced program and project management to the company by training them in program and project management for two years in the past, sometimes coming in on my days off to do so.

I cried throughout the initial hearing as they sought to smear my character and a peer director, Sarah Kennedy, came with statements she said my team had signed to suggest I was a bully and needed management support – even though at least one team member had said they refused to sign their statement because Sarah had written down something different to what she had been told about me.

The same team members Sarah Kennedy claimed had said I was a bully were individuals I’d mentored and provided free training for them to help them to progress in their career because the company said it couldn’t afford to send them on training, I’d attended all their weddings, given money from my own pocket when one had a baby. In particular, I’d sent our helpdesk team leader an email i.e. one of many, encouraging her after a tough 2012 and the same lady supported me by accompanying me to one of my grievance hearings after I found the emails; yet Sarah Kennedy provided the barrister with a statement from the same person, after my dismissal, claiming I needed management support to help me to manage people.

My LinkedIn profile shows many of my colleagues’ view of me in the recommendations section, including some I didn’t work with directly, and I don’t know why Sarah Kennedy would come to court and swear on the Bible and lie, particularly because after a meeting in October 2012, she’d come to me to say she was pleased I’m a Christian because she “is one too”.

The same could be said about my boss’s wife, Fiona James, who had given me a high-five saying “girl power” in January 2013, before coming to the court to swear on the Bible to say that she never respected me at Turning Point, I was shocked but, again, that’s what human beings do to each other isn’t it?

Even my boss Andy James, that my husband and I were playing Fantasy Football with him and his son every weekend for 8 years because he invited us to do so each year, came to court to say I was just a technical person that he “didn’t manage hard enough”; he reduced every single bit of my contributions over 9 years of working 12 to 15 hours a day to nothing.  I was just so disappointed in him, but my husband has encouraged me to just keep praying for them.  I recently remembered 2 Timothy 2:2 and realised that’s where I went wrong, i.e. I played with these people as if they were my brother and sister, but never prayed for them.

Why do you want to go back there then, if things were so bad?

Things were not “bad” at work when I was there.  I had this rather insecure colleague who everyone kept warning me to specifically watch out for, as he kept taking my responsibilities to try to do for himself – and failing – but I remained professional with him until the end.

I had a great department full of funny and hardworking individuals but, to tell you the truth, the sole reason I’d like to go back is because no bank or company will hire me with a dismissal for gross misconduct on my record. I’ve applied to over 1000 jobs since my dismissal, yet if they hadn’t been too embarrassed to continue to work with me when I approached the mediators with the emails, I would have carried on working with them but would have found a new job by now.

I knew I wouldn’t be walking into a job quickly if I’d accepted their offers to leave once I found the emails, as leadership roles are difficult to come by for women in the UK, not to talk of black women.  Again, any offers made after Victor Adebowale had asked HR to escort me out of the building were always met with the  main condition that they had to clear my name first of any ‘hacking’ allegations.

 

With hindsight, would you revise your advice to black professionals in the UK to not say “because I’m black, that’s why they’ve treated me like this”?

In the 70’s, my Dad was appointed to a role as the first black foreign exchange manager for Lloyds bank before being headhunted to lead Wema Bank in Lagos.  My mum held down three jobs including an early morning cleaning job, a daytime secretarial job, and then an evening cleaning job.  They taught me that, with hard work and determination, everything is possible.

Victor Adebowale has been quoted as saying his parents taught him the value of hard work, and yet he didn’t feel bad about telling HR to walk me out of the building having worked 12 to 15 hours per day for 9 years for Turning Point?

I’ve worked at companies headed by white men before as the IT chief, and my white male peers in the IT industry have been the ones putting my name forward for speaker opportunities, elevating me to the British Computer Society ELITE Committee for senior IT leaders in the UK – so it’s only at Turning Point, a company headed by a black man, that I’ve been treated so disgracefully in my entire career.

What would you do differently next time?

It’s funny because I was asked that question at Tribunal and I fluffed my answer because I was torn between my nature to always try to resolve issues informally first, and my experience with Turning Point that this doesn’t always work.

 

What would you say to other people in your shoes?

Always try to resolve a dispute informally first, and don’t try to fix “people” as human beings will always be human.

Don’t stop studying towards your goals, and view any stumbling blocks as temporary.

 

What are you studying this time around?

Well my academic journey has been quite riveting in that I wanted to be a lawyer when I was young, but I sat my GCSE’s in Nigeria and because I only has a pass, rather than merit, in maths I wasn’t accepted to study law.  I studied Mass Communications instead at Ibadan Poly before working as a reporter at NTA Ibadan for a while.

When I returned to the UK, I studied Journalism at the London School of Journalism and then started studying IT doing the usual Microsoft and Oracle exams to break into IT.  I followed this up with project, program and risk management certification once I started working as an IT leader at Turning Point before completing a Board director certification program with the Institute of Directors in 2008.

After trading the Forex markets for a while and offering free training on this in my local community, I decided I would study investment management to help me get into Board roles in the financial services sector to influence business integrity in the sector but opted for investment operations instead when some banks started having IT systems failures and I realised I could study investment operations and transition into the sector as a CIO and gain a seat on the Board that way.

In 2012, after studying for a year, I sat exams for the Investment Operations Certificate with the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investment, focusing on operational risk management in the financial services sector. In 2014, I completed the Global Financial Compliance certification, and then paused my studies with the CISI to start an executive MBA in Finance and International Business, which I’ll finish next March.  It’s been tough studying while trying to complete all the tribunal paperwork which often has very tight deadlines.

I chose finance as my major because of my intention to transition into the sector and I’m grateful to God that my two finance papers are the ones I scored the highest marks in.

I’m praying that, by the end of this year, I would also have completed two more papers with the CISI including the Fighting Financial Crime certificate i.e. money laundering, terrorism financing, bribery etc.

 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

Up until recently, I’ve been grieving and reflecting on my view that Victor Adebowale has terminated my vision; when a company labels you as a ‘hacker’, knowing fully well that you’re not a hacker, why should anyone want to do business with you?

My ultimate aim remains to move into the financial services sector and I will continue to focus on trying to achieve that goal, despite this seeming impossible now.

One last word?

Only once the appeal is over, can I talk properly about the case – hopefully, sometime next year.

In the meantime, I will keep striving to find a job and to study hard towards my goals.  As I’ve written on my Facebook page previously, I don’t want readers to start insulting any of the persons concerned in my case – their own conscience will be telling them they’ve done wrong as everyone has a conscience, no matter how hardened they are.

 

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