Grangemouth owners Ineos draft in Slaughter and May for Unite libel battle

The owner of the Grangemouth petrochemical plant Ineos has instructed Slaughter and May in a libel case against Unite the union at London’s High Court.

Slaughter and May partner Robert Stern, although not a libel specialist, is a go-to adviser to Ineos having advised the company on a number of deals, including the $9bn (£5.14bn) acquisition of plastics production company Innovene from BP in 2005 (17 November 2005).

Unite has also turned to its long-standing advisers at trade union firm Unite with partner Richard Arthur instructed to defend the claim. It is understood that Old Square Chambers’ John Hendy QC is in the frame to lead the defence, although Arthur denied working with the silk on the case.

The claim was filed at the High Court last month weeks before Ineos moved to close down the plant earlier this week after union members refused to adopt a plan to enure the future of the site.

A deal between the feuding parties over the site was struck this morning after what Ineos called a “dramatic u-turn” by Unite. Ineos said Unite had agreed to taking no strike action for three years, moving to a “modern” pension scheme and accepting a three-year pay freeze.

The libel case is understood to be ongoing at the time of writing, with Unite given until 8 November to file a defence to the claims.

Ineos issued the claim after the union made allegations in a press release about an investigation into company employee Stephen Deans, who was also the chair of the Falkirk Constituency Labour Party (CLP). 

Deans was the subject of an Ineos investigation after he was suspended and subsequently cleared by the Labour Party in connection to allegations of vote-rigging in Falkirk in the selection process to find a replacement for out-going Labour MP Eric Joyce.

The Ineos investigation was due to conclude today, but Unite union members voted in September to strike over the issue and the use of temporary staff.

In a war of words last month Ineos Petrochemicals UK chairman Calum MacLean said: “The publication of an untrue and defamatory comment by Unite is clearly unacceptable and will only mislead people”.

Responding, Unite’s Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said it was “ridiculous” to suggest that Unite has libelled Ineos.