Playing Goliath is the big Australian, mining giant BHP Billiton, and playing David is Neville Hampton and his wife, Nancy, fighting to save their home of twenty years.
Neville worked for BHP at the Mount Whaleback Mine for more than twenty years.
Fifteen years ago he signed up to buy his house from the company - the catch was he wouldn't actually own it until it was all paid off in full - and then there were a number of conditions attached.
“As long as you were employed by BHP you could pay back the loan, so basically they give you a loan of $43,000 which then they take whatever it worked out at - about $103 we were paying a fortnight - which was deducted straight out of your pay," Neville said.More stories from Today Tonight
Neville set about improving the house and raising his family. He paid the rates, paid for the renovations and kept paying back the loan. By 2010 he'd almost paid it off.“$3,511 I think so that was it," Neville said.
And it's at this point, after 21 years of service, BHP called Neville into an office. He was expecting a promotion but instead he was sacked. His crime was speeding in a work vehicle - a crime Neville denies.
The vehicle Neville was driving was fitted with a black box-like recording device that logged it's speed and location, but Neville insists he never speeds and must have swapped the vehicle with another driver.“I used to drive safely and why would I be driving a vehicle at 120kmh when basically I lived and breathed safety. I had to because there are a lot of people around me that relied on it, in me. That's where it hurts - how the hell could they believe that I'd do something like that," Neville said.
Neville went to Fair Work Australia but it found in favour of BHP agreeing that it was likely Neville was speeding and that was a sackable offence.But it wasn't just his job Neville lost, BHP wanted the house and by now it was worth a lot more than $43,000.
If Neville sold the house today it would fetch between $900,000 and $1 million.
Further, Neville and Nancy would be not be able to afford to rent in the town they've lived in for more than 20 years.“We can’t just move next door, can't just go and rent a house next door, can't go down the next suburb and rent a house. You can't rent houses here," Neville said.
Neville took his fight for justice to the Supreme Court of Western Australia and lost. The judge found that legally, BHP still owned the house.But in his findings Judge James Edelman said that outside the strict application of the law, it remains within BHP's power to temper justice with mercy and not insist on the application of an ambiguous contract against a person, who has given them more than two decades of his life.
BHP Billiton issued a statement in relation to the case. It says: “Mr Hampton will be refunded a total of $125,000 being made up of the amount he contributed towards the purchase of the house, an equal amount contributed by the company and an amount representing the cost of any improvements made by Mr Hampton".
BHP also says: "The Company remains open to hold further discussion in an effort to amicably resolve the issues."
Neville claims at worst he is accused of the serious offence of wreckless driving at work. BHP could have issued a final written warning but instead he lost his job, a million dollar home and the community he's called home for 20 years.“Heartless bastards. You can print that or not, I don't care - that's how I feel," Neville said.
“If there is one person making the decision I think I would plead to him and say, 'Please, please stop this. Let's have a little look see what is really going on here'," Nancy said.
Statement from BHP Billiton
"Mr Hampton's dismissal in July 2010 was for a very serious safety breach - he was driving a vehicle on an unsealed road in BHP Billiton Iron Ore's Mount Whaleback open pit mine at 125km/hr. in a 60 km/hr. zone. The Company maintains the highest commitment to safety at its operations.
"Fair Work Australia found that the Company's decision to dismiss Mr Hampton was not unfair and held that he had committed a very serious safety breach that placed himself and others on the mine site at very real risk of injury or death.
"Under the Company's home ownership scheme, Mr Hampton would have qualified to complete the purchase of the Company house he lived in if he had continued in employment with the Company for around another 18 months. Mr Hampton was aware of the impact on his employment when he chose to drive at this reckless speed.
"Mr Hampton will be refunded a total of $125,000 being made up of the amount he contributed towards the purchase of the house, an equal amount contributed by the Company and an amount representing the cost of any improvements made by Mr Hampton.
"Mr Hampton and his family have remained in the Company house since his dismissal in July 2010. Before the trial, the Company made proposals that would have allowed Mr Hampton and his family to remain in the house. The legal proceedings have not been completed and through that process the Company remains open to hold further discussions with Mr Hampton in an effort to amicably resolve the issues."
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