Newman BHP

Reporter: Graeme Butler

A thousand kilometres north of Perth you'll find the small town of Newman - You might think it sits in the middle of nowhere... it's actually in the middle of W.A's massive mining boom and it's centre-stage in David and Goliath battle over this modest house. In one corner of this bout is "The big Australian" mining giant BHP Billiton... in the other... the little Aussie battlers... 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... 15 years ago he signed up to buy this 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 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 - and it's at this point after 21 years of service BHP called Neville hampton into an office. He was expecting a promotion - instead he was sacked. His crime? Speeding in a work vehicle - a crime Neville denies.

The vehicle Neville was driving was fitted with a black box type recording device that logged its speed and location... but Neville insists he never speeds and must have swapped the vehicle with another driver

"I used to drive safety and why would i be driving a vehicle at 120kmh when basically i lived and breathed safety had to because there's 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 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 now wanted the house ... and by now it was worth a lot more than $43,000

To give you an idea of just what at stake here if you sold this house it would fetch between 900,000 and a million dollars. To rent in this town you'd expect to pay between two and a half and three thousand dollars a week. Now what that means is Neville and Nancy lose this house they won't be able to stay in the town they've lived in for more than twenty years. Neville took his 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 BHPs 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 Hampton claims at worst he is accused of the serious offence of reckless driving at work... BHP could have issued a final written warning - instead he lost his job... a million dollar home and the community he's called home for twenty years - Neville and Nancy are left wondering does the punishment fit the crime.

BHP Billiton's full response

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."