MPs savage former Serious Fraud Office chief as 'sloppy and slovenly'

Huge payouts for top staff were not properly approved, Commons committee is told
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The Independent Online

Britain's former chief fraud buster Richard Alderman was branded "dilatory, sloppy and slovenly" by MPs yesterday over the way big payoffs to former senior staff were handled and notes of key decisions were taken.

MPs listened aghast as he sought to justify golden goodbyes of around £1m for the Serious Fraud Office's former chief executive Phillippa Williamson, chief capability officer Chris Bailes and head of IT Ian McCall, as well as "exotic" employment packages. These included the £27,600 spent by the agency in one year paying Ms Williamson to travel down from the Lake District, where she worked two days a week, and for hotel stays during the remaining three days in which she worked in London. Ms Williamson was a former colleague of Mr Alderman's from his days in the Inland Revenue (now HM Revenue & Customs), a fact which further angered members.

During a packed and often ill-tempered hearing of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, Mr Alderman was frequently contradicted by his successor as head of the Serious Fraud Office, David Green, and the National Audit Office over whether correct clearances had been sought and received for sums of money paid to Ms Williamson and Mr Bailes.

The Conservative MP Stewart Jackson, who launched the "dilatory" attack, further lambasted Mr Alderman for showing "not one iota of contrition" over his handling of the departures and payoffs. He was among several MPs who lined up to criticise Mr Alderman, using terms such as "incredible" and "outrageous".

Margaret Hodge, the committee's chairman, said the SFO's culture under Mr Alderman was one where "you took decisions yourself, you decided the packages yourself, you decided that you didn't need written agreement. It is all indicative of a culture you led which doesn't fit with a culture in which you find fraud."

The circumstances of the redundancies themselves were also questioned. Mr Green said he could "categorically deny" that there was any evidence that the Treasury Solicitor, who did not appear, had told Mr Alderman to fire his top team. Mr Alderman responded that could "categorically affirm" that he told the truth about a meeting between them in 2011.

Mr Green invited Mr Alderman to visit the SFO's offices "any time he wants" to search for his scribbled notes about any of the points in contention. Mr Green said he had overhauled the agency and no longer employed a chief executive or a chief capability officer.

The committee was told Mr Alderman approved £15,000 payments to Ms Williamson and Mr Bailes to head off legal claims they were planning to bring in relation to whistleblowing allegations made by SFO staff on the advice of his HR chief rather than a lawyer.

Mr Bailes has yet to receive his money, which the Treasury declined to approve when he left in December.

Mr Alderman said of the payments: "If I should have gone to the Treasury for approval … I'm very sorry."