‘Her behaviour created fear’: Home Office boss quits and plans to sue government amid row over Priti Patel bullying claims

Sir Philip Rutnam intends to take legal action for constructive dismissal

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Saturday 29 February 2020 11:09 GMT
Philip Rutnam quits position as Home Office boss and intends to take government to court

The most senior civil servant at the Home Office has dramatically quit and threatened to sue the government amid a row over alleged bullying claims levelled at Priti Patel.

In an extraordinary statement to cameras, Sir Philip Rutnam claimed Ms Patel’s behaviour “created fear” at the Home Office and said he now intends to take legal action for constructive dismissal.

The civil servant said he had been the “target of a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” that had left him with no other option but to resign from government after a career spanning 33-years.

It comes amid mounting tensions between Ms Patel and civil servants at the Home Office over bullying claims, which she denies. But Sir Philip said he had had reports the home secretary’s conduct included “shouting and swearing” and “belittling people”.

In explosive comments on Saturday, the civil service chief at the Home Office said claims he had briefed the media in recent weeks against the home secretary are “completely false”.

“The home secretary categorically denied any involvement in this campaign to the Cabinet Office,” he said. “I regret I do not believe her. She has not made the effort I would expect to disassociate herself from the comments.”

“Even despite this campaign, I was willing to effect a reconciliation with the home secretary – as requested by the cabinet secretary on behalf of the prime minister. But despite my efforts to engage with her, Priti Patel has made no effort to engage with me to discuss this.

“I believe that these events give me very strong grounds to claim constructive unfair dismissal, and I will be pursuing that claim in the courts.”

Sir Philip Rutnam makes resignation statement

Addressing allegations of bullying against Ms Patel, he went on: “My experience has been extreme, but I consider there is evidence that it was part of wider pattern of behaviour. One of my duties as permanent secretary was to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of our 35,000 people.

“I have received allegations that her conduct has included shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands – behaviour that created fear and that needed some bravery to call out.”

“I know that resigning in this way will have serious implications for me personally – the Cabinet Office offered me a financial settlement that would have avoided this outcome.

In recent weeks, the home secretary was said to be “livid” over bullying allegations and suggestions she is distrusted by intelligence chiefs, and just last week issued a joint statement with Sir Philip attempt to quash claims they were at loggerheads.

Both the Home Office and No10 declined to comment on Sir Philip’s resignation statement when approached by The Independent.

The Liberal Democrats accused the government of an “outrageous” treatment of civil servants, adding: “We need to be asking serious questions about the culture that is being created in the Home Office.

“The way these Conservatives are treating public servants and trying to undermine the rule of law is outrageous.”

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, the senior public servants’ union, said the resignation “demonstrates once again the destructive consequences of anonymous briefings against public servants who are unable to publicly defend themselves.”

He added: “This cowardly practice is not only ruining lives and careers, but at a time when the Home Office is being tasked with delivering a demanding government agenda on immigration, and preparing for a public health emergency, it has diverted energy and resource in to responding to unfounded accusations from sources claiming to be allies of the home secretary.

“The FDA has supported Sir Philip throughout this period and will continue to support him in his claim for constructive dismissal. He had a choice to resign and go quietly with financial compensation. Instead he has chosen to speak out against the attacks on public servants.

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