Priti Patel bullying case dropped after civil servant receives undisclosed settlement

Home secretary was due before employment tribunal in September

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 04 March 2021 21:03 GMT
Philip Rutnam quits position as Home Office boss and intends to take government to court

Home secretary Priti Patel is coming under intense pressure to reveal how much taxpayers’ money was spent on settling a bullying claim from her former top civil servant, who dropped an employment tribunal case after receiving a sum believed to run into six figures.

The move means Ms Patel will not have to face a tribunal hearing in September over allegations that she bullied Sir Philip Rutnam, who quit last February, accusing her of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” against him.

But Ms Patel’s Labour shadow Nick Thomas-Symonds has now written to the home secretary demanding to know how much money was spent by the government on settling the case, including legal fees. 

“Taxpayers are being forced to foot the bill for unacceptable behaviour from the home secretary,” he wrote.

“As a result, it is vital that there is the maximum possible transparency around this issue.”

Mr Thomas-Symonds quoted a figure of £370,000 for settling the case, including Sir Philip’s legal fees but not the cost of the government’s lawyers, and demanded to be told whether it was accurate.

The Home Office refused to give any indication of the size of the payout.

Labour MP Kevin Brennan told The Independent: “At the very least, people are entitled to know how much they are having to pay to allow Boris Johnson to cover up the grim details of Priti Patel’s misbehaviour.”

In a separate case, the FDA union for senior civil servants continues to pursue judicial review of Mr Johnson’s decision to overrule his own ethics adviser in finding that Ms Patel’s treatment of Sir Philip did not breach the ministerial code of conduct.

Today, in a statement issued through the FDA, Sir Philip said: “I am pleased to say that the government has today settled the claims that I brought against them and which were due to be heard in an employment tribunal in September.

“This settlement resolves my own case. The FDA is continuing to pursue in separate proceedings the wider issues that have been raised. I now look forward to the next stages of my career.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government and Sir Philip’s representatives have jointly concluded that it is in both parties’ best interests to reach a settlement at this stage rather than continuing to prepare for an employment tribunal.

“The government does not accept liability in this matter and it was right that the government defended the case.”

Former Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam

Mr Thomas-Symonds said: “Taxpayers will be appalled at having to pick up the bill for the home secretary’s unacceptable behaviour.

“The home secretary still has very serious questions to answer about her conduct and the FDA union’s legal case continues.

“The prime minister has shown terrible judgement. It can’t be right that his adviser on ministerial standards resigned when he found that the home secretary bullied colleagues, while the home secretary herself remained in post.”

Sir Philip’s case was the first time a secretary of state has been threatened with an employment tribunal by the most senior civil servant in their department. Ms Patel denied all allegations against her.

In a dramatic statement announcing his resignation after 33 years in Whitehall last February, the mandarin said he had been offered a payoff, but had decided instead to take legal action.

He said that he believed his experiences at the hands of Ms Patel was “part of a wider pattern of behaviour” towards officials for whose well-being he had responsibility.

He claimed this included “shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands – behaviour that created fear and that needed some bravery to call out”.

The prime minister’s ministerial standards adviser Sir Alex Allan resigned in November after Mr Johnson overlooked the findings of his report into the case, in which he concluded that Ms Patel had “not consistently met the high standards expected of her”.

Sir Alex’s report found that the home secretary’s frustration with staff “has manifested itself in forceful expression, including some occasions of shouting and swearing”, adding: “This may not be done intentionally to cause upset, but that has been the effect on some individuals.”

Following Sir Alex’s report, Ms Patel said in a statement: “I am sorry that my behaviour in the past has upset people. It has never been my intention to cause upset to anyone.”

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