Investigation which ‘cleared’ Priti Patel of bullying condemned as secretive and biased

Internal inquiry thought to have found lack of evidence against home secretary – but ‘allows no right to transparency or challenge for anyone who complained’, says union

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 29 April 2020 17:15
Philip Rutnam quits position as Home Office boss and intends to take government to court

The Whitehall process which is believed to have cleared Priti Patel over allegations she bullied her staff has been condemned as secretive and biased, as pressure grows to release the report.

A leak of the internal investigation – overseen by the cabinet secretary, on Boris Johnson’s instructions – says it has found has found no evidence the home secretary mistreated civil servants.

However, the report is not expected to be published immediately – and is not the end of Ms Patel’s troubles, after she was engulfed by a “tsunami of allegations” at three different departments.

Philip Rutnam, who sensationally quit as the Home Office’s top civil servant in February, alleging Ms Patel was behind a “vicious” campaign against him, is claiming constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal, to be held in public.

Dave Penman, the head of the FDA union of senior civil servants, attacked the way Ms Patel was investigated internally and the leak of the conclusions to a friendly newspaper.

“It tells you everything that is wrong with investigations under the ministerial code that a process which is not written down, which contains no rights for those who might complain, that is determined in secret, alone by a prime minister who has already pledged his allegiance to the minister in advance, and which allows no right to transparency or challenge for anyone who complained, would then be leaked on the evening before the home secretary is due to appear before the home affairs select committee,” he told The Guardian.

Labour has written to Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, demanding the findings of the inquiry are published “as soon as possible”.

“At a time when additional powers are being assumed by the government, the imperative that the public are completely assured of the conduct of senior ministers is even greater,” the letter says.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the inquiry had found no evidence of bullying, suggesting the prime minister would officially clear her today, although Downing Street later said the process is “ongoing” and the report had not been completed.

It is unclear whether Ms Patel has been formally cleared, or whether the Whitehall probe has concluded there is enough evidence to require her to resign.

It was conducted by Helen MacNamara, in charge of propriety and ethics, and Sir Alex Allan, the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, and must be signed off by the cabinet secretary, Mark Sedwill.

Ms Patel was accused of bullying by at least three officials in the Home Office, where it was reported a senior official collapsed after a fractious meeting with her.

She also faces a “tsunami of allegations” that she humiliated civil servants and gave the impression that “everyone is hopeless”, while international development secretary.

Most seriously, while Ms Patel was the work minister, an official in her private office allegedly tried to kill herself after being bullied and later received a £25,000 payout from the government.

Her allies have always denied any inappropriate behaviour, insisting she is the victim of sexism and snobbery and attacking Sir Philip’s running of the Home Office.

Mr Johnson was accused of effectively clearing her even as the inquiry got under way, telling the Commons he would “stick with Prit”.

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