Former UK Home Office chief launches unfair dismissal claim

By on 20/04/2020 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Rutnam says he turned down a financial settlement offered by the Cabinet Office in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement in favour of making a public stand

Sir Philip Rutnam, who resigned as Home Office permanent secretary on 29 February alleging bullying by home secretary Priti Patel, has lodged legal proceedings against her.

The FDA – the union representing high-ranking public servants, which has instructed lawyers on Rutnam’s behalf – confirmed in a statement that he submitted a claim to the employment tribunal against Patel for unfair constructive dismissal on 20 April.

It read: “Following [Sir Philip’s] resignation, the FDA instructed Gavin Mansfield QC, head of Littleton Chambers and employment law specialist, as counsel to advise Sir Philip, supported by Clive Howard, senior principal lawyer, employment and partnership, at Slater and Gordon.

“This morning, Sir Philip, with the support of his legal team and the FDA, submitted a claim to the employment tribunal for unfair (constructive) dismissal and whistleblowing against the home secretary.”

Vicious and orchestrated campaign

At the time of his resignation Rutnam, who served 33 years in the civil service, accused Patel of bullying staff – including “shouting and swearing, belittling people, and making unreasonable and repeated demands” – and mounting a “vicious and orchestrated” campaign of media briefings against him.

He said he had made efforts to make amends with Patel prior to his decision to stand down, but that these had been rebuffed. And he claimed the Cabinet Office offered him a financial settlement in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement, but said he turned it down in the hope that making a public stand “may help in maintaining the quality of government in this country”.

In a tweet posted on the day of Rutnam’s resignation, FDA general secretary Dave Penman said the permanent secretary could have gone quietly with financial compensation, but instead he had “chosen to speak out against the attacks on public servants. I know many thousands of his colleagues will recognise the courage and integrity he is showing in doing so”.  

PM’s support

Prime minister Boris Johnson has publicly announced his support for Patel, who has denied any wrongdoing. 

According to the BBC, Patel said she regretted Rutnam’s resignation in an email sent to Home Office staff last month. She thanked him for his service, but said it was “now time for the Home Office to come together as one team”, adding that she “deeply cared” about the “wellbeing” of her civil servants and valued their professionalism.

A Cabinet Office investigation, launched in March over whether Patel had breached the ministerial code amid the bullying allegations, is ongoing.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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