Priti Patel reaches £340,000 settlement with ex-Home Office chief Philip Rutnam

Former permanent secretary sued government over alleged bullying by home secretary

Priti Patel has reached a six-figure settlement with a senior civil servant after claims that he was forced out of his job for intervening in her alleged bullying of fellow staff, it has emerged.

Whitehall sources said Sir Philip Rutnam, a former permanent secretary in the Home Office, received a £340,000 settlement with a further £30,000 in costs. He had threatened to take the home secretary to an employment tribunal hearing in September.

He also claimed he had been hounded out of his job for defending his staff, and was suing the government under whistleblowing laws.

The payoff means Patel and Boris Johnson will no longer face the possibility of giving evidence before a public tribunal.

It will, however, lead to demands to explain how much has been spent defending the home secretary.

Johnson’s government also paid a five-figure settlement in November to the former special adviser Sonia Khan, who claimed sex discrimination after being escorted out of Downing Street by police.

Patel has consistently rejected Rutnam’s claims. A government spokesperson said no liability had been accepted and that it had been right to defend the case.

A Cabinet Office report published in November, however, noted claims that she had shouted and sworn at staff and found she had breached the ministerial code, even if unintentionally.

Rutnam’s case is the first time that a secretary of state has been pursued to an employment tribunal by a former permanent secretary, the most senior civil servant in a government department.

Rutnam said in a statement: “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 [union for senior civil servants] is continuing to pursue in separate proceedings the wider issues that have been raised,” he said.

He resigned from his post as permanent secretary of the Home Office on 29 February 2020 and subsequently began legal proceedings against the department.

In a hastily arranged and dramatic press conference in his garden, Rutnam, a career civil servant, told the media that he had become the target of a “vicious and orchestrated campaign against him”, which he accused Patel of orchestrating.

Rutnam’s case was expected to focus on his claims that in late 2019 and early 2020 he challenged Patel’s alleged mistreatment of senior civil servants in the Home Office, and that he was then hounded out of his job through anonymous briefings.

Reports claimed that a senior Home Office official collapsed after a fractious meeting with Patel. She was also accused of successfully asking for another senior official in the department to be moved from their job.

Rutnam, a public servant for 30 years, subsequently wrote to all senior civil servants in the department highlighting the dangers of workplace stress. He also made clear that they could not be expected to do unrealistic work outside office hours.

After a report in the Times highlighted tensions between Rutnam and Patel, sources close to Patel were quoted in several newspapers as saying that Rutnam should resign.

In an article in the Times, allies of the home secretary said he should be stripped of his pension, another source in the Telegraph said he was nicknamed Dr No for negative ideas, while one in the Sun likened him to Eeyore, the pessimistic donkey from Winnie the Pooh.

At that time the prime minister’s official spokesman said Johnson had full confidence in the home secretary and in the civil service, though the same guarantee was not given to Rutnam specifically.

It then emerged that Patel had also been accused of bullying in two other government departments – the Department for International Development and the Department for Work and Pensions.

An aide in the DWP received a £25,000 government payout after a threatened lawsuit in which Patel was named.

Under pressure from claims, Johnson ordered a Cabinet Office inquiry last year, which was conducted by Sir Alex Allan. He wrote a report sent to the prime minister that said Patel’s behaviour amounted to bullying and was therefore a breach of the ministerial code.

As the sole arbiter of the rules, the prime minister stood by Patel, concluding in his view that she had not broken the ministerial code.

The FDA union has launched a judicial review, arguing that Johnson’s decision to disregard Allan’s findings could allow ministers to get away with unacceptable behaviour in future.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said on Thursday: “Taxpayers will be appalled at having to pick up the bill for the home secretary’s unacceptable behaviour.”

Responding to Rutnam’s statement, 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.”


Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Home Office chief Sir Philip Rutnam quits over Priti Patel 'bullying'
Rutnam announces plans to sue government for constructive dismissal over ‘vicious and orchestrated campaign’ against him

Aaron Walawalkar

29, Feb, 2020 @12:23 PM

Article image
PM's defence of Priti Patel sparked Home Office fury, union says
Civil servants angry at ‘double standards applied to home secretary over bullying report’

Peter Walker Political correspondent

22, Nov, 2020 @7:34 PM

Article image
Priti Patel bullying row: ex-Home Office chief launches tribunal claim
Sir Philip Rutnam takes action under whistleblowing laws, claiming constructive dismissal

Rajeev Syal

20, Apr, 2020 @11:30 AM

Article image
Priti Patel 'bullying' row: explosive briefings that may resurface in Rutnam legal case
The anonymous briefings that may become part of former top civil servant’s plan to sue government

Rajeev Syal

01, Mar, 2020 @4:34 PM

Article image
Priti Patel 'tried to have Home Office official sacked on Christmas Eve'
Permanent secretary refused request, leading to tensions, and official took retirement

Rowena Mason

27, Feb, 2020 @6:59 PM

Article image
Top civil servant begins legal case against Priti Patel and Home Office
Home secretary may have to give evidence under oath if case comes to tribunal

Rajeev Syal

03, Mar, 2020 @8:40 PM

Article image
Priti Patel appoints ex-Taxpayers’ Alliance head as new aide
Jonathan Isaby joins Home Office as home secretary’s new communications private secretary

Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent

12, Aug, 2021 @5:14 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson adviser quits after being overruled on Priti Patel bullying report
PM’s backing of home secretary criticised as No 10 fails to deny reports he tried to get findings toned down

Heather Stewart and Simon Murphy

20, Nov, 2020 @7:12 PM

Article image
Priti Patel accused of bullying a third senior civil servant
Whitehall sources claim she ‘harassed and belittled’ staff while international development secretary

Rajeev Syal and Heather Stewart

04, Mar, 2020 @12:26 AM

Article image
Priti Patel promises 'compassionate' Home Office after Windrush scandal
Home secretary lays out five-point plan to implement recommendations of independent review

Peter Walker Political correspondent

21, Jul, 2020 @3:37 PM