By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 5 March 2020
This is a quick bulletin from the kitchen front. I am technically on a short break making marmalade, homemade aromatic bitters – mmm – and other matters domestic.
In a stable, liberal democracy, the State should not be able to rob innocents and throw them in jail. It should certainly not be able to do so with impunity.
Post Office Ltd unjustly extorted money from subpostmasters under threat of jail. It took precious capital that people had painstaking built up to buy their businesses, stole their nest eggs and long term security, and the product of their labour, sometimes from over many years.
One harmed subpostmaster has likened the relationship with Post Office Ltd to a form of “slave labour”.
Since 2015 the UK government has recognised modern slavery in law:
“The common factors are that a victim is, or is intended to be, used or exploited for someone else’s (usually financial) gain, without respect for their human rights. The perpetrators seeking to take advantage of them could be private individuals, running small businesses or part of a wider organised crime network.
“5. Types of modern slavery
Labour exploitation usually involves unacceptably low pay, poor working conditions or excessive wage deductions, but is not solely about this. In order to constitute modern slavery there will also be some form of coercion meaning that victims cannot freely leave for other employment or exercise choice over their own situation. Where the perpetrator is taking advantage of a child or vulnerable person, an offence can be committed without the element of coercion”
I see little difference in what the Post Office did compared to gangmasters. It held subpostmasters in the vice of a highly oppressive contract; they were forced to accept wholly unjustified deductions out of their own pockets for phantom shortfalls that never occurred. They lived with the terror of not knowing when another massive, ruinous financial shortfall might materialise or when Post Office Ltd might arbitrarily tax them again. They were roughed up with searches, interrogations, ready-made confessions to sign, and threatened with jail if they did not cooperate. Even when they paid, they were still prosecuted. Their human rights were abused.
There is an even more unsavoury suggestion in some of the subpostmasters’ accounts that some of the prosecutions and terminations of submostmasters just happened to be convenient to Post Office Ltd’s national closure, sorry, modernisation programme.=
“Throughout my case and indeed following its outcome, I received enormous support from friends, villagers and customers who refused to believe that I had made off with any money…in fact the consensus of opinion was that POL were deliberately fabricating a case for closing our branch without the cost of significant recompense to the Postmaster (this event had occurred in the middle of a national closure programme to find 2500 branches to close). Very soon after my sentencing, I was contacted by a fellow ex Postmaster who had experienced the same treatment and further enquiries uncovered a significant number of similar cases up and down the country”
The government’s conduct through its organ, Post Office Ltd, has been so scandalous that it has left subpostmaster claimants with almost nothing to show for the appalling trauma of being forced to litigate, because Post Office Ltd failed to engage fairly with a mediation.
Seema Misra, who trusted our justice system and pleaded not guilty but wassent to prison whilst pregnant and when her son was aged ten, does the maths:
Nevertheless, CPS does reveal that it received complaints about at least five of Post Office Ltd’s private prosecutions and that it exercised its prerogative to take over and put a halt to two of these prosecutions.
A public inquiry is so obviously required into this most grave matter, not least because Post Office Ltd was a wholly government owned company, and governments should not behave like hoodlums or robber barons. A detailed argument for public inquiry by Eleanor Shaikh who supports the subpostmasters can be found here:
The Johnson government gave an apparent, tentative agreement to an inquiry into Post Office Ltd but will not act without huge continuing pressure. The parliamentary select committee which overseas the government department responsible for Post Office Ltd has launched its own brief inquiry and is chasing Johnson about a public inquiry:
According to the BEIS select committee, Paula Vennells is due to give oral evidence as part of a second panel on 24th March 2020 (assuming parliament has not been shut down by the government as has been mooted, on grounds of coronavirus risk):
“On Tuesday 24th March (am), the Committee is expected to question the current PO Ltd CEO, Nick Read, the former CEO, Paula Vennells, Fujitsu, a BEIS Minister and a representative from UKGI (UK Government Investments).”
A Westminster Hall debate led by the MP of one of the victims, Tracy Felstead, who has jailed by Post Office Ltd at the age of nineteen, takes place today on how the unsafe convictions can be overturned:
And what of NHS Improvement, the NHS regulator which helped Paula Vennells Post Office Ltd CEO 2012-2019 find a new billet as a Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust?
More illegality of course. NHSI has defaulted on an FOI about its actions in appointing Vennells as Chair of Imperial. It initially apologised for delay and promised a reply, then went silent. It maintained this silence after a personal reminder to its Chair Dido Harding, another former captain of the communications industry and collaborator with Vennells in the digital venture ‘Go On UK’.
An unanswered FOI reminder to Dido Harding:
From: minh alexander <REDACTED>
Subject: FOI request Fit and Proper Person issues in the appointment of Paula Vennells as Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust
Date: 27 February 2020 at 14:35:37 GMT
To: Dido Harding <REDACTED>
I am rather concerned by a delay in NHSI’s response to the FOI request below about NHSI’s handling of Fit and Proper Person issues and Paula Vennells’ appointment by NHSI to the Chair of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
I first made my request on 16 January and was expecting a response by 13 February.
NHSI has apologised for going over this statutory deadline and last week indicated that I would be getting a reply this week. But I am concerned not to have heard anything now that we are nearing the end of the weekl.
As there is a massive weight of concern about Post Office Ltd’s actions, and as No 10 has apparently acquiesced to the growing calls for an inquiry, I would be grateful if NHSI would expedite its reply.
It does seem very important that patients are properly protected and that there is accountability for the Safeguarding process.
With best wishes,
A complaint has been filed with ICO to stop the delay from dragging on too long, but NHSI will doubtless do its best to resist transparency.
By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 1 March 2020
February has been an unexpectedly busy month and so forgive me if this is short and not so sweet.
The Tories made political hay with the MidStaffs disaster, but defaulted on safe staffing. Health Secretaries Hunt and Hancock have paid lip service to the value of whistleblowers, but have permitted their destruction, and allowed impunity for reprisal.
In the last six years, hardly any referrals of NHS directors to the Care Quality Commission under Regulation 5 Fit and Proper Persons have resulted in findings of serious breach.
Here are some FPPR referrals on individuals/ trust boards who have been proven by courts or formal investigations to have harmed whistleblowers, but in response to which the CQC has found no breach or no serious breach of Regulation 5:
The board of Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust
These days, I make FPPR referrals less in expectation of an appropriate system response, but on a point of principle, to highlight failures and to maintain a proper record of concern and provide collective memory where the system fails.
A year ago Jo Williams the former Chair of the Care Quality Commission, whose leadership and treatment of whistleblowers was much criticised by the MidStaffs public inquiry and by MPs, was appointed as Chair of Alder Hey NHS Foundation Trust. Accordingly, I made an FPPR referral to CQC.
A year on, the CQC has predictably shut down the FPPR referral, declaring that Alder Hey’s FPPR process is “robust”. This is the trademark closure letter:
And who were Jo Williams’ referees for her appointment to the board of Alder Hey, first as a NED and then as Chair?
Dr Patricia Mills Consultant Anaesthetist West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust whistleblower
In a nutshell, Dr Mills has been horribly persecuted for doing her duty as doctor to ensure that there was learning from the avoidable death and catastrophic harm respectively to two patients, Daniel Parsons and Paul Farmer, under the care of West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.
Classically, trust executives have reframed her patient advocacy as unacceptable behaviour and set a protracted disciplinary process in motion.
The Trust CEO Steve Dunn was revealed by the Sunday Times to have behaved unpleasantly and unprofessionally at a meeting with Patricia Mills, with the trust minimising this behaviour as merely “tough”.
“The chief executive is alleged to have angrily demanded to know why she had written the letter to the chairman of the board and accused her of undermining Dr Nick Jenkins, the medical director, on patient safety issues. Dunn is said to have asked: “You think I’m an arsehole, don’t you?” and Mills to have replied: “Yes, I do at this moment.”
It seems that trust executives were especially threatened by Dr Mills because as part of fulfilling her GMC obligations, she questioned the Medical Director’s response to the avoidable death and harm. For example:
“A source said Mills claimed to have raised the issue with Jenkins on five occasions and had been disappointed that there had only been a perfunctory investigation.”
Patricia Mills is one of the doctors who was placed under huge pressure by the trust to provide fingerprints and a handwriting sample during a later whistleblower witch hunt.
A former trust clinical director Dr Jon Cardy has told the Sunday Times that a number of doctors have informed him of oppressive trust management, to the point that two doctors have been suicidal. The reported mistreatment of staff according to Dr Cardy has included subjecting doctors to formal investigations after whistleblowing.
In the meantime, Matt Hancock Health Secretary and local MP told the local press that everything had been handled “entirely appropriately.”
And as if she has not suffered enough already, Dr Patricia Mills was run over two weeks ago whilst walking her dog down a country lane, requiring hospital treatment.
As a country we are sliding into very unpleasant political territory, with attacks on press freedom, other portents of authoritarianism and increasingly brazen unaccountability for the powerful.
There will be difficult times ahead for whistleblowers, and it may be wise to expect less of officialdom and already fragile official mechanisms for reporting and redress. This government is already openly attacking some whistleblowers:
By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 29 February 2020
The mass miscarriage of justice by Post Office Ltd against subpostmasters spanning two decades is a most extraordinary tragedy . It is a very British scandal of establishment cover up and careless, “patronising disposition of unaccountable power”, to borrow a phrase from a prominent son of the Church.
Although a decisive High Court victory by the subpostmasters shone a very large light on the nature of power, lives remain seriously wrecked, convictions are still in place, no senior officials or government ministers have yet been held to account and importantly, there are reports that Post Office Ltd seems not to have changed its behaviour towards subpostmasters.
In addition, multiple complaints have been made to the Church of England about Paula Vennells’ continuing ministry as a priest, under the Clergy Discipline Measure.
I have now raised a concern under the Church of England’s Safeguarding procedures, on the basis that Post Office Ltd continued to treat subpostmasters and their families abusively under Paula Vennells’ seven year tenure as CEO.
I have also asked the Church to disclose the number of complaints received about her so far, and to lend its political power to the call for a public inquiry and urgent suspension of Post Office Ltd’s prosecutorial functions.
The Safeguarding referral has been very, very kindly supported by testimony from subpostmasters, difficult and highly unpleasant though it is for them to revisit memories of the abuse by Post Office Ltd.
One former postmaster, and Church of England warden, Mr Tom Hedges has given permission for his impact statement to be published, so that people can understand what it has been like for the families. I am most grateful to him and deeply respect his courage and dignity in his efforts to see that things are put right and made safe for others.
Tom’s impact statement follows below. The main Safeguarding referral to Paula Vennells’ bishop, Alan Smith the Bishop of St Albans, is provided in the appendix.
POST OFFICE HORIZON SCANDAL
VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT BY D T (TOM) HEDGES FEBRUARY 2020
Have you ever been accused of a crime you did not commit, taken to court on made up evidence, been advised that if you try and fight the charge, you will go to jail, so you plead guilty because you are terrified?
Well that is what happened to me at the hands of the Post Office under the control of its board of directors. Sure we took the legal entity Post Office Ltd to court, and obtained partial redress, but companies are run by people and it is their actions and decisions that caused this horrendous tragedy to engulf at least the 557 people in the group action and more cases are coming to light all the time.
I suffer from a disability that requires the use of a medical device to ensure I do not die. I had to almost fight to take this equipment into the dock when I was sentenced, as it would not have been possible to get this life saving equipment to me, if I had been “sent down”. This hugely heightened my stress and fear during my court appearance.
The whole experience has effected me and my family in a hugely detrimental way. Even after the few thousand we are to receive as our share of the settlement, we are hundreds of thousands out of pocket. We were forced to sell our PO, Retail Business and comfortable home at a distress price, about half of its value before that fateful day. We just about avoided bankruptcy and were forced to live on benefits ever since. I could not obtain a job with a criminal record. I did obtain two reasonably paid job offers, but but both were withdrawn, when my criminal conviction was revealed. This stigma sticks and hurts. If I wanted to visit the USA, I cannot, as they will not allow convicted criminals to enter, even for a holiday. Several people both individuals and whole families shunned us in the village, some even crossing the road to avoid us. These people had always been well disposed to us and was one of the reasons why we moved out of the village into a nearby town, that provided anonymity. That did and still does, hurt.
The mental toll from that fateful audit day onwards was crippling, as the full might of a huge company was unleashed on me and only the support of a wonderful wife, loving family, close friends and my faith, saw me through. I can well understand why others contemplated and even went through with, taking their own lives, if they had no support.
My wife and I have been forced to live in rented accommodation, with the high rents and uncertainty that this brings, renting from a private landlord. The waiting list for council or housing association property is over five years in our area.
As I am now 66 and in receipt of both my state and private pension. I had been looking forward to a reasonably comfortable retirement. We had planned to sell up when I was 64/5 and release the equity in our business and home and be able to buy a small property outright and put some money in the bank for rainy days. This has all been taken from me and our rent per month is more than my private pension, so we are living on what’s left of our state pensions.
However I count myself lucky compared to others who suffered in our group, but we all have one thing in common, this experience has scarred us for life and no one is being held to account for this.
People make and carry out policies within companies, but the law dictates that the legal entity is the company. We have settled with the company and it admitted its failings, but its directors and ex directors caused this situation in the first place and are free to do it all again.
“Is that right and just?”
The Church of England’s Safeguarding policies and procedures can be found here.
Key documents and judgments from the Post Office trial can be found here.
This is a brief account of the government’s inadequate handling and spin about NHS whistleblowing and safety, and how this PR machinery is helping to support Paula Vennells’ position at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust:
Information disclosed today by the Crown Prosecution Service adds to the general concern about the competence and probity with which Post Office Ltd wielded its prosecutorial functions.
The CPS can take over private prosecutions where concerns have been raised. CPS has disclosed that although its records may not be complete, it was referred five private prosecutions by Post Office Ltd. It decided to take over two of these and discontinued them. I will try to find out more.
Safeguarding referral regarding Paula Vennells to Alan Smith, Bishop of St. Albans
Bishop of St Albans
Church of England
29 February 2020
Dear Bishop Alan,
Safeguarding concern about Paula Vennells
I write to make raise a Safeguarding concern about Paula Vennell’s continuing ministry at Bromham Benefice, in your diocese.
Paula Vennells was centrally involved in highly abusive institutional actions against subpostmasters and their families when she was Post Office Ltd CEO in the period 2012 to 2019, in regards to the dispute over the Horizon IT system.
I believe that the relevant matters fall under the Church of England’s Safeguarding procedures, especially with regard to vulnerable people and children, but also more generally to all the adults who were affected, based on the Church’s policy statement:
“All adults, including vulnerable adults, have a fundamental human right to choose how and with whom they live, even if this appears to involve a degree of risk. They should be supported to make those choices, to live as independently as possible and treated with respect and dignity.” [my emphasis]
With regard to adults affected by the Post Office’s harmful actions, vulnerable or not, I believe that the following provisions under Church policy are especially relevant:
“Psychological abuse including emotional abuse, threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, humiliation, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, harassment, verbal abuse, isolation or withdrawal from services or supportive networks.
Financial or material abuse including theft, fraud, exploitation, pressure in connection with wills, property or inheritance or financial transactions, or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.”
With regards to the children of harmed subpostmasters, I believe that the policy provision on neglect is most relevant, and that the Post Office Ltd’s negligence and lack of duty of care to these families led to other forms of active harm to the children:
including failure to provide adequate food, clothing and shelter, to protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger, to provide adequate supervision and/or access to appropriate medical care or treatment. It may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse.”
Post Office Ltd terrorised subpostmasters and their families with accusations based on unsafe evidence from its flawed Horizon IT system, despite holding knowledge that this system was flawed. This persecution started before Paula Vennells’ tenure but continued after she became Post Office Ltd CEO.
Post Office Ltd unsafely prosecuted many hundreds of subpostmasters, and sent some to jail knowing that its evidence was in doubt.
The full extent of the harm has yet to be revealed as many cases are still coming through the system and have yet to present at court.
Post Office Ltd lied to many subpostmasters, telling them they were the only person who had reported any problems with the Horizon IT system, when in reality it was in possession of many years’ evidence of glitches across its system.
Mr Tom Hedges
Mr Tom Hedges a Church of England warden and former postmaster was prosecuted by Post Office Ltd solely on the basis of Horizon evidence. Post Office Ltd told him he was the only person who had claimed computer error:
“During an audit in May 2010 I was accused of theft and false accounting, suspended, dismissed and then convicted at Lincoln Crown Court,” he said. “I was given a seven-month suspended prison sentence, ordered to do 120 hours community service and had to pay £1000 costs.
“The sole evidence against me was The Post Offices computer system known as Horizon.
“At the time I was told by Post Office that their system was infallible. I had not taken any money, but I was advised by my lawyer that the court would accept that a company the size of The Post Office would have a ‘bomb proof system’ and that if I pleaded ‘not guilty’ I had no hope of convincing the court otherwise. The consequences of making a not guilty plea and then being found guilty would have almost certainly been a custodial sentence.
“Faced with this prospect he advised a guilty plea and very likely a suspended sentence, was my best choice. I was petrified of the prospect of jail so chose to plead guilty.”
This falsehood was repeated across different cases, and Post Office Ltd repeatedly failed to disclose highly relevant information about Horizon bugs during its prosecutions; actions which cannot be seen as mere isolated errors of omission.
When subpostmasters found they were not alone, organised and challenged Post OfficeLtd’s false narrative, the Post Office still maintained ludicrous denial for many years, with a High Court finding in December 2019 that its denial was akin to a claim that the Earth was flat.
These are all the judgments and relevant key documents from the Post Office trial, collated on the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance website: documentation
It appears that amongst a number of possible reasons for Post Office Ltd’s entrenched and prolonged denial was the fact that government and the Paula Vennells pinned the organisation’s business plan on digitalisation and an increased range of business activities which required digitalisation. Admitting that the Post Office’s core digital accounting system was unreliable would have been highly prejudicial to these ambitions.
But Post Office Ltd’s abusive scapegoating of subpostmasters, blaming them for phantom financial shortfalls caused by glitches in the Horizon system and demanding ‘recompense’ with menaces, was monstrously callous and subjected many hundreds of families to profound, life changing and far reaching harms.
Post Office Ltd made people vulnerable from the stress it placed them under with grossly unfair contractual arrangements and wrongful prosecutions. Once they were made vulnerable, Post Office Ltd continued to mistreat them, reckless of the consequences of such mistreatment. The harms suffered by subpostmasters and their families included the following:
People lived with unbearable stress for years
They experienced traumatic, humiliating events such as having their homes searched and being handcuffed, which for law abiding people was completely alien and very frightening
Mental health and physical health suffered very seriously in some cases. For example, some people have had serious stress related illness such as strokes.
Pregnant subpostmistresses were exposed to risk of miscarriage from extreme stress
There was serious financial loss, to the extent of bankruptcy and long term economic insecurity and homelessness. For example, one couple ended up living in a van.
The financial abuse by Post Office Ltd in coercing payments from subpostmasters, for phantom shortfalls using a very oppressive contract and threats of prosecution has still not been rectified, in that the monies have not been repaid
Many have been left without adequate pensions or equivalent security for their old age, in an increasingly uncertain world and decreasing State pension provision
Family life was disrupted, marriages came under pressure and fell apart in some cases
The children of subpostmasters had childhoods shadowed by parental stress, frank mental illness, financial ruin, loss of family homes and much reduced life chances.
They experienced enforced separation where families broke up under strain, parents were forced to live apart due to economic consequences or a parent was wrongly jailed.
In one of the attached supporting documents, you will see that a young child had to be without her mother for 13 months because the family, as a result of Post Office actions, did not have the means to arrange a visa.
Children themselves were also subject to stigma and bullying during tender, formative years. This is one example:
There is especially serious harm to the children of parents who are jailed, which I cover in more detail below.
The above harms to the children of the subpostmasters should be seen as serious institutional child protection issues, because Post Office Ltd was cognisant for many years that its prosecutions were unsafe. Despite this, it was reckless as to the harm inflicted on the most vulnerable innocents.
Some subpostmasters experienced the unimaginable agony of being disbelieved by loved ones
Many experienced terrible stigma and were shunned by their communities, with the stigma extending to their families. Some people were even physically assaulted because of the stigma against them
Years were lost with the complex and very stressful litigation
Litigation costs, vexatiously drawn out by Post Office Ltd’s various aggressive and dishonourable tactics, described by a Court of Appeal judge as “attritional” and “extremely aggressive”, added to substantially to the financial loss
Employment prospects were very seriously damaged because of the unsafe convictions, feeding into the downward spiral of stigma, social isolation and poverty
Being forced to litigate and to appeal against unsafe convictions were an additional, re-traumatising harms
For those who faced the prospect of jail or were actually sent to jail, this was amongst some of the greatest cruelty by Post Office Ltd.
However, the fact that Post Office Ltd continued to prosecute subpostmasters over Horizon related shortfalls during Paula Vennell’s tenure as Chief Executive, and was willing to expose yet more people to the risk of prison, showed continuing, serious institutional irresponsibility and abusiveness.
As a former consultant psychiatrist who has cared for patients in our prison system, I am only too aware of how harsh and frightening an environment prison is, especially for those serving their first sentence.
Suicide risk is elevated for people on remand and any new arrivals, especially people in jail for the first time.
Self harm is common across the prison estate.
UK government safer custody statistics on numbers of prison self harm incidents 2012-2018:
Suicide risk is elevated in prisons compared to the general population.
Post Office Ltd cruelly exposed subpostmasters to these risks when it sent them to prison despite knowing they could be innocent.
The children of people who are jailed suffer very significantly:
The jailing of women in particular tears apart families and scars children.
The Corston Report 2007 by Baroness Jean Corston the then Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights was conducted on the special needs of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system. It concluded firmly that women offenders had very different needs and that custodial measures should be applied much more sparingly:
“Custodial sentences for women must be reserved for serious and violent offenders who pose a threat to the public.”
It is therefore especially poor that some female subpostmasters with children were so harshly pursued after 2007 and sent to prison for non-violent first offences.
The Corston reports sets out the following important observations on the imprisonment of women with respect to their families:
“3.25 For many women the prison experience is made worse because they are anxious all the time about their children’s well being, or even their whereabouts. Even a short absence from home can disrupt family life and lead to serious problems for children. Many women try to run their homes from prison. Visits with children can cause distress.
A lifer cited in one research paper I have read said; “I need those visits but I’ve also got some rather unpleasant scars through my children grabbing hold of me and screaming “Mum, mum, mum – I don’t want to leave you mum”…I’ve come upstairs and just couldn’t handle it, so I’ve picked up a razor…”
“Custodial experience affects women differently and disproportionately from men. For example, they are located further from their homes and families because of the small number and geographical spread of women’s prisons, which makes visiting difficult. Women in prison are less likely than men to have someone on the outside looking after their home and family and they are more likely to lose their home and children as a result of imprisonment.”
2.17 Women prisoners are far more likely than men to be primary carers of young children and this factor makes the prison experience significantly different for women than men. As Baroness Hale, the only woman Law Lord, has put it, “Many women still define themselves and are defined by others by their role in the family. It is an important component in our sense of identity and self esteem. To become a prisoner is almost by definition to become a bad mother. If she has a husband or partner then again almost by definition she will become a bad wife or partner. Separating her from her family is for many the equivalent of separating a man from his job.” A Home Office study in 1997 showed that for 85% of mothers, prison was the first time they had been separated from their children for any significant length of time.
2.19 Only 5% of women prisoners’ children remain in their home once their mother has been sentenced to custody. As many as 25% are cared for by grandmothers; 29% by other family members or friends; 12% are in care or with foster parents or adopted. The case study of 50 self-harmers showed that a third of the women had been in care as children themselves and the Social Services were currently in contact with nearly half of the women. One of the most alarming statistics that I have seen reported appears in the Revolving Doors Agency’s survey in which 1,400 women serving their first sentence in Holloway were interviewed. 42 women had no idea who was looking after their children. Quite apart from the dreadful possibility that these children might not be in a safe environment, this must cause mothers great distress and have deleterious consequences for their mental health.”
Post Office Ltd thus recklessly and seriously harmed the children of subpostmasters when it sent their parents to prison knowing that they could be innocent.
“Trusting the legal system would deliver justice, she refused to plead guilty. She was two months pregnant with her second son when she was sentenced to 15 months in jail. It was her first son’s 10th birthday. She doesn’t remember what happened in court: she woke up in hospital. Her tears fall as she remembers how she begged a police officer not to handcuff her, begged him to let her leave the hospital by a back door and, when he refused, begged for his jacket to cover her wrists. “It was my local hospital,” she says, “I didn’t want people to see me going out with handcuffs on.”
Post Office Ltd is supposed to be a business with a social purpose, but it showed no conscience whatsoever in its institutionally sociopathic victimisation of the subpostmasters and their families.
Not only did it harm people who became vulnerable due to mental ill health and massive duress such as prosecution and financial ruin, but it actively worked to create that vulnerability with its tactics of intimidation, isolation and threatening litigation strategy. The fact that Post Office Ltd continued its abusive denial and resistance years after serious harm was obvious, and many subpostmasters had been rendered vulnerable by mental ill health and chronic serious stress from intolerable circumstances, showed grave institutional irresponsibility and recklessness if not malice.
Paula Vennells was at the helm of Post Office Ltd for seven years in which denial and unsafe prosecutions continued, and further abuse took place in the form of Post Office Ltd’s abusive handling of the Post Office mediation scheme and cover up of unfavourable findings by its own appointed investigator, Second Sight, which it gagged.
Paula Vennells misled parliament in 2015by maintaining Post Office Ltd denials about flaws in the Horizon IT system and the possibility of unsafe prosecutions.
“It is important to put to bed any implication that we are not accounting properly.”
“We are a business that genuinely cares about the people who work for us. If there had been any miscarriages of justice, it would have been really important to me and the Post Office that we surfaced those. As the investigations have gone through, so far we have no evidence of that.”
Later, during the Post Office trial, evidence emerged that Paula Vennells had sought to solicit a favourable response from her staff to present in evidence to the 2015 BIS select committee. She told her staff that she “needed” to tell the Committee that there was no remote access to the Horizons system. The effect of such an assertion would be to help remove the element of reasonable doubt about Post Office Ltd’ charges of criminality against subpostmasters. Judge Fraser described the events thus in his judgment:
“545….The statement in the Defence was misleading too. It ought also to be noted that the truth did not emerge internally within the Post Office in the email answers provided to internal inquiries in 2015 by senior Post Office personnel, such as the Chief Executive, who posed the specific question in preparation for providing evidence to a Select Committee and asked: “What is the true answer?”
“546. She also said in the same email “I hope it is that we know this is not possible and that we are able to explain why that is”. The true answer is that, contrary to her aspiration, it was possible.”
“547. She also stated “I need to say no it is not possible and that we are sure of this because of xxx and that we know this because we have had the system assured.” The true answer to that was also “yes, it is possible”.
Paula Vennells’ 2015 comments to parliament in oral evidence had the effect of minimisation and subtle victim blaming, claiming that there were only a “small number” of unhappy and vocal subpostmasters:
“…the vast majority of people have no issue with the system, and they are actually quite satisfied with the training and support around it. We are dealing with a very small number of people who have had some really difficult things happen to them”
“Inevitably, because of their distress, the people who have gone through this are very vocal and very challenging about what they have been through—quite rightly so.”
In my view, there is a lack of anything approaching appropriate acknowledgment in her public statements to date, of the depth of suffering by the subpostmasters and their families.
Post Office Ltd previously maintained under FOIA that no internal whistleblowing disclosures were raised between 2012 to 2019 about Horizon:
It admitted to only a tiny handful of other whistleblowing incidents in those years. This lacked credibility given the size of the organisation. Also the Post Office whistleblowing policy requires annual reports on numbers of incidents, and there were dedicated reporting systems in place including an online service, suggesting that a certain volume of reports was expected.
A BBC File on Four broadcast on 11 February 2020 revealed that there were at some point, Post Office whistleblowers who raised concerns about the Horizon system. They too received an intimidating system response, which included suggestions that their jobs and careers were at risk if they did not “’move on and let it go’. This adds to the evidence of poor, unsafe Post Office Ltd culture.
Please see below the Fit and Proper Person referral to the Care Quality Commission which I sent you previously, which gives some more detailed facts. Following at least two FPPR referrals, one from myself and one from Tom Hedges, the CQC has raised a challenge with the employing NHS trust.
Please note that Paula Vennells accepted in the oral evidence to parliament in 2015 that she was responsible for how Post Office Ltd conducted itself:
“Q100 Nadhim Zahawi: You are the chief executive, so the buck stops with you.
Paula Vennells: It does stop with me. Also, therefore, as chief executive, I am responsible for the reputation of and what happens for the Post Office.”
I am concerned from the above pattern of events that Paula Vennells raises has a capacity for abusing power, which makes her unsuitable for any position of trust and exposure to people at vulnerable points in their lives, and to any ordinarily vulnerable adult and to children. I am concerned that her past behaviour is incompatible with the position of trust that comes with her role as Church of England priest, bringing her into contact with vulnerable people and people in crisis or at critical points of their lives, such as bereavement and other loss.
“I have little doubt that the reason for my termination is that I had not only uncovered limitations and potential errors with the Horizon system, but that I continued to question Post Office on the contractual relationship between subpostmasters and Post Office.”
Paula Vennells’ leadership of the Post Office represented a continuance of this aggressive institutional denial.
In all the circumstances, I am very concerned in particular that she may cover up any matters which affect reputation. For example, I am very troubled as to how she might approach any reports of abuse that she receives from or relating to vulnerable people, if such reports happen to stand between her and her goals and ambitions. I see she is tipped to be a Bishop and I am very concerned if she is again given power over others.
Her lack of appropriate acknowledgment of the devastating harm caused and her recent scant apology which only caused more distress and was made at a very late stage, suggested a lack of learning.
“It was and remains a source of great regret to me that these colleagues and their families were affected over so many years. I am truly sorry we were unable to find both a solution and a resolution outside of litigation and for the distress this caused.”
Paula Vennells quoted by the Daily Mail 23 December 2019
It therefore implied a capacity for repetition.
The Church of England should recognise the grave injustice of minimising the misery inflicted on hundreds of families by Post Office Ltd under Paula Vennells leadership, which is de facto what is happening through her continuing ministry.
I attach, and will forward under separate cover, testimony from subpostmasters which includes information about some of the experiences of their close family members.
Additionally, these are links to some of the accounts in the public domain of the harmed subpostmasters’ experiences:
I would be grateful if the Church of England would conduct a thorough evaluation and investigation of all the relevant Safeguarding issues raised by the Post Office trial, including by contacting the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, the Communications Workers Union and the forensic accountants Second Sight, for all relevant and also emerging evidence. I ask that you act on the Safeguarding evidence and protect parishioners and wider members of the public with whom Paula Vennells may come into contact through her various roles in the Church, including business and corporate support to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In particular I ask that you treat the testimony from harmed former subpostmasters which accompanies this Safeguarding referral with the greatest respect and sensitivity, and not add to their trauma. It has taken great courage and strength by the victims of the Post Office to continue with their struggle all these years in the face of bitter institutional resistance. Their struggle is not over, nor are the consequences of Post Office Ltd’s abuse.
I make this point as I am aware that the Diocese has written to at least one harmed subpostmaster who complained about Paula Vennells, stating that it will make deliberations about whether he is a person who has a “proper interest” in raising complaints about her. This may be the Church’s standard administrative procedure, but I found it very shocking that such words could be used to people who have suffered so much.
In the interests of transparency, I would also be grateful if the Church of England would disclose how many complaints it has now received about Paula Vennells’ continuing ministry. I appreciate that the Church is not subject to FOIA. However, some other important bodies which have a public function and which are not subject to FOIA nevertheless attempt to provide open access in a similar spirit to FOIA. I hope the Church will adopt the same principle.
Indeed I will go one step further and ask the Church of England to use its considerable political power to support the victims of Post Office Ltd by backing the call for a public inquiry and for urgent suspension of Post Office Ltd’s prosecutorial functions, given the weight of evidence of serious incompetence and misconduct.
By Dr Minh Alexander, NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 27 February 2020
Summary: This piece examines the fine governmental art of suppressing whistleblowers, using various forms of managed opposition. The whistleblowing charity Protect’s close relationship with the government and income from the public sector is examined. Protect’s protracted unwillingness to criticise the obvious flaws and failures of the government’s Freedom To Speak Up project is described. Notably, Protect holds data from its helpline which suggests that after Freedom to Speak Up Guardians were introduced, healthcare whistleblowers continued to seek help outside of their own organisations, after more of them tried internal mechanisms but were not reassured. This data was tucked into Protect’s 25th anniversary report, but without a frank acknowledgment of its significance. Instead, Protect wished vainly that the Freedom To Speak Up model might yet help “transform” NHS culture. Fundamental reform of unfit UK whistleblowing law is required for real change. However any attempt at law reform is now fraught with dangers given the authoritarian Johnson administration, which has just outed education whistleblowers. Law reform ventures could easily backfire and put future whistleblowers in a worse position. Nevertheless several establishment actors are trying to make off with the law reform bandwagon under these uncertain conditions. WhistleblowersUK and its suspect APPG wish to place a new whistleblowing Office under the control of the MoJ or Home Office. Protect propose an inadequate re-brand of existing law, which will not threaten but flatter the government and continue the symbiosis. It is trying to generate PR for its initiative with an event on 18 March 2020. None of the Bills currently doing the rounds in parliament assures explicit and robust parliamentary scrutiny of any new whistleblowing agency. Without regular scrutiny and refreshment, any new whistleblowing agency created will soon become another tired, saggy part of the existing political furniture.
The octopus is an old emblem of the Mafia, coiling and insinuating its many tentacles into different parts of society.
In fact, governments may outdo any organised crime syndicates in their abuse of power, subterfuges, rackets, stratagems for unjustly dipping into the common man’s pockets and their parking of boots on necks
Governments may be dictators who permit token opposition or field fake candidates, or purportedly liberal governments that pretend to cede power to ‘independent’ bodies whilst keeping firm grip.
The government dissembled about what it had done, but its denial was hardly credible:
“The DfE said the “names of the three individuals were not redacted from the Freedom of Information response because the requester was already aware of their identity and had shared their names via her solicitors with a number of other organisations, including NET Academies Trust, as part of her legal claim.”
They then claimed the FOI response was “only shared with the requester and the department did not publish this information online”.
But a spokesperson for mySociety [who run What Do They Know] challenged the latter statement, adding that the department has had “4,525 requests since the site was launched eleven years ago, so they should be well aware that when a request is made through ‘What Do They Know’, the response is published online automatically”.
This flagrant breach of whistleblower confidentiality and identity was exceptionally serious not least because the Secretary of State for Education, and by proxy his Department, is a Prescribed Person under UK whistleblowing law, with statutory duties to receive and record disclosures from education whistleblowers.
The EU whistleblowing directive now outlaws such revelation of a whistleblower’s identity.
If all UK government departments start to behave in this manner, it will send a very clear signal that whistleblowers can expect nothing but abuse from this government.
The Department for Education is of course a work in progress for two key players in the authoritarian Johnson administration: Cummings and Gove.
Thus it may be a government priority to purge the DfE of normalcy and truth tellers, in order to push through its control over the next generation.
Traditionally, UK governments have managed whistleblowing through a combination of strategies such as complicity by regulators who do not always act in the public interest, the capture of a few whistleblowers and the cultivation of close relationships with organisations that purport to represent whistleblowers, softening their sting. The late Dr Jean Lennane, a whistleblower psychiatrist and for many years a transparency campaigner in Australia, had a rule of thumb that most anti-corruption bodies stay honest for no longer than three years, assuming they were sound to start with.
In terms of whistleblower capture, we have seen whistleblowers take the shilling and progress to promotions and well paid public sector jobs, land paid project work without competition, and secure business contracts paid from the public purse. In exchange, they have rubbished their peers, generally or specifically, plugged government policy, endorsed discredited organisations harmful to whistleblowers, and provided a synthetic rent-a-crowd to nudge public confidence in government’s fabrications.
Protect, the not-very-oppositional whistleblowing charity has enjoyed a symbiosis with government for over two decades and monopolised the market in providing advice services.
Most public sector bodies have whistleblowing blurb that signposts workers to Protect.
Protect has cruised along on the Employment Tribunal National User Group for years. The purpose of the meeting of this group is for stakeholders to raise concerns.
“The stakeholders use the meetings to raise issues or concerns with the service provided by employment tribunals.”
In the group’s published minutes from February 2016 to the present time, which shows attendance by Protect at nearly all the meetings, I found one comment by Protect staff:
“Item 9 Any other business Roger Easy pointed out his concern in the difficulty in locating whistleblowing cases within the EAT website. The President informed Roger that Nicola Daly was the new EAT Registrar. He would let Nicola know that Roger would write to her about his concerns.”
But perhaps it’s more about the networking with all the other parties at the table: BEIS, TUC, ACAS, EHRC, important lawyers, Law Society, Reuters, CAB, etc, etc.
One wonders where the balance falls between influencing and being influenced.
Protect knew the law, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA), was weak because Protect has told some whistleblowers to run and not to fight.
Most importantly for NHS whistleblowers, Protect has extended its fraternisation to the National Guardian’s Office. This started soon after the 2016 appointment of the second National Guardian, Henrietta Hughes, who replaced Eileen Sills, the Bolter.
In 2017, reverential messaging about the Freedom To Speak Up followed. For example, instead of challenging Robert Francis about non-evidenced based internal Guardians, Protect simply transmitted his spin that Guardians were “pioneers”.
There has been cross fertilisation. Protect’s Head of Legal headed off to the National Guardian’s Office as the National Engagement Manager, complete with selfies:
A presentation in March 2018 by the former Protect Head of Legal in her new role at the National Guardian’s Office included the following optimistic claims about the effectiveness of NHS trust Freedom To Speak Up Guardians:
In June 2018, I crossed swords with Francesca West, Cathy James’ successor, when she made a comment at a conference on the twentieth anniversary of PIDA, at which she suggested that the government’s Freedom To Speak Up project was progressing well. This was in the absence of evidence and evaluation.
A Protect announcement of a new trustee in October 2018 emphasised the value that Protect placed in its relationship with government, following the passage of PIDA:
“Protect welcomes new trustee and employment lawyer David Widdowson, who has extensive whistleblowing expertise, to the Protect Board.
David is a long-standing member of the Employment Lawyers Association, and a member and subsequent chair of a working party which commented on the two abortive private members bills and then on the bill which became the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. Comments at the consultative stage were influential in the ultimate drafting of the bill and formed the basis of a very successful relationship with the DTi, now BEIS (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy). He also has trustee experience.”
There is a need to engage, but quite so enthusiastically?
Protect’s messaging about NHS cases in this period has been something of a balancing act. It has criticised some public institutions as part of showcasing its role as an advocate for prominent NHS whistleblowers, but it remained curiously silent about how the National Guardian failed the same whistleblowers.
Protect in fact held data which suggested ineffectiveness of the government’s Freedom To Speak Up model. However, the charity was loath to comment too bluntly on this fact.
The charity’s 25th anniversary report showed that in the three years after Robert Francis published his report of the Freedom To Speak Up Review, the number of calls from healthcare workers to its helpline did not change significantly.
However, there was a drop in the proportion of healthcare callers who were making a first time disclosure:
This implied that some healthcare workers had already tried internal routes of disclosure, but had not been reassured by their employer’s responses.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the mushrooming Freedom To Speak Up Guardian posts in these three years.
Instead of straightforwardly spelling out this unfavourable finding, what did Protect say?
“We hope the introduction of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians does help to transform the whistleblowing or speak up culture in the NHS. It is early days, and still very much in its infancy, but we know from experience there does have to be top down buy in from senior management, the Board as well as obviously the day to day workforce.”
Aye, pig & lipstick transformation.
Protect must surely know that the Freedom To Speak Up model is a recipe for abuse destined for the policy bin, even if the Department of Health and Social Care tries to keep it on life support for as long as possible.
Protect must also know that the Freedom To Speak Up model was just a re-warmed version of the civil service nominated officer scheme, which has never been properly evaluated and has certainly not transformed whistleblowing governance in Whitehall.
The very serious NHS whistleblowing scandals that are still occurring, such as at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, are abundant evidence that after five years of the Freedom To Speak Up project, nothing has been transformed.
We also have yet to see what role the government had in the whistleblower witch hunt at West Suffolk, which took place in the Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s constituency.
Structurally enmeshed, Protect contributes to the Freedom To Speak Up project training Freedom To Speak Up Guardians.
An FOI disclosure by Health Education England on 28 April 2017 Ref. showed the following financial transaction between HEE and Protect (then known as Public Concern at Work):
HEE went through a tendering process to identify suppliers for the following services that arose from Sir Robert Francis’ Freedom to Speak Up (FtSU) aimed at developing education and training guidance to support staff with raising and responding to concerns. The contract was awarded to PCaW on 1 November 2015 to deliver 13 face-to-face training sessions, 2 e-learning sessions and a conference for Freedom to Speak Up Guardians and a video of training session. The value of the contract was £109,600.
The original completion of the contract was planned for end of March 2016, but was extended to March 2017 due to delays of setting up the National Freedom to Speak Up Guardian Office and lack of national advice in this area. The contract has now come to an end.”
There is therefore a conflict for Protect in commenting on the effectiveness of the Freedom To Speak Up project.
How does this influence the level of Protect’s opposition to the government?
Some at Protect may believe in what they are doing, but they need to candidly ask and answer these questions of themselves.
Successive waves of grassroots whistleblowers have campaigned for many years for reform of totally unfit UK whistleblowing law, which is the real change that is needed. Recently the bandwagon has started to creep forwards.
But someone has now tampered with the steering, and several establishment parties are trying to make off with it.
WhistleblowersUK and their Whistleblowing-kerching-APPG want to gallop towards US bounties.
In 2014, shortly after publication of the Midstaffs public inquiry, Jeremy Hunt came under mounting pressure to improve the NHS’ handling of whistleblowing.
He commissioned Robert Francis to conduct the Freedom To Speak Up Review, which made weak recommendations and was totally silent about the nature of the concerns which whistleblowers had reported to the Review.
Robert Francis later indicated through correspondence that most of the evidence submitted to the Review was destroyed.
Francis and the government devised a publicity tool called the Freedom To Speak Up model, which made it look as if something was being done, when nothing was done at all:
Henrietta Hughes, former Medical Director of NHS England London, the National Freedom To Speak Up Guardian sits at the head of the project. She has helped those proven to have harmed whistleblowers to launder reputation. For example, David Loughton CEO of Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, who has been found by an investigation to have harmed a whistleblower and has been criticised in several other whistleblower cases, tweeted this smiling image of a visit by Hughes:
Similarly, Henrietta Hughes visited West Suffolk NHS Foundation NHS Trust in January 2018 and praised their speaking up culture when in reality it was failing badly, and was criticised by the CQC. Just a few months after her visit, the trust launched a whistleblower witch hunt and demanded fingerprints and handwriting samples from its staff as part of the witch hunt:
Many troubling questions continue to swirl around Whistleblowers UK and the APPG.
Norman Lamb MP resigned from the APPG in October 2019 because of unanswered questions that he put on my behalf.
Tom Lloyd WhistleblowersUK Chair declined to answer questions which I put to him personally last year, and I did not pursue them further with him.
But as some serious new matters have arisen, I have written to him again. My letter is provided below.
Chair of WhistleblowersUK
20 February 2020
WhistleblowersUK’s financial arrangements, re-investment of surplus income, not for profit status, and declaration of interests
In August 2019 I asked you for information on clients to whom WhistleblowersUK had sold consultancy services, as advertised on your CEO’s LinkedIn page, at that point:
I also asked you:
“I now see that there have been two payments of £7,500 respectively in February and June 2019, described as donations, from Constantine Cannon.
Please could you advise if these are the payments referred to in the whistleblowing APPG’s registered details, with respect to the statement: “WhistleblowersUK is paid by Constantine Cannon LLP to act as the group’s secretariat From : 10/07/2018 To : 09/07/2019” or whether the two payments in February and June were separate, additional payments unrelated to Whistleblowers UK’s role as APPG secretariat.”
I did not receive specific answers to these questions.
Indeed, in your response to my enquiry you commented:
“You have made several requests for information that we are under no obligation to provide.”
However, Norman Lamb resigned from the Whistleblowing APPG on 24 October 2019 because he could not get answers from WhistleblowersUK to various questions that I had raised about finances and potential conflicts of interest, including my request for a list of organisations to which Whistleblowers has sold Non Executive Director services, as advertised by your CEO.
He commented in his resignation letter, addressed to your CEO:
“I do believe fundamentally in transparency and being accountable to members of the public who ask questions.”
I had not intended to write to you again. However, now that a document has emerged showing that WhistleblowersUK asks whistleblowers to pay £100/ hr for assistance, and 5% of any future award or settlement (the “WhistleblowersUK “Statement of Cooperation and Agreement”), I feel it is all the more important to re-visit financial transparency.
This is particularly as in 2015, you prepared a speech in which you described WhistleblowersUK’s role as one of holding whistleblowers’ hands, and signposting them onwards to appropriate sources of support.
“We receive calls and emails and refer people to appropriate support and legal advice, in short we “hold hands” with whistleblowers as their story unfolds. Perhaps most importantly we believe them.”
£100/hr seems a lot to ask for signposting, particularly from vulnerable, distressed whistleblowers who are facing a lifetime of economic insecurity from crippling legal costs, loss of livelihood and blacklisting.
£100/hr also seems a great deal given that WhistleblowersUK has made repeated public statements that it can only help some whistleblowers, because it lacks funds and depends solely on volunteer staff.
On WhistleblowersUK’s website, you state that surplus income is re-invested to help whistleblowers in various ways:
“WhistleblowersUK is a not for profit organisation that reinvests its surplus income to provide help, support and information to whistleblowers.”
The accounts submitted by WhistleblowersUK to Companies House provide only limited detail:
Accordingly, is it possible for WhistleblowersUK to provide a full account, by financial year since 1 April 2015, of:
1) Total Income gathered from direct payments by or percentage recovery on awards/ settlements from whistleblowers under your ’Statement of cooperation and agreement’
2) Total income from donations
3) The total number of whistleblowers helped by WhistleblowersUK
4) Total surplus income and how it has been used to help whistleblowers?
I am especially anxious for clarification of the numbers of whistleblowers who have been helped by Whistleblowers UK. This because WhistleblowersUK has made inconsistent statements about the numbers of people it has helped.
On social media, WhistleblowersUK stated on 14 January 2019 that it had helped “hundreds” of people:
In contrast, on your website, your CEO states that WhistleblowersUK has helped “dozens” of people:
On 24 February 2019 WhistleblowersUK appeared to again contradict its social media statement of 14 January 2019 with another statement, that it received hundreds of requests but had only been able to help in a “small number of cases:
I appreciate that WhistleblowersUK elected not to answer my previous questions about potential conflicts of interests such the identity of clients to whom it had sold any consultancy services, any remunerated services to the FCA and the identity of any clients to whom it had sold NED services, and as far as I can see your CEO has taken down her LinkedIn page
However, if WhistleblowersUK has changed its position on transparency about these matters, I would be glad of some answers.
If Whistleblowers no longer seeks to provide consultancy services or to place NEDs in organisations for remuneration, I would be grateful for that clarification.
As a former Chief Constable and senior public servant, I am sure you can appreciate the importance of accountability and transparency, and issues of trust when caring for vulnerable people in crises.
Lastly, please note if you have not already done so that the Whistleblowing APPG twitter account recently retweeted an extremely controversial figure who has been questioned by the police in regards to complaints about incitement of Race hatred. I hope that as Chair of the APPG secretariat, you will never tolerate this, and everything else that it implies.
Dr Minh Alexander
NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist
Anneliese Dodds Labour MP Oxford East Whistleblowing APPG Vice Chair
Baroness Susan Kramer Liberal Chair of Whistleblowing APPG
WhistleblowersUK Company Number 09347927 is the secretariat for the controversial Whistleblowing All Party Parliamentary Group, which launched a Bill for an Office For the Whistleblower in January. It has the appearance of a marker to benefit whistleblowing industry middlemen, without specifying elements that are essential to the public interest.
WhistleblowersUK are collaborating with the whistleblowing charity Protect to get traction for UK whistleblowing law reform.
However, the combination of questionable players and an even more questionable authoritarian Johnson government means that adjustments to UK whistleblowing law carry extremely serious risk for UK whistleblowers, especially if WhistleblowersUK and the Whistleblowing APPG succeed in their proposal to place UK whistleblowing under the control of either the Ministry of Justice or the Home Office.
By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 18 February 2020
Summary: The National Guardian has been rewarded with an OBE after wasting public money on endless propaganda, encouraging NHS staff to speak up without reliable protection in place. After two successive years of month-long PR campaigns just before staff survey forms were completed, and five years since the Freedom to Speak Up Review on NHS whistleblowing, the overall NHS staff survey score on confidence in speaking up has moved from 70% to 71.7%.
But continuing horrendous victimisation and Orwellian whistleblower witch hunts make the shallow PR achievement somewhat meaningless.
Yet another example of NHS trust whistleblower victimisation is provided. Staff spoke up in a group, but still suffered detriment. This is despite Robert Francis’ highly speculative, non-evidence based claims that protection can be assured by just getting more folk to whistleblow.
Francis has the gall to claim that after five years, his Freedom To Speak Up model – which he originally recommended for purportedly speedy effect – needs time to work. When people will stop listening to the Man with the Non Plan?
The annual national NHS staff survey has today been published. In the few years after Robert Francis’ Freedom To Speak Up Review, the measure of staff confidence in speaking up about unsafe clinical practice flatlined at approximately 70% of all NHS staff:
Last year it crept up to just 70.5% after a massive month of wet and windy PR campaign led by the National Guardian’s Office and supported by hundreds of Speak Up Guardians recruited in NHS trusts, to persuade more staff to speak up. This strategically took place just before NHS staff were due to fill in staff survey forms in the autumn of 2018.
I would say that the government has just been irresponsibly duping staff into speaking up without ensuring reliable protection.
After another Speak Up Month campaign by the National Guardian last autumn, with even more trust Guardians recruited, this year’s measure of confidence in speaking up has inched up to 71.7% nationally.
NHS STAFF SURVEY OVER THE PERIOD IN WHICH THE NATIONAL GUARDIAN’S OFFICE HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED:
National average score on “I would feel secure raising concerns about unsafe clinical practice”
70.5% (after a month long PR campaign by NGO)
71.7% (after a month long PR campaign by NGO)
Coinciding with this bump, Henrietta Hughes got an OBE in the New Years’s honours for services to comms, sorry, the NHS.
But this surface gloss, of very slightly improved staff perception nudged by relentless comms, is far from proof of real improvement in how the system responds when staff raise concerns.
Matt Hancock still won’t answer me as to whether he will ensure by law that CQC will have a duty and power to investigate individual whistleblowers’ concerns. His permanent secretary is ignoring a complaint about this recalcitrance.
In real time, we have the slow motion car crash of the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust whistleblower witch hunt scandal, in which the role of a regulator – NHS Improvement – is highly suspect and is currently being covered up by NHS Improvement, with help from the DHSC.
There are other continuing active cases of whistleblower harm and suppression, some hidden, some in the public domain.
For example, unfairly sacked senior nurse Linda Fairhall has just decisively won an ET claim for unfair dismissal due to whistleblowing, but is still facing more harm because her former employer has threatened to appeal. Her case is another important example of serious failure of government policy, partly because the HR Director at her trust was also the Freedom To Speak Up Guardian.
Yet another recent example of failure of the Freedom To Speak Up project, with disappointing conduct by an NHS Freedom To Speak Up Guardian, is provided below. It shows that despite Robert Francis’s desperate recent claims, there is no safety in numbers for whistleblowers when your employer is determined to be abusive.
The fact that this tale has to be highly anonymised says it all about the emptiness of the continuing government propaganda.
These ongoing failures are set in the context of UK whistleblowing law which is unfit for purpose and has no prospect of real reform under the Johnson government.
– Did not compel anyone to investigate concerns and rectify wrongdoing
– Did not robustly deter reprisal or provide sanctions against individuals responsible for reprisal
It may have been well meant, and was unique in its time, but deliberate compromises against whistleblowers’ interests were made to assuage industry.
For the last twenty years, the UK government has had a symbiotic relationship with a charity, Protect (previously known as Public Concern at Work) which helped give birth to this bad law.
Both had evidence of the law’s serious failures but neither took radical action to put this right. The law has only been occasionally tweaked in the last twenty years, and Protect has recently put yet more tweaks on the table.
In 2015 a review of NHS whistleblowing by the government, the so called Freedom To Speak Review by Robert Francis had a chance to recommend substantive law reform but did not.
Instead, Francis made superficial and tokenistic recommendations for NHS organisations to have internal whistleblowing champions or “Freedom To Speak Up Champions”, who had no powers but would purportedly “oil the wheels”.
They were to be coordinated and supported by a National Guardian, who was equally powerless, and whose remit excluded the investigation of whistleblowers’ concerns. The handling of whistleblowers’ concerns remained wholly the responsibility of employers, and this left power in employers’ hands.
Such a model is of course riddled with conflict of interest, because it is hard for a Freedom To Speak Up Guardian, an employee, to truly hold an employer to account. Those who challenge a bad employer run the risk of being victimised, as has happened to some Freedom To Speak Up Guardians.
All such internal whistleblowing champion models are weak and doomed to fail:
Since the establishment of the Freedom To Speak Up project, the confidentiality of disclosures to some Freedom To Speak Up Guardians have reportedly been breached, for example, at West Suffolk.
Some Guardians have breached their duty of care to whistleblowers by sitting on their hands and not helping when asked to do so, and they have instead allowed abuse to take place unchallenged.
Some Freedom To Speak Up Guardians have been trust directors who were actually responsible for or party to reprisal. All whilst hypocritically churning out sickening publicity material about values and transparency, and encouraging staff to whistleblow.
Much like crocodiles inviting a wide eyed fawn into the water.
The NHS Nowheresville Freedom To Speak Up Guardian
Experienced NHS clinical staff at St. Nowheresville became concerned about serious risks to patients.
The concerns were widely shared amongst clinicians.
When these concerns were raised, the senior management response was hostile and provocative.
Staff were vilified.
The raising of concerns was not valued, but decried and criticised as trouble making.
Staff who were seen as the greatest threat to management were picked off, to decapitate the group.
Familiar, orchestrated tactics of isolation, trumped up charges and unfair processes were applied.
Staff appealed to the Freedom To Speak Up Guardian for support, but no response was forthcoming.
Staff suffered various kinds of detriment.
Serious issues with patient safety continue.
The injustice still angers and distresses the staff because it was never put right, and there is little prospect that it will be put right in the current system.
They still see the trust Freedom To Speak Up Guardian encouraging other staff to speak up, although they are aware that some staff have been deterred by their horrendous experience.
Robert Francis says give it more time
In 2015, Robert Francis dodged making a recommendation to substantively reform unfit UK whistleblowing law by claiming that this would take too long.
Instead, he maintained that his voluntary Freedom To Speak Up model, based on soft culture change, would deliver faster results.
These days, he bends the other way and claims that culture change takes time and that we must give his appalling Freedom To Speak Up model time to work.
For example, a good Samaritan sent me an exchange of correspondence with Robert Francis which included these comments by Francis on 14 January 2020:
“I fear we are not going to agree about the value of the Freedom to Speak Up National Guardian. Her office and the network she leads is making a great deal of progress on promoting the freedom to speak up without legislative or regulatory powers. The concept of guardians in this context is a new one and needs time to develop.”
That’s the contempt of the British ruling classes for you.
By Dr Minh Alexander, NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 17 February 2020
Linda Fairhall’s stark NHS whistleblowing case brings Robert Francis’s distasteful journey with the NHS and the MidStaffordshire disaster full circle.
Francis should have fought harder for whistleblowers but abandoned his original recommendations from the Mid Staffs public inquiry.
After Francis received a knighthood and seat on the CQC board in 2014, he chaired the Freedom To Speak Up Review into NHS whistleblowing for Jeremy Hunt.
Hunt of course made great political capital out of Mid Staffs but did little to genuinely make the NHS safer.
Francis pulled punches on the Freedom To Speak Up review, eschewing substantive reform of unfit UK whistleblowing law and shedding his original recommendation to deter whistleblower reprisal with criminal sanctions.
An unpleasant touch in his review report was a faintly derisory tone towards contributors who urged criminal sanctions, as if to imply that he himself had never heard of such an extreme idea:
Francis came up with the ridiculous fudge of the Freedom To Speak Up model of internal trust Guardians and a toothless National Guardian whom he recommended should not investigate whistleblowers’ concerns. He left investigation of concerns under employers’ control, thus abandoning whistleblowers.
As well as the risk and harm caused to patients by lack of safe staffing, Linda Fairhall was very concerned about the severe strain on her staff and the harm to their well being.
Vague counter-allegations were made against her of bullying and harassment which were demonstrated to be insubstantial.
The ET was highly critical of the incompetent, trumped up nature of the trust’s allegations, disciplinary action and dismissal:
“119. The tribunal found the respondent’s investigation into the claimant’s alleged misconduct to be inadequate and unreasonable in all the circumstances of the case. No explanation was given for the unreasonable delay in interviewing the relevant witnesses, particularly those who are said to have expressed concerns about the claimant’’ behaviour. No explanation was given as to what was to be the remit of the investigation or of any instructions given to the investigating officer. No explanation was given as to why the investigating officer was not called to give evidence to the tribunal. The allegations of misconduct for which the respondent says it dismissed the claimant were never specifically put to the claimant, so that she was never given a fair opportunity to prepare her case or to respond to them. The respondent’s witnesses referred to little more than “themes” or “perceptions” by the staff, none of which contained a level of detail which would have enabled the claimant to respond. Many of the questions put to the staff contained what are commonly called “closed questions” which the tribunal found to be indicative of a requirement from the questioner that the interviewee would actively seek to identify any matters which may be detrimental to the claimant. When the investigation was completed and the report produced, it should have been sent to the claimant in accordance with the respondent’s policy. No explanation was given by the respondent as to why the report was not sent to the claimant until October. The tribunal found that no reasonable employer in all the circumstances of this case, would have conducted the investigation in this manner.
120. The tribunal found that the disciplinary hearing itself was unfair and unreasonable from the outset, in that it did not set out with any precision the allegations of misconduct which the claimant was expected to answer. The tribunal found it unreasonable for the respondent to say in these proceedings that the claimant could and should have been able to discover the nature of the allegations by reading the investigation report. Bearing in mind the size of the respondent’s administrative resources and in particular its dedicated HR resources, that was an unreasonable approach to adopt. The tribunal notes that, under cross examination, Ms Grieves conceded that there were a number of flaws and defects in the disciplinary hearing. Despite those concessions, Ms Grieves insisted that the disciplinary hearing had been fair and that those flaws did not adversely affect the fairness of the outcome. The tribunal found Ms Grieves to be an unpersuasive and unreliable witness. In assessing credibility, the tribunal took particular note of her sudden introduction of a finding by the disciplinary panel that the claimant had been dishonest in her handling of the charitable monies. Equally alarming was Ms Grieves evidence that it was this finding of dishonesty which led to the claimant being dismissed, as she would not have been dismissed solely in respect of the allegation relating to her professional behaviour. It was put to Ms Grieves in cross examination by Mr Rudd that this revelation was no more than an attempt by her to “beef-up” the respondent’s case, which she could now see to have been seriously eroded by the answers given in cross examination by earlier witnesses. Ms Grieves denied that she was so doing. In the absence of any meaningful explanation as to why there had never been any allegation of dishonesty made against the claimant and why that finding was not recorded anywhere in the dismissal letter, the tribunal found that Ms Grieves was indeed trying to “beef-up” the respondent’s case. The tribunal found that Ms Grieves was being less than candid with the tribunal.
121. The tribunal found that the decision of the disciplinary panel to dismiss the claimant for gross misconduct was not supported by the evidence before the panel. The reasoning behind the decision was systematically dismantled by Mr Rudd in his cross examination of Ms Grieves.
122. The tribunal found that the appeal process conducted by Lynne Taylor was similarly flawed. The tribunal found that no reasonable appeal officer could possibly have fairly and reasonably addressed all of the claimant’s grounds of appeal in the time taken to hear the appeal and particularly for the panel to undertake its deliberations. The defects in the investigation report were put to Ms Taylor who, albeit reluctantly, accepted that a number of the claimant’s grounds of appeal should have been upheld. Ms Taylor said in her evidence that she could recall Ms Grieves saying at the appeal hearing that the dismissing panel had taken into account the claimant’s “dishonesty” in coming to its decision to dismiss the claimant. Again, no mention is made of that in the minutes of the appeal hearing or in the letter dismissing the appeal. The tribunal found that the appeal process and the appeal hearing had not been conducted in a fair or reasonable manner.
123. In terms of the unfair dismissal claim, the tribunal was not satisfied that the respondent had established that its reason or its principal reason for dismissing the claimant was a reason related to her conduct. Those responsible for the claimant’s dismissal and the dismissal of her appeal did not “genuinely believe” that the claimant had committed any acts of misconduct which are now alleged. There could be no such genuine belief because there were no reasonable grounds for that belief. There could be no reasonable grounds because there had not been a reasonable investigation. The respondent’s decision to dismiss the claimant fell outside the range of reasonable responses open to an employer in all the circumstances of this case. This was an employee of thirty-eight years unblemished service who was suspended from her role in circumstances where that suspension was unjustified and unreasonable. The investigation which followed that suspension was inadequate and unreasonable. The investigation did not produce any qualitative evidence which could have led a reasonable employer to decide to dismiss the claimant in those circumstances, for reasons related to her conduct. The procedure followed by the respondent was unreasonable and unfair. For those reasons the claimant’s complaint of unfair dismissal is well-founded and succeeds.
124 Turning now to the claimant’s complaint of wrongful dismissal, the tribunal is not satisfied that the respondent has established that the claimant’s conduct amounted to gross misconduct which could possibly have justified summary dismissal. Nothing which the claimant was accused of doing could be described as seriously inconsistent or incompatible with her duty as a clinical care coordinator. On an evaluation of the primary facts, the tribunal was satisfied that nothing done by the claimant could be described as conduct of such a grave and weighty character as to amount to a breach of the confidential relationship between the claimant and the respondent such as would render the claimant unfit for continuance in the respondent’s employment and give the respondent the right to discharge her immediately. With regard to the allegations of professional conduct, inappropriate behaviour, bullying and harassment, there were simply no facts which could lead the respondent to come to that conclusion. With regard to the allegations relating to the charitable monies, the tribunal found that the claimant’s failure to deposit those monies with the respondent’s cashier was no more than an oversight and which did not involve any element of “dishonesty”, applying the objective standards of ordinary reasonable and honest people armed with all the relevant information. For those reasons the claimant’s complaint of wrongful dismissal is well-founded and succeeds.”
“126. In the claimant’s case before this tribunal, Ms Fairhall had made a number of protected disclosures to a number of different people within the respondent’s hierarchy. That hierarchy included Julie Lane (Director of Nursing), Julie Parks (Associate Director of Community Services) and Steve Pett (General Manager). It was those three senior managers who met immediately after the claimant expressed her intention to invoke the formal whistleblowing policy, and decided that the claimant should be suspended. From the date of that decision, the respondent’s substantial HR resources were engaged in the administration of the suspension, investigation, disciplinary process and appeal process. Those same HR resources were also engaged in the administration of the claimant’s grievance, the grievance hearing and the grievance appeal. The claimant made it known to Mary Grieves and Lynn Taylor that she believed the reason why she was suspended, investigated, disciplined and dismissed, was because she had made those protected disclosures. Ms Grieves and Ms Taylor both confirmed under cross examination that they were aware that the claimant had raised a grievance, but both denied that they were aware of the exact contents of the grievance. Both denied that their respective decisions to dismiss the claimant and dismiss her appeal against dismissal, were in any way influenced by the fact that she had made those protected disclosures. The tribunal did not accept their evidence in that regard. The original decision to suspend the claimant and to instigate a formal investigation was taken by the most senior member of the hierarchy, Julie Lane. The tribunal found it likely that thereafter, the task of investigating the claimant, instigating disciplinary proceedings and ultimately dismissing her, were influenced by that hierarchy to such an extent that it was appropriate to attribute their motivation to those carrying out the process which led to the dismissal. The respondent has failed to produce any evidence to explain the claimant`s treatment and provided unsatisfactory explanations for other matters.”
“128. In coming to that conclusion, the tribunal particularly takes into account the close proximity in time between the last of the claimant’s disclosures and the declared intention to formerly engage the respondent’s whistleblowing policy, and the decision to suspend the claimant. The tribunal also takes into account the unreasonable nature of the investigation, the delay in undertaking the investigation and the length of the suspension. The tribunal particularly takes into account lack of credible evidence from the respondent’s witnesses who gave evidence to the employment tribunal. The tribunal found that Ms Grieves in particular was disingenuous in attempting to “beef-up” the respondent’s case by stating that the dismissing panel had in fact found the claimant to have been dishonest with regard to the charitable monies and that it was this “dishonesty” which led to her dismissal. Lynn Taylor’s evidence was little better, when she stated under cross examination that she did recall Ms Grieves mentioning at the appeal hearing that they considered the claimant to have been dishonest, yet there was no mention of such dishonesty anywhere in the notes of the hearing, the outcome letter, anywhere in Ms Taylor’s witness statement or indeed in any part of the respondent’s pleaded case.”
A patient died despite Linda Fairhall’s meticulously documented warnings to senior trust managers, and after a poor system response to her concerns.
This death added urgency to the institutional imperative to cover up and manage her out of the organisation.
“21. (PID9). On 8th October 2016 at a meeting with Steve Pett, Emma Campbell (Head of Nursing) and Mel Cambidge (Senior Clinical Matron) the claimant informed those persons that, as a result of the decrease in staff levels, the nurses and staff were now unable to function in their roles. This meeting had been triggered by the death of a patient on 4th October 2016, which the claimant felt may have been preventable, had her earlier concerns been properly addressed.”
Linda Fairhall was suspended three weeks after the above meeting about the death and the factors related to the death.
Safe staffing is of course Robert Francis’ pivotal recommendation from the MidStaffs disaster, which the Tory government tossed away, after first making cynical political capital from the disaster.
As the cover up of Linda Fairhall’s concerns got into full swing, she was suspended for almost two years and then sacked on 16 April 2018, over three years after the Freedom To Speak Review reported:
“…the claimant had originally been suspended on 31st October 2016 and that her suspension thereafter continued for some 18 months until she was dismissed on 16th April 2018.”
The Employment Tribunal determined that her suspension and dismissal were unjustified, and represented victimisation for whistleblowing.
So after ten years, an independent inquiry, a public inquiry, a whistleblowing review and industrial quantities of hot air and platitudes by Francis, we still have conscientious, capable, experienced NHS staff being wastefully sacked for no reason other than doing their job, and raising concerns about basic staffing shortage.
The small print of Linda Fairhall’s case reveals even more embarrassment for Robert Francis.
The trust annual report for 2017/18 confirms that he was the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian at that point:
Although he is not explicitly named in the ET judgment, it is hard to imagine that a trust Director of HR would be unaware of a serious whistleblower case, or the sacking of a whistleblower.
The CQC were uncomplimentary about the trust’s Freedom To Speak Up arrangements:
“There was a ‘raising concerns’ (whistleblowing) policy, although we found some barriers in the ‘Freedom to Speak Up’ processes. The Freedom to Speak Up Guardian was the interim director of workforce. They had not had any formal training to take on the role and did not have any dedicated time to carry out Guardian responsibilities. The Guardian did not network with other regional or national Guardians. There were no records to suggest people had been approaching the Guardian with concerns.”
Shamefully, the CQC failed to detect or report that the trust had incarcerated Linda Fairhall, a whistleblower, on long term suspension at the time of their 2017 inspection.
CQC just rated the trust ‘Good’ overall, and ‘Good’ on the Well Led domain. CQC gave the trust a clear pass on safe staffing:
According to the trust website, the interim Director of Workforce in November/December 2017, Alan Sheppard, remains at the trust and is now the substantive Director of Workforce:
Another classic outcome to a whistleblower case.
Gloss slapped over the concerns, a P45 for some, and job security for others.
The Health Service Journal has today reported that, despicably, North Tees intends to appeal the ET decision: “NTH told HSJ it plans to appeal the tribunal’s decision.”
UPDATE 18 FEBRUARY 2020
A Nursing Times interview reports tragically that Linda’s partner died suddenly of a heart attack eight months into her unjustified suspension. Her son was also unwell and she herself was recovering from breast cancer at the time.
Of note, this interview notes that a Freedom To Speak Up Guardian was supportive.
There may be some anomaly over terminology. No doubt all will become clearer in time.
A North Tees FOI disclosure to me of 15 February 2019 Ref FOI1819(510) revealed that the trust had one main Freedom To Speak Up Guardian and several supporting Freedom to Speak Up ‘champions’ during the relevant period. At the time of the unfair dismissal, and of CQC’s critical findings about the trust’s Freedom to Speak Up arrangements, the Director of HR was the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian:
I will not share the trust’s whole FOI disclosure because some of it may identify other whistleblowers, but reportedly only two cases were raised with the trust Freedom To Speak Up Guardian in 2016/17, one of which corresponded with Linda Fairhall’s case. The trust appeared dismissive of an experienced nurse’s carefully documented concerns and of a patient’s death:
Linda Fairhall’s outrageously prolonged suspension for no good reason shows how successive governments have continued to keep the politically useful tool of arbitrary discipline in the NHS, because it assists with control and grip.
It is almost twenty years since the National Audit Office recommended measures for tracking and reducing inappropriate use of unjustified and wasteful suspension in the NHS, but these remain on a dusty shelf.
“workers’ rights” means rights of individuals, and classes of individuals, in the area of labour protection as regards—
(a) fundamental rights at work,
(b) fair working conditions and employment standards,
(c) information and consultation rights at company level,
(d) restructuring of undertakings, and
(e) health and safety at work.”
A great raft of relevant EU directives on matters such as Health and Safety, and prohibition against discrimination were expunged.
The UK government already resisted the EU whistleblowing directive two years ago:
“46. Before the publication of the Commission’s proposal, the Govemment [sic] expressed the view to the Commission that it would be better to use non-legislative means in the first instance to facilitate greater alignment between Member States in relation to legal protection of whistleblowers, partly on grounds of subsidiarity. This view was informed by the wide range of existing practices among Member States.”
It will hardly adopt the EU whistleblowing directive standards now.
It is not intended that workers will have a voice in the Johnson era UK.
Any claims that meaningful whistleblowing law reform will take place under the Johnson administration are at best misplaced, and more likely disingenuous.
The very best that can be hoped for is that an exemplar private Bill may be lodged with a view to the long term future, when better government returns.
However, the great danger with any venture to reform whistleblowing law under present political conditions is that it will be hijacked, perverted and that things will be made even worse for future whistleblowers.
Any such bastardised law would be cynically paraded as a triumph by government, whilst whistleblowers are suppressed ever more viciously. The spin against whistleblowers is already deadly. Why hand government yet another publicity weapon?
On 11 February 2020 the policy advisor of Protect (formerly Public Concern at Work) started a petition calling for reform of UK whistleblowing law.
Of great concern, this was badged as a joint effort with the private company WhistleblowersUK and the controversial whistleblowing All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), for which WhistleblowersUK acts as secretariat.
WhistleblowersUK receives money from US bounty hunting lawyers Constantine Cannon to act as Whistleblowing APPG secretariat.
Ominously, the Whistleblowing APPG have suggested that UK whistleblowing should be placed under the repressive control of the Ministry of Justice or the Home Office:
“Whistleblowers say bullying culture is causing chaos in department that handles asylum claims”
“Another spoke of a culture of fear and “immense bullying” where favouritism is rife and “you’re treated like an enemy by the management if you’re not in their clique”.
“One of the managers makes sexual boasts about the number of women he’s slept with, makes violent boasts about wanting to punch people in the face, and boasts about wanting to fire people – which he has done on at least one occasion without offering that person extra support before he forced them out,” the whistleblowers claimed.”
Rather, the APPG is driven by monetisation of whistleblowing and skimming profit from misery, but without really threatening the status quo.
Emphasising the unsavouriness and financial concerns, the APPG failed to answer questions that I put it about finances and conflicts of interest, resulting in the resignation of Norman Lamb who had tried to no avail to pursue answers to these questions.
The financial harvesting of whistleblowers and whistleblowing is nakedly clear from the emergence of a document which WhistleblowersUK asks distressed whistleblowers to sign, to agree payment at £100/ hour and 5% of any winnings or settlement.
“Fees – We are a membership organisation but membership this is not a prerequisite to our working with you. We charge £100 per hour for the work that we undertake.”
“Should you be successful either at trial or by winning a settlement, we ask that you commit to making an agreed percentage donation to WBUK of 5%.”
The steep hourly rate of £100/hr is especially troubling given WhistleblowersUK’s claims that it is staffed by volunteers:
However, WhistleblowersUK’s interest in getting a percentage of large US style whistleblowing awards has been evident for years. For example:
(Ian Foxley was previously Chair of the original Whistleblowers UK Company Number 08112953 which he dissolved in April 2015 after some founding members left. He set up WhistleblowersUK Company Number 09347927 in December 2014 , later resigning as Chair but remaining as a member.)
Indeed, Constantine Cannon and other similar US bounty hunting law firms established offices in the UK as part of the gold rush discovery that US bounty hunting law could be used on foreign soil.
WhistleblowersUK’s website now sports the slogan “Winning for whistleblowers”: the language of litigation, percentages and vested financial interest in conflict instead of early resolution. All of which spells increased harm for whistleblowers.
After I challenged Protect’s continuing collaboration with WhistleblowersUK via social media, Protect wrote to me yesterday with the stated aim of reassuring me.
Protect again stressed that it did not support bounty models. It justified its joint petition with WhistleblowersUK on grounds that it was better to present a united front but importantly, it said that it would not actually signpost whistleblowers to WhistleblowersUK.
I have no reason to believe that the individual who made this last assertion was other than sincere. However, I have observed more closeness and coordination between Protect and WhistleblowersUK than Protect had admitted.
Where power has been, or appeared to be, Protect has flocked. So it was with the Fair Business Banking and Finance APPG, and then the Whistleblowing APPG.
And contrary to Protect’s denial, there has in fact been signposting by Protect to WhistleblowersUK.
For example, Protect’s comms officer posted what appears to be an un-edited comms statement by Georgina Halford-Hall CEO of WhistleblowersUK on Protect’s website. The statement made various claims about WhistleblowersUK and the Whistleblowing APPG, directed whistleblowers to WhistleblowersUK and invited whistleblowers to provide WhistleblowersUK with personal data.
The APPG for Whistleblowing was set up on 10 July 2018 after a campaign by WhistleblowersUK to expose the positive benefits of making speaking up safe. We captured the imagination and support of our Politicians using cases that we had worked on to demonstrate not only the value to the economy but comprehensive value of this source of intelligence to society. Whistleblowers, or people who speak up, are valuable human capital. By engaging the imagination and the possibilities of reimagining the role of the whistleblower – as a vital element of a transparent society – we have been able to attract and engage a wide and influential cross party group of politicians. These Politicians have recognised that not only the UK but the world need to take advantage of this resource.
The APPG has demonstrated its commitment to its principles by putting whistleblowers not only at the top of the agenda but at the heart of the APPG by appointing WhistleblowersUK as its secretariat. An organisation led by and largely run by whistleblowers across many sectors. The aim of the APPG is to develop world class, global standard whistleblowing legislation, because protection should not start and end at our borders and to succeed we all need universal cooperation.
The APPG has an ambitious work plan where phase one is coming to a close and will result in the publication of our first report in June. The data will represent the voice of the whistleblower as it originates from the call to evidence comprising the hundreds of whistleblowers who participated through our survey, group sessions, emails, social media and 1:1’s. The most prolific sector is health and social care comprising nearly 50% of the responses. The most widely expressed concerns are that the legislation does not work and that too many people are excluded leaving many people not only vulnerable but with no obvious place to seek protection. The biggest stated barrier to whistleblowing is fear of retaliation. The greatest concern is that the issue which led to the whistleblowing is not addressed. These issues are echoed across all sectors. The report will reveal all…
Not distracted by Brexit or the drafting of the report, we have already embarked upon the call to evidence for phase two of our report. The APPG are meeting regulators, professional bodies and trade unions in a series of calls to evidence. So far we are both impressed and challenged by the evidence that we are gathering. Every session, as with the whistleblowers is held in private and with those speaking guaranteed confidentiality. In setting up the sessions in this way we are able to ask and expect answers to challenging questions, and demonstrate the power of a learning not blaming environment. This report will be published in January 2020.
Phase three will be a call to evidence for Employers, Academics, the legal profession and judiciary and MP’s. This report is planned to be published in June 2020.
Take the survey
If anyone would like to assist or give evidence we welcome their support. Please support the work that we are doing via our secretariat www.wbuk.org
I pointed this example of signposting out to the Protect worker who had told me that signposting to WhistleblowersUK did not take place.
I should have added that there have been multiple complaints to the ICO about the handling of whistleblowers’ personal data by WhistleblowersUK and the Whistleblowing APPG.
But if a charity concedes in principle that it draws the line at signposting to another organisation, what is the logic of entering into a joint publicity venture which helps legitimise that organisation?
Especially in the context that an APPG member resigned in protest at WhistleblowersUK and the APPG’s unaccountability.
In my view, that is Safeguarding thrown to the winds.
What else could go wrong?
Other missteps and mis-judgment could let in even more dangerous whistleblowing law than we already have.
They tend to protect state financial assets, not people.
Overbill the State: Nemesis. Poor care: Mehhhh
They operate a jackpot model, with only a few financially high value whistleblowers being rewarded, sometimes with obscene amounts (hundreds of millions), based on percentage cut of the haul recovered. But overall, the house wins.
You can be a genuine whistleblower but not qualify for any financial award, despite suffering the usual life changing financial detriment
US bounty schemes are in short ruthless and focussed on the State’s interest.
The jackpots also support a lucrative industry of middlemen.
By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist, 11 February 2020
In the fine tradition of NHS cover ups, NHS Improvement is in the frame for the grotesque whistleblower witch hunt at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, but it has refused to answer questions about its role. This is despite being fingered by the panicky National Guardian’s Office.
Worse still, the Department of Health and Social Care has allowed NHSI to control the investigation into events at West Suffolk, despite acknowledging that independence is important. Unsurprising perhaps given that Matt Hancock Health Secretary stands to be embarrassed by further probing and more detailed revelations of why he failed to help whistleblowers at West Suffolk.
NHS Improvement has published terms of reference which do not explicitly include a clear examination of the role of oversight bodies and of the government, whether by action or omission.
Rather, there is merely a tangential reference to review of “any advice/interactions the Trust sought from other relevant bodies.”
This slippery wording potentially allows a complicit investigator to stop dead at the advice sought by the trust, and to avert eyes from the advice actually provided.
This is in contrast to NHSI’s previous terms of reference for the executive whistleblowing investigation at Wirral University Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust:
“The investigation will:
investigate concerns raised by members of trust staff in late 2017 with NHS Improvement regarding cultural, behavioural and governance issues
review the trust’s handling of a recent disciplinary case involving allegations of sexual misconduct; and
consider NHS Improvements’ response to the concerns raised with it per above”
The lack of similar clear remit from the terms of reference for the West Suffolk rapid review point to a self serving NHSI cover up about the actions of its whistleblowing team.
This is extremely serious because NHSI’s whistleblowing team receives disclosures from desperate and vulnerable NHS whistleblowers who have exhausted internal whistleblowing routes with their employers. If they are jumping out of the frying pan into the malign fires of Hell, which whistleblowers already suspect from many bruising experiences with UK regulators, this should be clearly exposed.
And who has NHS Improvement chosen to undertake the investigation?
Christine Outram, an NHS insider and a peer of the directors of West Suffolk NHS Foundation.
Like Steve Dunn, West Suffolk CEO, Outram is a long served senior official with past tenure in central government as a DH Director General, now working at provider level as Chair of the Christie NHS Foundation Trust.
NHSI’s blurb emphasises that she is “respected”. And NHSI cites the fact that she got a gong recently:
“Christine was recognised for her service to the NHS last year in the Queen’s Birthday honours list.”
That’s alright then.
The register of interests at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust reveals that Outram has a pecuniary interest as a member of the advisory board of the controversial private e-GP provider, Push Doctor (Push Dr Ltd Company Number 08624572). She reportedly joined the advisory board in March 2018. An astonishing contrast of roles, but alas no longer unusual in our rapidly degrading NHS.
In April 2018 Push Doctor was criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority for misleading advertising material which failed to make clear that it was a private service which charged a fee.
The ASA additionally noted concerns that Push Doctor’s website featured five star Trustpilot graphics, but misleadingly omitted low star reviews. Push Doctor responded as follows:
“Push Doctor acknowledged that the box (provided through a Trustpilot widget) omitted reviews in which the customer had rated them with one, two or three stars, but said they were not aware of any requirements that they must feature negative reviews on their website. They said the Trustpilot widget included the feature and it therefore must be a widespread device on many websites.”
“Yorkshire & Humber AHSN is one of 15 AHSNs set up by NHS England to operate as the key innovation arm of the NHS. Across the country AHSNs act as a bridge between health care providers, commissioners, academia and industry. By connecting these sectors, we help to build a pipeline of solutions for the NHS from research and product development through to implementation and commercialisation.”
Anti-NHS privatisation campaigners have been critical of AHSNs and of Outram for mixing public sector and corporate interests:
The public and whistleblowers will be cheated for as long as there is weak UK whistleblowing law and badly designed infrastructure. Things will be especially bad in the years ahead now that we have a authoritarian government which runs on cronyism, and which will abuse power to embed itself and cut down any opposition and threats. But when conditions are better, what is needed is radical reform of the law and the means to enforce it.
Reforming UK whistleblowing law and infrastructure also requires radical reform of corrupt bodies such as NHSI, which currently align with vested interests and which protect power against the public interest.