The nearest (only?) parallel to the Sir Philip Rutnam affair was the sacking of Derek Lewis as Director General (DG) of the Prison Service in 1995.
This was another case of a Home Secretary and a senior Home Office civil servant falling out, and the latter ending up without a job.
The Prison Service (of England and Wales) was, back then, part of the Home Office. It has since moved to the Ministry of Justice.
Derek Lewis was brought in, an executive in Granada TV, by Ken Clarke, then Home Secretary. He was tasked with running the Prison Service which had newly been established as an ‘Executive Agency’ within the Home Office.
Lewis was sacked only a couple of years later, in 1995, after some high-profile high security escapes, including IRA prisoners, for which he was blamed by the then Home Secretary Michael Howard.
Lewis protested his sacking and took the Home Office to court for unfair dismissal.
Lewis’s case was that he had fully and faithfully carried out his mandate as DG as directed by Clarke and Howard, as set out in things like the Prison Service Framework Document and plans – all of which they had signed off. It was the directions he was given that were at fault, not his management of the service.
I had been doing some work in and around the Home Office at the time. I was also appointed as an independent member of the official Prison Service Review which reported in 1997 and I talked to Derek Lewis both before and after his sacking. I wrote about the affair in several places at the time.
Just before Lewis’s unfair dismissal case was due to take place the HO made a very generous offer to settle, including Lewis’s full pay for the duration of his contract and his performance bonuses and costs.
But crucially they did not admit any liability for his unfair dismissal.
If he went ahead and lost Lewis would have had to cover all the costs, which would have been huge. The Government would have deployed very expensive lawyers.
Lewis settled believing that the settlement itself was a moral victory and his reputation would be restored.
Of course, the settlement was largely ignored by the press and often subsequently misrepresented or misunderstood.
Lesson: it is not easy to get into court against the Government in an unfair dismissal case. The risks to the claimant are huge.
Their lawyers will almost certainly recommend settling when the inevitable no-liability offer is made.
Even if they are backed by their Union (in this case the FDA) the chances are it will still be settled before it gets into court. I could be wrong, but I fear not.
Just to be clear this not what I want to happen – it should go to court. It’s just what I think realistically will happen, if gets even that far.
There is however an alternative. The Home Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons is chaired by the redoubtable Yvette Cooper MP. It can hardly fail to examine this case and call for “persons and papers” in evidence.
Any such inquiry could be immensely embarrassing and damaging to the Home Secretary, if she is still in post, and the Government as a whole – given this appears to have been a wider issue than just Patel’s alleged behaviour.
Over to you Parliament?