whistleblowing

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The Chris Pincher Scandal is Really About Power – And how Boris Johnson Used his to Protect an Abuser

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/07/2022 - 2:01am in

For all Downing Street's lies, the real story of this scandal is about how the Prime Minister gave the green light to sexual abuse in Westminster, reports Adam Bienkov

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“Before we get started, are you planning on telling us the truth today?”

This was the first question to Boris Johnson’s official spokesman at this afternoon's Downing Street press briefing – and things didn’t get much better for him after that.

For days, Johnson's spokespeople had told us a series of lies about what the Prime Minister knew about his former Deputy Chief Whip, Chris Pincher.

On Friday, his spokesperson said Johnson was not aware of “any allegations” against Pincher.

This was later changed to a claim that Johnson had not been told about any “specific allegations" against him.

Before later being changed again to the line that he had not been told about "serious specific allegations".

As the days went on, these claims gradually shifted further until, eventually today, we learned that not only had Johnson been told about specific and serious allegations allegations against Pincher, but that he had failed to admit it when asked.

His spokesman confirmed testimony from the former senior civil servant Lord Simon McDonald on Monday, that the Prime Minister had in fact been told about a serious complaint against Pincher that had been upheld. However, Johnson's spokesman then attempted to suggest that the Prime Minister had somehow merely forgotten to mention it.

In an extraordinary statement, Paymaster General Michael Ellis also told the House of Commons that, while the Prime Minister had been aware of the allegations against Pincher, he was somehow “unable to immediately recall them” when asked on Friday.

He added that Johnson "may be told literally hundreds of things in any one day" and couldn't be expected to remember them all.

It is barely worth even bothering to interrogate this latest line – the idea that the Prime Minister would have somehow forgotten being told about serious allegations against one of his closest colleagues and allies is laughable.

As Byline Times put it to Johnson's spokesman this morning, either the Prime Minister deliberately misled his press office and ministers about what he knew, or they deliberately misled us, or both.

Either way, the truth is that the Prime Minister’s words simply cannot be trusted and neither, it appears, can those who speak on his behalf.

For these reasons, Johnson's spokesman was today asked whether he would consider resigning – given the fact that he has so often misled journalists in recent months.

He replied that he would not. In some respects this is unsurprising. If the Prime Minister himself, who repeatedly misled Parliament, the press, and the public about 'Partygate' and Pincher, does not believe he should resign, then why should anyone who works for him?

Power

The problem with covering this scandal, like most of what happens under Boris Johnson's Government, is that the sheer volume of misleading statements and outright lies that come out of Downing Street sometimes make it hard to get a grip on what is actually happening.

Often it is easy to get so blinded by the sound and fury surrounding a story, that you can miss what it is really about. And in the case of Chris Pincher, what we are actually seeing is the story of an abuser who was placed into a position of power by a Prime Minister who was fully aware of the abuse that he had committed.

Rather than stop the abuse from happening any further, Johnson instead dismissed it and joked about it – describing Pincher as "handsy" and referring to him as "Pincher by name and Pincher by nature".

The result of that decision was that more victims were abused, who might otherwise have not been.

Pincher – like so many others in Westminster – used his position of power to abuse people, and the Prime Minister used his own position of power in order to help him get away with it.

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As the former parliamentary aide Tara O'Reilly previously told Byline Times, sexual misconduct is mostly about power – about the power of those who have it and the lack of power of those who don't. Abusers and their allies are aware of this imbalance and use it to protect each other.

As O'Reilly explained: "It’s a case where everyone just protects each other’s skeletons so that their own skeletons don’t fall out of the closet."

In the case of the Chris Pincher scandal, Johnson had the power to protect potential victims from abuse and he instead used his power to protect the person perpetrating it.

For all the shifting excuses and lies coming from the Prime Minister and his representatives over recent days, that is what this story is really about.

Have you got an experience to share about sexual misconduct or misogyny in Westminster? Contact Byline Times’ Political Editor Adam Bienkov confidentially by emailing adam@bylinetimes.com

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Could Whistleblowing Become Big Business?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/05/2022 - 8:22pm in

While some campaigners want to bring in a US 'bounty' system for whistleblowing, others warn this could create a tiered system that leaves vulnerable people in the cold. Sian Norris reports

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As pictures emerge of Boris wielding a glass of booze, and junior Whitehall staff speak to the BBC about a party culture in Number 10, whistleblowers are more important than ever. Without them, the scandal of Partygate may never have emerged.

But a new Bill to protect whistleblowers has been criticised by some campaigners for potentially opening the door to a US-style corporatisation of whistleblowing.

The bill, which was introduced to the House by Mary Robinson, a Conservative MP and Chair of the Whistleblowing APPG, recommended the UK sets up an independent, US-style Office of the Whistleblower, “to make whistleblowing work properly and safely for everyone”. The bill was not, in the end, taken forward.

Concerns have been raised that the office would be expected to “report back to the Government”, something which campaigners say would undermine independence and sink whistleblowers who want to shine a light on public services and Government misbehaviour. 

WhistleBlowersUK, which provides the secretariat for the APPG, told Byline Times that the “independent Office of the Whistleblower will only report trends and serious concerns directly to the Government – not individual cases”. 

Campaigners also believe the new bill could be a trojan horse for money-making firms seeking to ape a US ‘bounty’ style approach to whistleblowing.

A report from the APPG, and published in the run-up to the bill, states “the issue of financial incentivisation has been discussed with experts in the UK and abroad who concluded that it was time for the UK to introduce some form of reward scheme” for those who blow the whistle on bad behaviour.

The report continued: “after careful consideration by the APPG it concluded that this should be a matter for the Office of the Whistleblower to decide”. It committed to carrying out further research on whether financial rewards for whistleblowing should be introduced. WhistleblowersUK told Byline Times it “stands by its commitment that all whistleblowers should be properly recognised and compensated where appropriate”. 

The APPG’s secretariat was at one point sponsored by Constantine Cannon – a US-based law firm which opened a London office in 2017 and, according to a report in the New York Times, “has long sought to persuade the British authorities to offer rewards to whistle-blowers”.

“I’ve never met a genuine whistleblower who is pro-bounty,” said Eileen Chubb, who set up the whistleblower’s charity Compassion In Care. “It will make millions for the compliance industry and for the legal industry. People will get rich off such a policy – except the most vulnerable whistleblowers”.

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Financial Rewards

In the US, whistleblowing is big business thanks to the Dodd-Frank Act, with those who report bad behaviour receiving financial rewards – as do their lawyers. Individuals who blew the whistle on the banking firm JP & Morgan received a massive $30 million remuneration for their actions.  

“Most whistleblowers don’t speak up because they want money,” explained Dr Minh Alexander, a former NHS doctor who now campaigns for better protections for whistleblowers. “They are motivated by acting in the public interest”.

Those who support financial rewards for whistleblowers argue that it helps to ensure those who expose wrongdoing are better protected. The penalties suffered by whistleblowers has, in part, led to a worrying decline in people coming forward to report their employers – while reports of harassment of whistleblowers has increased.

But critics have raised multiple issues with the bounty system – particularly when it comes to blowing the whistle on the public sector. The first is that financial rewards for whistleblowing risk contradicting the Nolan principles of selflessness, neutrality and the need for public servants to avoid any conflict of interest or actions motivated by personal gain. Bounties could therefore undermine public trust in whistleblowers. 

Further, following various scandals in health and social care, one of the contractual obligations on NHS staff is to raise concerns if they see them in the workplace. It therefore creates a potential conflict of interest if staff are receiving an additional financial reward for fulfilling part of their job description.

“The question that we think that the public are asking is why are whistleblowers across any sector, especially the NHS, being subjected to unacceptable retaliation which encompasses, victimisation, penalties, harassment, bullying and being silenced for fulfilling their contractual obligations” a spokesperson from Whistleblowers UK told Byline Times. “The Bill will address retaliation and incentivise positive responses to whistleblowers across every sector”.

The bounty model is accused of making it harder for whistleblowers who want to expose wrongdoing in the public sector, where there is little hope of big financial returns. Those blowing the whistle on issues that won’t provide a financial benefit to lawyers and governments “won’t get as much attention as they are not as profitable,” said Chubb. 

“We have been contacted by whistleblowers in the US who are raising issues about abuse and a whole variety of issues,” Chubb told Byline Times. “But unless they are exposing something that will save the government money, such as tax evasion or financial fraud, they don’t want to know. So you end up with a two-tiered system where a few hundred people get big rewards and the majority are ignored”. 

“The way the bounty system works,” Dr Alexander explains, “is that a disclosure has to net monies above a certain ceiling in order for the whistleblower and its legal representative to qualify for a cut of the monies retrieved. But if your case is not about money – say you are in the social care sector and it’s about abuse – you aren’t going to hit that threshold and the law firms won’t retrieve the money and so they won't be interested in representing you”. 

As such, the bounty system risks making it harder for whistleblowers in the public sector to get the support they need to hold power to account. 

Financial Ties

The secretariat for the APPG on Whistleblowing is the not-for-profit WhistleblowersUK, which argues that “actions that benefit society should be encouraged and recognised by way of financial compensation, and other forms of recognition, separate from that awarded by the tribunals”. It added that “the amount can be determined by the Office of the Whistleblower”, should the office be created by the bill.  

In 2018/19, the APPG was sponsored by US law firm Constantine Cannon LLP, which declared that it paid WhistleblowersUK between £13,501 and £15,000 to provide the secretariat. WhistleBlowersUK told Byline Times: “We comply fully with the rules set out by the Parliamentary Commissioner for standards”. 

Constantine Cannon set up its London office to represent the increasing number of whistleblowers living outside the US but who can use the US whistleblower reward programmes. In practice, this means UK citizens blowing the whistle on US organisations; alerting the US Government to fraud schemes that cross international borders; or that occur on foreign soil have ripple effects which then reverberate in the US. 

Since 2019, Constantine Cannon has not been listed on the APPG register as providing sponsorship. WhistleblowersUK provides an in kind benefit to the APPG of between £21,001 - £22,000. A part-time employee of the organisation also works part-time for Mary Robinson.  

The CEO of WhistleblowersUK, Georgina Halford-Hall, is listed in Liberal Democrat Peer Baroness Kramer’s register of members’ staff interests as holding a remunerated position. 

“I have been overwhelmed by the positive and enthusiastic response to the Whistleblowing Bill, which extends comprehensive and inclusive protection to every citizen who is, or is, perceived to be a whistleblower, or is in anyway related to a whistleblower,” Mary Robinson told Byline Times.

“The Whistleblowing Bill seeks to set up an Office of the Whistleblower, which will champion whistleblowers and whistleblowing. It will be one central hub that sets and monitors standards, and has far reaching powers to investigate allegations and apply meaningful sanctions and penalties to those who fail to comply with the new obligations and award compensation including uncapped damages to whistleblowers who suffer harm and loss. This Bill has been designed to be fair to every citizen and incentivise positive behaviour”.

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Roof Collapsed in Vaccines Manufacturing Centre

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/03/2022 - 10:11pm in

Sam Bright investigates the concerns of a whistleblower who says that the UK’s flagship vaccines manufacturing hub is shrouded in secrecy

A walk-on ceiling collapsed in the UK’s flagship Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) in July 2021, Byline Times can exclusively reveal.

A whistleblower with knowledge of VMIC contacted Byline Times to express their concern with the secrecy of the project – raising the collapsed roof as an example. Indeed, this incident has never been mentioned by VMIC or the Government publicly.

VMIC was conceived in 2018 as a flagship endeavour to prepare the UK for future pandemics. Initially intended to open in 2023, at a 74,000 square foot facility in Harwell near Oxford, its creation was accelerated due to the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, and is due to open this year.

Structured as a non-profit enterprise, VMIC had three founding members – the University of Oxford, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Imperial College London – and was heavily backed by Government investment. Indeed, largely thanks to Government vaccines investment during the COVID-19 pandemic, the taxpayer has ploughed £206 million into VMIC so far.

However, the Government faced a widespread backlash last year after it was announced that VMIC was being put up for sale. In particular, public health experts have warned that, while the centre was originally intended for early-stage vaccine development – involving a high degree of uncertainty – a private owner would not have the same incentive to invest in risky schemes.

“The real risk is we’re going to lose the ability to do that early phase stuff that actually told us that you could use the adenovirus to make really good vaccines. There’s a whole host of new vaccine platforms at very early stages of development that will need to be evaluated in what was the original vision for the VMIC,” John Bell, who has held a series of influential roles in the Government’s COVID response, has said.

“Expecting industry to make the necessary long term investments is naive. The history of vaccination includes numerous examples where a mix of short term industrial priorities and lack of long term political planning compromised the ability of research, development, and manufacturing hubs to attract private and public investment,” scientists have further argued in the British Medical Journal, in relation to the proposed sale of VMIC.

However, the Government has pushed ahead with the sale, and reports from the Telegraph suggest that VMIC will be sold to the US pharmaceutical giant Catalent.

Byline Times was contacted by a whistleblower a number of months ago, who said that VMIC has always been shrouded in secrecy, and that officials working on the project had no indication that it was going to be sold.

In particular, they cited the collapse of a ceiling at the centre in July 2021, which they said “delayed its delivery and added substantial costs to its completion”. They said the ceiling collapse may well have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, in the decision to sell the centre.

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Byline Times subsequently filed a Freedom of Information request with UK Research and Innovation, the results of which confirmed that the ceiling collapse had taken place. According to an incident report created after the event, “the installation method was not in accordance with the specification detailed in the manufacturer drawings and... There was a lack of adequate communication, co-operation, and co-ordination during the design. This centred around not reviewing the suitability of the complete design and materials with reference to relevant structural assessments and not following manufacturer’s specifications.”

As their name suggests, walk-on ceilings are designed to accommodate people walking along them, so this collapse could potentially have caused a serious injury. It’s not known whether this was the case.

A VMIC spokesperson said: “I can confirm that VMIC is for sale and has entered a period of exclusivity with a preferred party, following a broader sales process. We remain committed towards a deal that brings continued vaccine manufacturing capability to the UK.

“We cannot add any further information at this point as the details are commercially sensitive to the interested party.”

A Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson said: “We are supporting VMIC Limited’s board following their decision to pursue a sale of their company. In that process, the Government’s primary objective is to ensure UK retains a strong, domestic vaccine manufacturing capability.”

No further comment was offered on the collapse of the ceiling.

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The NHS Whistleblowing Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/02/2022 - 9:03pm in

The NHS Whistleblowing Crisis

Tommy Greene and David Hencke report on a number of worrying NHS dismissal cases

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Whistleblower doctors are being stifled by health trusts from revealing patient safety concerns, either by being dismissed or silenced by chief executives and medical directors.

The employment tribunal system is being overloaded with cases involving NHS whistleblowers and unfair dismissal claims, which are taking years to progress through the system. A number of cases are taking two or three years before they can be heard.

Trusts are able to use taxpayers’ money to employ barristers to fight the cases over years and doctors are finding that trusts are trawling through NHS records to find evidence that can be used against former employees.

Most doctors are appearing as a ‘litigant in person’ because they do not have the money to employ a lawyer. Many face selling their home or taking on debt in order to clear their name.

The most prominent recent case was that of Dr Chris Day, then a junior doctor in an intensive care unit in a hospital in Woolwich, who reported staff shortages as long ago as 2013 and whose case was covered by the Guardian in 2018.

After a series of tribunal and high court hearings, his case will not be heard until June. Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust has spent nearly £1 million pursuing him.

Cases drag on even after doctors have won their tribunals.

In 2016, consultant urologist Peter Duffy left Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust following alleged retaliation after he flagged multiple failings in the trust’s urology department. A subsequent investigation of the unit revealed that 520 patients there had suffered “actual or potential harm”. He won a case for constructive dismissal in 2018, with a judge ordering all relevant documents held by the trust to be released.


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Then, two emails appeared in 2020 suggesting that Mr Duffy was partially responsible for the death of a 76-year-old patient in 2014. Mr Duffy has said that these emails must have been falsified because neither he nor other people in the trust can recall ever seeing them.

However, the trust and NHS England are insisting that they are genuine – after employing a private company to conduct a fresh review two years after losing the case. The company said that the emails were discovered after the trust upgraded its computer system, enabling it to search for more emails.

Concern among doctors is rising, and and an informal organisation – Doctors and Patients for Justice – has been established to provide mutual help and support in forthcoming tribunal cases.

One case currently awaiting a result involves Dr Usha Prasad, the sole woman cardiologist at Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust. She was dismissed after raising whistleblowing and discrimination issues. The trust’s medical director commissioned an investigation alleging that she had made errors in 41 previous operations. The General Medical Council threw out the dossier and decided to revalidate Dr Prasad to practice.

An internal inquiry at the trust later ruled that Dr Prasad was “unfit” to work as a doctor and upheld her dismissal.

It has been now been revealed at an employment tribunal that she was working on an internal investigation into the “avoidable death” of an elderly cardiology patient, and was pressurised to alter the report that the death was avoidable and a recommendation that this should have been reported to the coroner and the Care Quality Commission watchdog.

Now, three years after the event, the trust’s former head of cardiology, Dr Richard Bogle, admitted that it should have informed the coroner and the Care Quality Commission about the case. A ruling on the hearing is pending. Despite this, Dr Prasad recently lost her tribunal case.

None of the NHS trusts responded to Byline Times’ request for comment.

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Polluters Left to Mark their Own Homework Due to Environment Agency Cuts, Warns Whistleblower

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/02/2022 - 2:31am in

Polluters Left to Mark Their Own Homework Due to Environment Agency CutsWarns Whistleblower

Andrew Kersley speaks to an insider about how austerity is damaging the regulator, as it battles against unprecedented sewage dumps

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An Environment Agency whistleblower has warned that the agency’s “self-destructing” budget cuts and staff shortages have left it unable to scrutinise polluting companies.

The whistleblower told Byline Times that the number of inspectors in his region has dropped by between half and two-thirds – meaning that large companies have been left to self-report their own pollution rates, with the agency unable to verify if they are telling the truth.

The inside source at the Environment Agency, the regulatory body tasked with stopping pollution and protecting the natural environment in England and Wales, spoke exclusively to Byline Times under the condition of anonymity.

Since 2010, the Environment Agency has seen its budget slashed by two-thirds, from £120 million to just £40 million, one of the biggest cuts for any Government body. Its chief executive recently said that staff are now only able to make 9,000 inspections each year across its various responsibilities – while the country has some 15,000 combined sewage overflows (CSOs) alone.

In recent months, CSOs – which are sewage overflows into rivers during periods of unprecedented rainfall – have become a source of controversy as the UK’s privatised water companies used the outlets on an increasingly regular basis. There were 403,171 sewage dumps into England’s rivers and seas in 2020 – representing more than three million hours of spillages.

But, while sewage dumping is hitting record levels, the situation at the Environment Agency is only getting worse. Our insider explained that their operation – responsible for waste in the entirety of one of 12 UK regions – at full strength would comprise 33 people across three teams. Following initial budget cuts, this fell to 19 people in one team, and now he only has 13 inspectors.

Yet budget cutbacks are not the only cause of the staff exodus. Starting salaries for inspectors can also be pretty low (sometimes barely above the minimum wage), while subsidised vehicles to help inspectors visit sites are currently at risk of being cut back, saddling the inspectors with even more costs.

The impact of the lack of staff has been dire. The whistleblower explained that because of the lack of on-the-ground inspectors, the Environment Agency is not able to respond to most low-level incidents. In particular, events reported by the public, that may end up being far more serious than initially suspected, are frequently ignored, with those who made the report being sent generic letters.


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That inability to inspect incidents means that in many cases, according to the agency insider, staff are reliant on the self-reporting of incidents by the companies themselves.

“The typical category three incident now would be like Southern Water ringing to say we’ve got a sewage spill but we can solve it ourselves and it’s all fine,” the whistleblower explained. “But there’s got to be a time where you go ‘hang on a minute how do you know if it’s not a category two or category one’, which is a genuine big environmentally disastrous type spill.”

Byline Times has previously uncovered that the UK’s water companies have paid a total of £405 million in fines for environmental, water service, workplace health and safety, and labour violations since 2010.

The budget cuts have also affected cases after misdeeds had been proven, with the whistleblower telling Byline Times that many legal cases into polluters have been dropped by the agency’s legal team, not because of a lack of evidence, but a lack of money to go to court against the well-funded lawyers of water companies.

“I worry that we’re almost designing to fail – either self-destructing, or someone’s doing a really good job of making our job really hard,” the insider said.

Commenting on the allegations, an Environment Agency spokesperson said: “The Environment Agency delivers a massive amount for the country – like the rest of the public sector we operate within a tight budget and must prioritise to ensure we are doing the best we can, with the money we have, for the people and places we serve.

“Last year we completed our latest flood defence building programme, better protecting over 300,000 homes alongside responding to hundreds of environmental incidents. We improved air quality by regulating down emissions; enhanced water quality in over 4,500 km of our rivers by tackling pollution, unsustainable abstraction and invasive species; and cut the number of illegal waste sites that blight communities.”

The spokesperson also stressed that the agency targets regulatory and investigative interventions on events that pose the greatest threat to the environment and that every incident was recorded and assessed.

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A Culture of Silence

However, data from the Environment Agency’s National Incident Recording System states that, while 116,000 suspected incidents were reported in 2021, just 8,000 were actually attended – or roughly 6.8%.

“After a decade of Conservative rule, vital services continue to be stripped back thanks to cuts, while the pockets of shareholders are cushioned from any blow and working families made to pay the price,” Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon told Byline Times.

“The system is clearly broken and the Government is refusing to listen to Labour’s calls for higher fines for water companies, proper annual parliamentary scrutiny of [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs], Ofwat and the Environment Agency, as well as a proper plan for reducing raw sewage being discharged.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas added: “The Government is effectively leaving polluters to mark their own homework and send it in to the Environment Agency, a system which clearly isn’t working – which is why so many of our rivers are polluted with sewage and slurry.

“More broadly, there is a deeply worrying pattern of regulators being weakened by underfunding or legal changes, leaving them unable to do their job… A regulatory system which is not independent nor adequately funded is almost as bad as no regulation at all.”

Lucas also told Byline Times that a whistleblower had previously been in touch with her. Indeed, other concerned staff at the Environment Agency have come forward in recent weeks, leading to the regulator’s chief executive, Sir James Bevan, sending a message warning staff against speaking to the media.

Sir James told staff not to “openly criticise or discredit the organisation in the media or on social media” or “disclose any confidential information in connection with the Environment Agency to anyone who is not authorised to received it”. All breaches could lead to disciplinary action or, in serious cases, dismissal.

This warning came after news that the regulator had formally told its inspectors in January to “shut down” and ignore reports of low-impact pollution events as it did not have enough money to properly investigate them.

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