A civil servant has enthusiastically told two colleagues they are ‘an honor to your profession’ after the pair – who forced a whistleblower from work – were harshly criticized by a judge it may be revealed.
he extraordinary private message was sent to Robert Huey, Julian Henderson and several other Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) officials after the case in which they testified, which the judge said qualified as inaccurate.
An official from the civil service’s human resources department emailed DAERA’s witnesses – including Dr Huey and Dr Henderson – to say: “While this decision is a bitter pill to swallow, be assured that you have brought honor both individually and collectively to your profession throughout this hearing”.
This section of the email was released to this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act, but other details have been withheld. The official appears to have been an Executive Officer 1 (EO1), a grade the Civil Service describes as “an important grade in the NICS in that it is the second level of management”.
Following the email that became known to senior colleagues in April, the permanent secretary of the Department of Finance, Neil Gibson, decided that the civil service human resources department would not play a role in a disciplinary process and that it would buy instead seek the services of overseas labor attorneys when considering any disciplinary action.
When later asked to explain the email praising the DAERA witnesses, the official told his boss that “the statement was collective for everyone concerned with their cooperation” because they “had no problems with any of the witnesses from start to finish”. Finally, from their perspective, they cooperated with hearing processes (and in the context of Brexit pressures).
“It was not meant to be a judgment on the issues of the case, the testimony of the witnesses or the manner in which they did it. He said he could now understand the reasoning by now using standard letters which made no comment.
Michael Cooke, director of employee relations for the public service, told strategic human resources director Jill Minne that new procedures had been put in place which meant that “there must be no expression personal opinion or comment on any case to witnesses, whether verbally or in writing; the new procedures must be followed to the letter”.
It is clear from the documents that the civil service paid close attention to the fact that the case was widely reported by this newspaper and other media.
It is also clear that even some fellow civil servants were skeptical of DAERA’s prospects of overturning the judgement.
Simon Rafferty, a human resources manager, told a colleague: ‘I had a quick look at some of them yesterday and agree that it seems unlikely that a call will go through “.
Asked about the official who praised Dr Huey and Dr Henderson, the Treasury said: ‘As a review is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment.’
The documents also show a rare example of a civil servant taking responsibility for something when others suggested taking his department away from the matter. In response to questions from this newspaper, an official suggested to Treasury Department Permanent Secretary Neil Gibson that they say their department “played no part in this matter.”
But Mr Gibson replied: ‘I personally would prefer not to have to start the answer by saying ‘nothing to do with us’, although it’s true that we don’t seem to have any collegiality , we are quick to shift the blame.”