Windrush and an ongoing culture of unaccountability

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Windrush and an ongoing culture of unaccountability

How did the civil servant responsible for the Windrush scandal become CEO to the Ombudsman, asks Della Reynolds?

Over the summer, the Home Office admitted that at least 5,000 people were adversely affected by the Windrush scandal, when government servants chose to implement a more ‘hostile environment’ (‘deport first, appeal later’) by focusing on naturalized citizens with discontinuous records of residency, rather than the hard cases of fake asylum seekers, fake child immigrants, and absconded foreign criminals. There have been reports of bonus payments for reaching and extending deportation targets, and gagging orders on victims as part of compensation packages.

The Home Secretary Amber Rudd, resigned, but no civil servant followed her example. Amanda “Mandie” Campbell was Director General of Immigration Enforcement at the Home Office from February 2014 until October 2016. Her role has been questioned in Parliament, but without any answer to date, including this question aired in May 2018.

Have senior officials, including Hugh Ind, Mandie Campbell—a former member of staff—Glynn Williams or Philip Rutnam, received bonuses related in any way to removals, deportation or detention targets: yes or no?

In October 2016 Amanda Campbell became CEO at the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). She left the Home Office after 31 years’ service, before the Windrush scandal broke. PHSO is the final arbiter in disputes between the citizen and the state. It investigates complaints against public bodies, including the Home Office. In December 2016, PHSO released a report which confirmed that the Ombudsman upheld more complaints against the Home Office than any other government department during the time Campbell was Director General.

Our casework shows repeated issues such as poor communication, delay or a failure to meet timeframes, a lack of response and misplaced or lost records. Where a complaint is handled poorly it is highly unlikely that the complainant will receive an apology or the appropriate remedy.

Despite this knowledge, the executive body at PHSO decided that Amanda Campbell was a ‘fit and proper person’ to become CEO of the PHSO, where communicating with traumatised citizens, meeting timeframes, responding with empathy, maintaining records, and ensuring that the complainant receives an apology or appropriate remedy are the core skills.

The Ombudsman has no external review process. It can act with total discretion – meaning it is accountable for its decisions only to a court via Judicial Review.

Campbell’s appointment was necessary following the resignation of Mick Martin, Deputy Ombudsman in March 2016, and of Dame Julie Mellor, Ombudsman, in July 2016, under a cloud of collusion and cover-up. The details are recorded in a damning report by Sir Alex Allan (a civil servant, now serving the Prime Minister directly) criticising Dame Julie for not taking swift and appropriate action when an employment tribunal found that her Deputy Ombudsman had conspired with others to cover up a sexual harassment case whilst at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

Sir Allan concluded his report with the following statement regarding a ‘fit and proper person test’.

In the NHS, staff employed at the director level are required to pass a “fit and proper” test before they are appointed. The regulations provide that the individual must be of good character, have the necessary competencies, and not have been responsible for, been privy to, contributed to or facilitated any serious misconduct or mismanagement. The Financial Conduct Authority similarly has a “fit and proper” test for those in the financial sector, and there are examples in other areas too.

There are of course selection processes in place for assessing both the competence and suitability of candidates for senior appointments in PHSO. But there is no explicit “fit and proper” test. While the nature of PHSO means it would not be appropriate for such requirements to be subject to an external regulator, in the way that the Care Quality Commission regulates NHS bodies, I believe the line manager of senior recruits should formally sign off that they have carried out the necessary checks and are satisfied that the candidate is “fit and proper”. The PHSO’s values are excellence, leadership, integrity and diversity, and it is important that senior staff are seen to embody those values.

The Ombudsman told me that, as a measure to ensure the continuing good standing of senior PHSO staff, she had now decided that they would be asked to provide information and certify that they were meeting the Nolan Principles of Public Life each year. Any breach of those principles would be dealt with under PHS0’s disciplinary procedures.

Remarkably, the executives at PHSO (in consultation with executive government) decided that Amanda Campbell – fresh from illegally deporting large numbers of British citizens, failing to handle complaints about such actions, ignoring warnings from parliamentarians and campaign groups, putting targets above human rights, providing bonus payments to enhance those targets, reducing scrutiny of her department through poor record keeping and dismissing corrective mechanisms – met the Nolan Principles of Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.

In response to criticism, Rob Behrens, the Ombudsman, has stated that Amanda Campbell is a very good public servant. Despite having presided over a national scandal, which left many vulnerable people to suffer gross injustice, she is being rewarded for failure – or possibly rewarded for towing the political line no matter the consequences.

Amanda Campbell is yet another disappointing appointment for Britons who depend on justice from the Ombudsman.

4.64 avg. rating (92% score) - 25 votes
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  • Della Reynolds
    Della Reynolds
    Della Reynolds is the coordinator for “PHSOtheFACTS” (Phsothefacts.com) - a voluntary public information service calling for reform of the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman.
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