Sacked GCHQ employee launches legal claim under whistleblowing defence

A GCHQ employee who was sacked after calling publicly for the resignation of the UK’s most senior civil servant during the final weeks of Boris Johnson’s government is launching a legal claim under whistleblowing legislation.

The former mandarin of 17 years, known as Stuart, was forced out of his job at the spy centre after using a radio interview with James O’Brien to demand that the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, step down.

Solicitors have launched a case on Stuart’s behalf claiming he had spoken out to end corruption in government – an act that is protected by whistleblowing laws.

Stuart, 40, was working in an intelligence and security role at the time of his dismissal in September but claims he revealed no state secrets in his interview.

If successful, the case could set a precedent because GCHQ employees and those who work for the security services are at present prevented from bringing a protected disclosure against the government.

Mike Cain, a partner at the law firm Leigh Day, which is taking on the case, said his client was not trying to overturn laws that made the use of security and intelligence information unlawful.

“What he is seeking to achieve is the right to the protections all other employees enjoy when they believe they have been mistreated for speaking up about wrongdoing when no security-related risk factors are involved,” he told the Guardian.

Stuart, using only his first name, called in to O’Brien’s show on 5 July 2022 and identified himself as a senior government communications adviser.

Hours earlier, the former Foreign Office permanent secretary Lord Simon McDonald had publicly disputed Johnson’s claims to have been unaware of the history of allegations of sexual harassment against the deputy chief whip Chris Pincher.

Pincher had resigned over allegations he drunkenly groped two men at the Carlton Club, while civil servants at No 10 had been accused of shifting their account of what Johnson knew about previous allegations against the deputy chief whip.

In an 11-minute interview, Stuart said he was appalled at the misinformation and “lies” from No 10 and believed the UK had reached an “extremely dangerous point for democracy”.

Stuart, who worked alongside Case when the cabinet secretary was director of strategy at GCHQ, told O’Brien he was conducting a “true public service” by asking senior civil servants such as Case to “stop facilitating corrupt practices”.

“I’m speaking to No 10 press office now. Guys, come on. It is over. Stop it now. Get up from your desks, walk away. No more.

“Simon Case: come out today with a public statement saying you have lost all confidence in the political leadership of 10 Downing Street and you can no longer fulfil your role as head of the civil service,” he said.

Later that same day, Stuart emailed Case to identify himself as O’Brien’s interviewee and said he would keep speaking out to the media until Case had stepped down from office, his lawyers said.

Two days later, Stuart was suspended from his duties as a civil servant. After a disciplinary hearing, he was sacked on 27 September for breaches of the civil service code, including appearing on LBC and sending an email demanding Case’s resignation.

Stuart’s lawyers say that his 5 July interview and his email were acts of whistleblowing and therefore should not have resulted in his dismissal.

Hundreds of staff who work at GCHQ are subject to a blanket ban on whistleblowing claims, which Stuart’s lawyers will argue is a disproportionate imposition relative to the purpose of such a measure.

McDonald’s intervention prompted a succession of ministerial resignations that led to Johnson’s decision to set out a timetable for his own departure.

Case, a controversial appointment of Johnson in 2020, is under pressure to explain why the Conservative party chair, Nadhim Zahawi, was cleared by officials to take on two cabinet jobs under Liz Truss despite having paid a tax penalty.

He is also facing questions over his role when Johnson obtained an £800,000 loan through the BBC’s chairman Richard Sharp.

GCHQ does not confirm or deny the identity of current or former staff. But sources from the intelligence agency said it has longstanding and robust processes to ensure staff can raise concerns internally and externally. This includes being able to approach the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office or the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, alongside ethics counsellors and staff support services for staff to raise concerns.


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