The one-time Chief Legal Ombudsman, Adam Sampson, has hit back at his former employer’s version of his departure, telling MPs that it included statements that “risk accusations of misleading Parliament”.
In a letter published yesterday by the justice select committee, Mr Sampson said claims that he was dismissed from his post were “simply untrue”.
Following questions about Mr Sampson asked at a committee hearing last month, the committee last week published a letter from the Office for Legal Complaints (OLC) – the body that oversees the Legal Ombudsman service – with its version of Mr Sampson’s departure. This stated categorically that he was dismissed with notice.
The events date back a year, to 17 November 2014, when Mr Sampson resigned in the wake of an investigation into his expenses, even though no wrongdoing was found. He did so four days after the then permanent secretary to the Ministry of Justice, Ursula Brennan, had suspended him as the OLC’s accounting officer, but not from his other responsibilities.
In his letter, Mr Sampson said the OLC letter was wrong to imply that it only investigated the issues of financial management after the suspension.
He said the issues were first raised in 2013, then investigated by internal auditors KPMG and shared with the National Audit Office. “The new chair, Steve Green, personally reviewed the detail and commissioned an external law firm to repeat the exercise. All these relevant facts were known by August 2014; no disciplinary action was taken until February 2015.”
Mr Sampson further disputed the implication that his resignation was prompted by the decision to suspend him as accounting officer. He wrote: “I had been intending to resign for some time, having become aware that the issue was going to cause reputational problems for LeO and embroil the ombudsman in controversy.
“I had initially discussed whether or not I should leave LeO with the new chair when he took up post in April 2014 and he encouraged me to stay. However, I told him in August that I would leave as soon as the law firm investigation was completed. Once this had happened, there was a period of negotiation about the terms of my departure… The MoJ suspension arrived just hours before my resignation was to be finalised.”
Mr Sampson said that since disciplinary action had not even been mooted by the time he resigned, “the notion that I could subsequently properly be ‘dismissed with notice’ is meaningless: indeed, if it were to have a meaning, since my notice period was six months, it theoretically means that I would be employed for beyond the period covered by my resignation.
“While I am not a lawyer, I am assured by my legal team that the term ‘dismissal’ used in these circumstances is bizarre.”
In any case, Mr Sampson asserted that the result of the disciplinary process – when he was initially summarily dismissed, only for the decision to be overturned on appeal – was simply that he should serve out his notice to 17 May.
“The decision of the [appeal] panel was sent out many months ago and there had been no suggestion from any party that it constituted a dismissal letter until the MoJ statement in evidence to your committee.
“While I sympathise with their desire to support the statement made by the new permanent secretary to your committee, OLC is not entitled to seek now to change the clear decision made by the appeal panel to achieve that end.”
He concluded by saying he was not seeking to “shrug off the element of responsibility which rightly should attach to me for the issues which have been raised” in relation to financial arrangements at the OLC, but “the statements which have been made to you by the OLC do risk accusations of misleading Parliament”.
A spokeswoman for the OLC said it was not issuing any further comment on the matter.