Dismissed GCHQ employee files legal claim under whistleblowing defense

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A GCHQ employee who was sacked after publicly demanding the resignation of the UK’s most senior officer in the last weeks of Boris Johnson’s government is filing a legal claim under whistleblowing law.

The 17-year-old former mandarin known as Stuart has been forced from his job at the spy center. Using a radio interview with James O’Brien demanding the resignation of cabinet secretary Simon Case.

Lawyers filed a lawsuit on his behalf, alleging that Stuart was speaking out to end corruption in government – an act protected by whistleblowing laws.

Stuart, 40, was working in an intelligence and security post when he was fired in September, but claims in his interview that he did not divulge any state secrets.

If successful, the case could set a precedent because GCHQ employees and those working for the security services are currently barred from making a government-protected disclosure.

Mike Cain, a partner at the law firm Leigh Day, who took up the case, said his client was not trying to break laws that made the use of security and intelligence information illegal.

“What he is trying to achieve is the right to the protections that all other workers enjoy when they believe they have been mistreated for speaking out about malpractice, when there are no safety-related risk factors involved,” he told the Guardian.

Using only his first name, Stuart called O’Brien’s program on July 5, 2022 and introduced himself as a senior government communications consultant.

Hours earlier, Lord Simon McDonald, the former State Department permanent secretary, had publicly disputed Johnson’s claims that he was unaware of the history of sexual misconduct allegations against his chief aide, Chris Pincher.

Pincher resigned over allegations that he had drunkenly groped two men at the Carlton Club, while officers No. 10 were accused of changing what they knew about previous allegations against Johnson’s vice president Whip.

In an 11-minute interview, Stuart said he was horrified by the misinformation and “lies” from number 10 and believed the UK had reached “a point extremely dangerous for democracy”.

Stuart, who worked with Case when the cabinet secretary was director of strategy at GCHQ, told O’Brien that by asking senior officials like Case to “stop facilitating corrupt practices”, he was doing “a real public service”.

“I’m talking to press office No. 10 right now. Gentlemen, come on. Finished. Cut it out. Get up from your desks, walk away. There is no more.

“Simon Case: Come out today with a press release saying you’ve lost all trust in the political leadership of 10 Downing Street and you can no longer fulfill your role as head of public service,” he said.

Later that day, Stuart emailed Case to introduce himself as O’Brien’s interviewee, and his lawyers said he would continue to speak to the media until Case leaves office.

Two days later, Stuart was removed from his post as a civil servant. Following a disciplinary hearing, he was fired on September 27 for violating civil service rules, including appearing on the LBC and sending an email demanding Case’s resignation.

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

Hundreds of staff at GCHQ are subject to a general ban on whistleblowing claims, which Stuart’s attorneys would argue is a disproportionate imposition to the purpose of such a measure.

McDonald’s intervention led to a series of ministerial resignations that led to Johnson’s decision to set a timeline for his own departure.

Case, a controversial appointment by Johnson in 2020, is under pressure to explain why Conservative party chairman Nadhim Zahawi was cleared by authorities to take two cabinet jobs under Liz Truss despite paying a tax penalty.

Johnson also faces questions about his role when he receives a £800,000 loan through the head of the BBC, Richard Sharp.

GCHQ does not authenticate or deny the identity of current or former personnel. But sources from the intelligence agency said it has long-standing and robust processes to ensure staff can raise their concerns internally and externally. This includes being able to contact the Office of the Commissioner for Investigative Powers or the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, as well as staff support services for ethics counselors and staff to raise concerns.

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