Shropshire Star

Foreign Office whistleblower from Shropshire suing Government after being sacked

A woman is suing the Government after she was sacked for blowing the whistle about the UK’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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Josie Stewart

Josie Stewart, who is originally from Market Drayton, was sacked from the civil service last year following an anonymous interview she gave to the BBC.

The 42-year-old worked at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) for seven years, two of which were at the British Embassy in Kabul.

Ms Stewart said she decided to take action when misleading statements were made that she said undermined evidence given to Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee during an inquiry. She was dismissed during a “long and painful process” after her bosses became aware that she had given the interview.

Now the former senior official says she will be taking the government to court in the hope she can establish a legal right for civil servants to blow the whistle when the public interest requires it.

“For me it’s really important whether I win or not.” Ms Stewart said, “If I do win, then the most important thing is it would create a shift within government because politicians and ministers would know that if they lie, then civil servants can say so and not lose their jobs.”

Ms Stewart claims that Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary of the time, rebuffed a testimony made by a 25-year-old junior diplomat about the Kabul evacuation, dismissing it as inaccurate. This led to Ms Stewart submitting evidence of her own, to back him up.

“It wasn’t until December 2021, when I’d moved back to my regular role that a parliamentary select committee was running an inquiry into how the withdrawal was managed,” she said.

“A junior diplomat who had been involved revealed a whole lot of information and he lifted the lid on how terribly it had been managed and he sent a lot of information to the select committee.

“At that time I felt grateful for him for having done so because I felt terrible about how bad it was and it wasn’t being taken seriously by the organisation about learning from how it went wrong.”

As part of her case, Ms Stewart will be challenging her dismissal on the basis of the Public Interest Disclosure Act of 1998, which protects individuals who make certain disclosures of information that are deemed in the public interest.

She is being represented by a team of lawyers who have been working on a ‘pro bono basis’, which means they have subsidised their fees because they deem the case to be ‘for the public good’.

But, she has set up a crowdfunder to help cover some of their costs and has appealed to anyone in the county who might be able to support her.

On the Crowd Justice page, she says: “I want to rebuild the sanctity of truth in government, and I want to help change the culture in government so that civil servants can speak truth to power. I believe that our democracy depends on it.”

Her full case is due to be heard in September of this year.

An FCDO spokesperson said: “We are rightly proud of our staff who worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight. This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second largest evacuation carried out by any country.

“We implemented lessons learnt from the Afghanistan response in our response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We are still working to assist Afghanistan. We have supported over 6,000 eligible individuals to leave since the end of Op Pitting and doubled our aid, which continues to feed millions of Afghans and provide life-saving health services.”