CQC settles libel claim after accusing Jill Finney of ‘cover-up’
It was sensational – a report, names redacted – claiming that senior managers called Mr E, F, G and J at the Care Quality Commission had ordered a supposedly critical memo to be deleted.
It was about the CQC’s inspections of Morecambe Bay Trust where 16 babies had died.
There were calls for heads to roll, pensions to be removed, the police to investigate.
The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt stood up in parliament and said the whole truth must now come out and individuals must be held accountable for their actions.
A day later – on June 20 last year – those senior managers were equally sensationally named. Cynthia Bower, the CQC’s former chief executive, Anna Jefferson, the media manager and Jill Finney, the former deputy chief executive.
Louise Dineley, also of the CQC, alleged Ms Finney had said during a meeting ‘read my lips’ and ‘delete the memo’.
It was explosive. But today – serious doubts are cast over those claims – made in a report by the management consultants, Grant Thornton and published by the current heads of the CQC.
Because Channel 4 News can reveal that the Care Quality Commission has settled out of court a libel claim brought against them by Ms Finney, who has always denied that any such order was made.
Today she told us she feels vindicated.
She said she and the other two women had been ‘hung out to dry.’ The three have always claimed they were not given a right of reply and their complaints of accuracy and fairness were ignored.
“We never requested anonymisation. What we said was that the Grant Thornton report had to be fair. The CQC relied on anonymisation to deliver fairness which only made the whole thing worse,” Ms Finney said.
“This has wrecked my life and my family’s.”
Ms Finney, who had left the CQC four months before, lost her new job the day her name was published.
When it was announced Ms Finney was taking legal action, the CQC made a claim against Grant Thornton to share the burden of costs if they lost. But a spokeswoman for Grant Thornton said at the time it “fully supports the validity and accuracy of the detailed report we produced for the Care Quality Commission, believing it to be a true and accurate reflection of our findings following the in-depth investigation we were commissioned to undertake”.
The CQC has agreed to pay Ms Finney costs and damages.
In a statement, the CQC says they regret that they broke a promise to withhold names – that they failed to tell Mr Finney for 18 hours that she was about to be named and they admit that the consequences for her “were aggravated by the fact that some of the national media wrongly portrayed the internal report as being about maternity deaths at UHMB”.
In a statement they say: “The CQC accepts that MS Finney was thereby disadvantaged in protecting her reputation and giving her public defence to an allegations which she has always denied; in addition, she suffered considerable distress.”
This puts the CQC and in particular the two men now in charge, the chairman and the chief, in a hugely difficult position because it was they who ordered the publication of what now been appears to be a deeply flawed report.
David Behan, the chief executive, and David Prior, the chairman, did interviews at the time, including with us, without ever once mentioning they had been warned by those named that they believed the report was inaccurate.
Yet this is the second time that report has been called into question.
Louise Dineley, had also claimed to Grant Thornton that Ms Jefferson had said “are you kidding me? This (internal memo) can never be in the public domain nor subject to freedom of information”.
Last October the CQC agreed she had never said this.
David Behan and David Prior were later challenged by MPs, who asked that if one person had been cleared, did this not throw into doubt the claims about the other two.
Mr Behan said not.
Today the CQC does not say the meeting and order to delete never happened. But they do say in their statement:
‘The CQC wishes to take this opportunity to apologise to her and is happy to repeat what its Chief Executive Mr Behan wrote to her at the time of her departure in February 2013: “you have been a rock of stability in CQC leading with passion, energy and dedication. You hae given much, and people have testified to this.”
And Cynthia Bower said: “I am delighted for Jill Finney. CQC might say this just pertains to her, but it relates to us all. We always said that the way CQC found us guilty of wrong doing would not stand up to proper scrutiny and the fact that CQC have settled in the face of Jill’s legal action completely vindicates us as far as I’m concerned. ”
But she also made the point that Ms Finney was only able to take this legal action because she secured a rare no win no fee agreement with her lawyers.