The current chair and chief executive of the Care Quality Commission abused their power and acted maliciously in publishing allegations that a former executive ordered a “cover up” of the regulator’s failings, papers filed at the High Court allege.
The papers were filed by former CQC deputy chief executive Jill Finney.
She is suing the regulator for alleged libel and breach of her human rights over the CQC’s publication of a report by auditors Grant Thornton last June.
This report alleged Ms Finney had ordered the deletion of an internal review of the CQC’s regulation of University Hospital Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust, a claim she has always denied.
It concluded that “on balance” the actions taken in relation to the review “might well have constituted a deliberate ‘cover up’.”
Former chief executive Cynthia Bower and head of media Anna Jefferson were also at the meeting and supported the order to delete the report, the Grant Thornton report alleged.
However, Ms Jefferson has since been cleared of this allegation by an internal disciplinary review.
After initially publishing an anonymised version of the report on 19 June 2013, CQC chief executive David Behan and CQC chair David Prior wrote to the health secretary the following day revealing the names of those who attended the meeting at which the alleged “cover up” was discussed.
The court papers filed by Ms Finney allege: “The conduct of Mr Behan and Mr Prior was malicious, an abuse of power and a breach of their responsibilities as officers of a public authority.
“Their decision to ‘name names’… was in breach of legal advice; in breach of the promise they had given to individuals; in spite of the fact they had been told that the allegations were false… and with a reckless disregard and contempt for the impact on the individuals involved.”
Ms Finney alleges the damage to her was aggravated by the CQC’s refusal to take the report down from its website despite concerns expressed by herself and others, including the former parliamentary health service ombudsman Ann Abraham.
In a letter to Mr Behan last July, Ms Abraham claimed the Grant Thornton work was “unfair” and had “analysed evidence in a selective, unbalance and flawed way”.
The papers also claim the report was shown to Monitor chief executive David Bennett prior to publication and that he informed Mr Behan it contained inaccuracies.
As well as seeking damages for libel, Ms Finney is also seeking damages under article 8 of the Human Rights Act – the right to a private family life.
Her claim asks the court to order the CQC make a “declaration of falsity” and to impose an injunction on the CQC, preventing it from publishing the allegations.
Ms Finney has a “no win, no fee” conditional fee arrangement with Pinsent Masons, one of the UK’s leading law firms, and media law specialists 5RB Barristers.
She said the main reason for the action was to restore her reputation.
Ms Finney was dismissed from her new job as chief commercial officer of Nominet in the wake of the publication of the Grant Thornton report.
The court papers say two firms of headhunters have advised she is “unemployable until she has cleared her name”.
They also allege Ms Finney has been “shunned and avoided” and as well as being unable to find paid employment and was rejected for voluntary work by the charities Mencap and Kids Company.
Ms Finney said: “This is about the fact that my career was wrecked and I can’t lead my life. These are not faceless bureaucrats that the media write about. These are people with families.”
A spokesperson for Grant Thornton said: “Grant Thornton fully supports the validity and accuracy of the detailed report we’ve 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.”
CQC Chief Executive David Behan said: “It was in the public interest to publish this report and we stand by our decision to do so. We will robustly defend this action in the High Court.”