The former deputy chief executive of the Care Quality Commission has made new claims in a legal battle against her ex-employer, alleging its current chair “hyped” a report that stated she staged a “cover up”.

Jill Finney has made the claim against David Prior in new legal documents submitted to the High Court this month as part of her libel claim against her former employer.

The papers alleged Mr Prior had “hyped” the report to provide “cover” for its current leadership.

The claim relates largely to an interview Mr Prior gave to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in June last year about a report into the CQC’s regulation of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust.

While the report by auditing firm Grant Thornton was not due to be published until later that day, it had been leaked to the press.

The court papers point to Mr Prior’s response to a question by the Radio 4 journalist, who asked about an allegation in the auditor’s report.

The report claimed that a member of the former executive team – later revealed to be Ms Finney – had ordered the deletion of a critical review of the regulator’s handling of Morecambe Bay.

Mr Prior told the interviewer: “There’s an old saying isn’t there: the fish rots from the head. The board and senior executive were totally dysfunctional.”

Laywers for Ms Finney argued that as a “former senior politician”, Mr Prior could not have failed to have appreciated or been advised that the interview “would influence the coverage of the story”.

He is a former Conservative MP and former chief executive of the party.

The court papers alleged: “Mr Prior ‘hyped’ or contributed to the hyping to the public and the media of Grant Thornton’s report as a story of a ‘cover up’ and the clear out from the defendant [the CQC] of the old guard of disgraced and failed executives.”

Lawyers for the regulator aim to dismiss Ms Finney’s libel claim by arguing the allegations in the Grant Thornton report were true and that - as a public body -  the CQC’s publication of the report was protected by “qualified privilege”.

Ms Finney’s lawyers hope to undermine the qualified privilege defence by claiming the CQC acted with malice.

They also allege that the CQC had no “social duty” to publish the Grant Thornton report, as the CQC’s lawyers claimed.

A defence of qualified privilege can only be used if it can be proved the publisher acted without malice.

“The criticisms of the previous management of the [CQC] provided cover to the current leadership, specifically [Mr Prior] and Mr Behan,” the papers prepared by Ms Finney’s lawyers claimed.

“It allowed them to explain any problems at the CQC as being a legacy of the previous leadership.”

The CQC has declined to comment.

A court date has not yet been set.

Timeline of events surrounding the row so far

June 2013

Grant Thornton publishes a report alleging that the author of an internal report had been instructed to “delete” it by a senior manager at the Care Quality Commission in March 2012.

After initially publishing an anonymised version of the report on 19 June, CQC chief executive David Behan and CQC chair David Prior write to the health secretary revealing those who attended the meeting at which the alleged “cover up” was discussed. They claim former deputy chief executive Jill Finney is the official who, according to the Grant Thornton report, ordered a critical internal report be deleted. Former chief executive Cynthia Bower and media manager Anna Jefferson were also present at the meeting, according to the report.

Ms Jefferson publishes a statement challenging some of the statements in the Grant Thornton report. She tells HSJ she is “very angry” at how the CQC handled the production and publication of the report.

July 2014

Ms Finney files papers to the High Court alleging Mr Behan and Mr Prior abused their power and acted maliciously in publishing allegations that she ordered a “cover up” of the regulator’s failings. She indicates that she will sue the CQC for alleged libel and breach of her human rights over its publication of the Grant Thornton report.

The CQC lodges a High Court claim against Grant Thornton in a bid to curb potential losses from its legal clash with Ms Finney. The papers lodged reveal Ms Finney is seeking at least £1.3m libel damages from the regulator.

August 2014

Ms Finney makes new claims that Mr Prior “hyped” a report that she staged a “cover up”, relating largely to an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

A court date for the case has not yet been set.