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MPs slate HMRC over whistleblower crackdown

28th Mar 2014
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The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has criticised a leading tax official after HMRC used powers meant to catch terrorists to “hunt down” an employee who exposed the Goldman Sachs "sweetheart deal".

Margaret Hodge, chair of the PAC, has asked for assurances that the Revenue will never use these powers again on a whistleblower.

HMRC chief executive Lin Homer told the committee that phone records had been obtained using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to unearth information on in-house lawyer Osita Mba.

Hodge said the tracking down of whether Mba had been talking to David Leigh, a former investigations editor at The Guardian, had “shocked her to her bones”.

She added she was particularly surprised a request had been made under RIPA, which is there to deal with terrorism.

Homer declined to offer any reassurances: “You know that we cannot offer carte blanche assurances for evermore that we won't use these.

"I have other duties of care to parliament and other individuals,” she said.

In 2011 Mba wrote to the National Audit Office and two parliamentary committees saying Dave Hartnett had “let off” Goldman Sachs from paying £10m in interest payments.

HMRC investigators then moved in and examined Mba and his wife's belongings and communications.

Homer admitted that mistakes had been made and lessons learnt. She also said the department was taking further steps to help individuals with genuine concerns.

In June 2012 the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) also launched an inquiry into the way HMRC investigators obtained and used personal information belonging to the family of Mba.

Replies (9)

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By chatman
28th Mar 2014 16:40

UK Government Repression

This is why governments pass ridiculously wide-ranging laws with the promise "Oh we won't use it inappropriately". Unfortunately, with the mainstream media all owned either by them or the people who put them in power in the first place, they will always get away with it.

Thanks (6)
28th Mar 2014 17:50

Possible future deterrent ...

Use this episode as a template on how to deal with future issues in this area

Who made the RIPA request and have they been fired - if not why notWere the supervisors of the person requesting RIPA disclosure aware of what was going on and have they been firedAll such personnel fired for this type of behaviour should have all their own pension contributions returned to them and then be excluded from their employer’s pension scheme - that should be a wake-up call for the public sector employeesKeep going with this process up the management hierarchy until all the 'cancer' has been removed - after all that is precisely what surgeons do

and if Lin Homer knew what was going on then she should be given her marching orders as well - under the same terms as above (i.e. no pension - ouch!)

Finally, what about the person who authorised the application under RIPA. Clearly something went wrong here as well, so they should also be held to account because their judgement was at fault

Send a message in these terms and maybe it will be less likely to occur in the future

Simply trotting out the old 'lessons have been learnt' just doesnt wash any longer

Thanks (8)
By carnmores
28th Mar 2014 18:25

Liz is over promoted
and in my opinion bloody useless, why do people like her get to where they do, a radical shake up of the civil service is still required

Thanks (6)
By redboam
29th Mar 2014 07:57


Did Homer come up with a plausible explanation as to why they had in effect gifted £10 million to GS or was he merely concerned with HMRC's wounded pride?

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By mikefleming3028
31st Mar 2014 10:27

Mrs Hodge shocked her to her bones

Having just read  the Governments publication on RIPA at:-

I am left dumb struck as to how any one looking at this could justify its usage in these circumstances. As an ex HMRC employee of some 19years I would guess that there will be senior officials right up to Board level who  were aware and approved  of the application to invoke RIPA. This was at the time a very high profile matter at the time which contributed to the early exit of Dave Hartnett and I would guess that these same senior people wanted "payback"  for embarrassment suffered and also to send a message to any other right thinking person that the price they would pay for taking such action would be very unpalatable. It could be argued that these were the actions of a group  of  twisted, vindictive petty minded individuals out for revenge or more interestingly you could read Lin Homers response to PAC where she said--- 

 "I have other duties of care to parliament and other individuals,” was this her coded way of hinting at Political pressure being applied which resulted in the actions taken? perhaps some one should ask Mr David Gauke (Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury) this question as if anyone should know then its him!!

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By justsotax
31st Mar 2014 16:46

I watched Lin

get interviewed by the PAC a while back....wet blanket at best - as carnmores says how do these people achieve these one better...seriously!?

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By trecar
02nd Apr 2014 12:32

Trust us

Perhaps a lesson to be learned by politicians (including the Treasury Select Committee) is that when you grant powers to civil servants under statute the rule should be don't trust us because someone somewhere along the way will abuse the powers we have just granted them. If this attitude was adopted they might be less inclined to grant wide catch all powers and more inclined to build in checks and balances. Lin Homer gave the typical arrogant response about responsibilities without showing any consideration about the need to show responsibility to the ultimate victim 'Integrity'

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By The Black Knight
02nd Apr 2014 12:46

Beggars belief

That these people (MH etc) have no idea about the animal they preside over and have unleashed on the public or is this just their lying spin machine that provides this righteous indignation.


Where are these rules used? A: on the oppression of innocent dissenters

Where are they not used? A: for the management of criminal and terrorist activity

The results:

Successful in promoting criminal activity and eliminating the barriers and competition to criminal gangs.


HMRC appear as on the payroll of criminals.

The future: more rules can now be created to further suppress the innocent and increase the profits of criminal activity.


oh well that's spin for you.

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By Hayter
02nd Apr 2014 15:30

Lin Homer is the civil servant who became chief executive of Birmingham City Council in 2002 and was reprimanded by the Electoral Commission for her failings as returning officer in the vote rigging scandal involving labour candidates to the council in 2004. A scandal described by the Election Commissioner as one that would disgrace a banana republic. She resigned in 2005 only to reappear at the Border Agency where she was criticised for catstrophic leadership failure. She then took over as Permanent Secretary at the Department of Transport where she oversaw the failed West Coast Mainline Rail franchise and was identified as one of the officials whose failings cost the taxpayers some £100,000,000. That's right. One hundred million pounds. Her reward for this latest period of success in her working life was to be appointed as Chief Executive of HMRC where she has brought her rather obvious talents to bear given the recent commentary on performance by the Treasury Select committee.
Perhaps she could go back to school where she could suffer similar bullying that she oversaw being meted out to Mr Mba.

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