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.