Whistleblowing tax inspector who made unreasonable allegations of perjury and corruption was fairly dismissed by HMRC finds Tribunal

The London South Employment Tribunal has delivered judgment in the case of Curtis v Commissioners for HMRC (Case No. 2361269/2013) following a five-day trial that took place earlier in June.

Mr Curtis was a tax inspector who had, in previous unsuccessful Tribunal proceedings, alleged that he had been subject to a campaign of bullying because he had made protected disclosures about what he considered were corrupt practices concerning the assessment of an individual taxpayer’s tax liabilities. A previous Employment Tribunal (Reading) had found that these original disclosures had been made in bad faith and without any reasonable belief.

In July 2011, following receipt of the Reading Tribunal’s judgment dismissing his original claims, the Claimant wrote to the individual taxpayer concerned and his agent making serious allegations of “corruption in HMRC”. The Respondent successfully argued that the doctrine of issue estoppel arose with respect to this disclosure. The information disclosed was, in essence, the same information that he had disclosed in his previous disclosures, which the Reading Tribunal had already found were made in bad faith and with no reasonable belief. This led the South London Employment Tribunal to conclude that it was estopped from considering this disclosure as a protected disclosure.

The South London Employment Tribunal further found that the Claimant had been fairly dismissed after he had raised other later disclosures alleging that senior colleagues within HMRC had perjured themselves under oath in the previous proceedings. The Tribunal found that the Claimant could not have had any reasonable belief in such an allegation and accordingly his later disclosures were not protected within the meaning of section 43B(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. He was not therefore dismissed because he had made any protected disclosures. The Claimant had been dismissed, amongst other things, because he had potentially brought HMRC into disrepute. The Tribunal concluded that the terms of the Claimant’s letter to the individual taxpayer was “very clearly capable of bringing HMRC into disrepute”. Moreover, its investigation into the Claimant’s conduct had been very thorough and lengthy and dismissal was ultimately within the band of reasonable responses. The Claimant’s claim therefore failed.

Tom Kirk represented the Commissioners for HMRC, instructed by Treasury Solicitors