Gus O'Donnell confirms investigation into DCLG smear

Clarification: On 19 May we published an article headed 'Gus O'Donnell confirms investigation into smears by aide of Eric Pickles'. We would like to make it clear that there is no suggestion the source responsible for the smears of Jenny Watson to The Times in September 2010 was one of the special advisers to Eric Pickles. An amended version of the article is below.

Investigation: Eric Pickles' department
Investigation: Eric Pickles' department

The head of the civil service conducted a full investigation after a source in Eric Pickles' Department for Communities and Local Government smeared a public official, it has been confirmed.

In a letter sent to Labour’s Caroline Flint this week, Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell confirms that an investigation took place but refuses to say whether any individuals were disciplined.

The news comes after The Times quoted a ‘source in the Communities department’ in September 2010 launching an extraordinary attack on a senior public official, Jenny Watson.

Flint had asked the Cabinet Secretary: 'Have you or DCLG launched any internal investigation into the identity of the source? If not, are there any plans to do so? Has any internal disciplinary action been taken against the person or persons responsible for these comments?’
 
This week, Sir Gus responded: ‘I agree with you about the seriousness of the allegations made which were fully investigated at the time.’
 
But his letter, dated 10 May, continued: ‘It would not be appropriate for me to comment on whether or not any disciplinary action was taken.’
 
In response, a Labour source said: 'This letter raises a number of questions, which we will be pursuing further. As far as we are concerned, this is not the end of the matter.'
 
The controversial quotes first appeared in The Times on 8 September 2010. The newspaper had reported that Pickles was embarking on ‘a bonfire of the quangocrats’ with Watson, at the time an Audit Commission board member, top of the hit list.

The contempt of Pickles for many quango executives was reflected in a sweeping statement about Watson, attributed to ‘a source in the Communities department’.

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