[Mediation was the idea of my line manager. The relationship between Lord and I had pretty much broken down. Amongst other things, he had recommended me for a poor annual report marking based on his 'perceptions' that I did not deal with stakeholders well (this following several years of top markings; the change oddly coinciding with him scuppering the new match test to the delight and no doubt rewarding gratitude of the chemical industry amongst others). This despite me providing several written testimonies towards my report, from a wide range of our stakeholders, including some opposed to the new test, all very positive. For example, Kevin Nimmo, who was chair of the British Standards group Steve and I sat on, covering furniture flammability, praised my hard work and ability to communicate difficult subjects well. He said it had been an honour to work with me over the years; which really did bring a tear to my eye. However, John's perceptions - without a single piece of evidence in support - apparently carried more weight.]
I spent an hour with the mediators, Alice and June, then John had an hour with them; then all four of us met for two hours. I said my piece first; then he said his; then we discussed. Sounds very civilised, doesn't it? And in many ways it was, at least on the surface (where everything counts most in the civil service).
In short, John put in a great performance: well acted, nicely judged; said he was sorry about six times; looked contrite . . . looked contrite; and therein was the problem: the mediators clearly assumed this was normal for John. What they didn't know was that he'd never before apologised to me about anything and had certainly never looked contrite. I assume Alice and June have been trained in mediation but it was pretty obvious to me they don't know a sociopath when they see one.
He even talked about how much it had hurt him to have to make difficult decisions that he knew I wouldn't be happy with (like the ones that have resulted in people dying in unnecessary house fires, John?) The mediators were too far away to see his eyes, which were essentially empty, but I could see his words softening their perception of him.
At the start of my turn I said, "I'm holding you personally responsible for all the extra deaths that have occurred because the new match test has been delayed." He didn't even blink. Just nodded a few times, which appeared to have one of the mediators nodding slightly in sympathy.
I wanted to tell them: "I've just accused this man of causing death by neglect. He can only have one of two valid reactions to that: either he breaks down and admits it's true or he gets angry because it isn't and threatens to sue me if I don't retract the accusation. But look, look, look! He hasn't done either!"
I then gave lots of examples of things he'd done but shouldn't and hadn't done but did, along with the effect they'd had on me. I said that I'd agreed to mediation because I wanted explanations for the way he'd behaved, since in our day-to-day jobs he never explained anything.
The smartness of his sociopathy showed in him never attacking me. The giveaway that this was not entirely natural - and again would have been missed by the mediators since they did not know his normal - was that he also did not bring up the few times when I actually had challenged him. He didn't even mention the one time I'd sworn, even though he'd often used it against me since. In other words, I knew that this calm reasonableness was totally fake but I guess there's no reason the mediators should.
Along with "Sorry" he put in a few variations around "I probably could have done more", which of course is not exactly self-criticism since everyone can always do more. Compare that with his wording about me: "Terry could be difficult to suggest things to . . . " Very clever; implies that I was often not open to listening to reasonable suggestions. In truth, the only times I was difficult about his suggestions were when they were patently designed to delay the test going ahead; that and when he was 'suggesting' (i.e. lying) about why he'd sabotaged yet another submission to the Minister.
His defence of any 'unfortunate decisions' he 'may' have made (translation: good decisions that Terry didn't happen to like) were:
1) He had to do what Barbara told him to because she's his senior manager.
2) He had to make political decisions which were often uncomfortable but he had no choice.
A good example of the first was the judicial review threat that had played a large part in Jo Swinson deciding to delay implementation of the new match test. Originally, I'd heard about it some time after it happened, and only because it was obvious that I knew something was up following hints of it in an Adjournment Debate between Swinson and Andrew Stephenson MP. Then, Barbara told me that FIRA and the NBF had phoned Swinson's office to say that if Steve and I were allowed to handle the consultation responses, they'd instigate a judicial review. Now, though, John told me that in fact an email had been sent to the Minister's office by Stephen McPartland MP. This was the first time I knew that John even knew about it since Barbara had told me that only she'd been told. I asked him why he hadn't told me about it at the time and he said because Barbara wanted to 'protect' me (which indeed was the reason she gave for not telling me earlier).
[Update: Even at the time, this was patently absurd, especially given that Barbara was trying to destroy my career! Later, of course, via my civil service code case I saw the emails concerned and finally understood why Barbara had lied: in short, she knew that John had leaked information to industry that would lead to an almost certain delay to the test. In time-honoured senior civil servant tradition, the right thing to do at such moments is not to protect the public and expose corruption in officials, it's to make sure one's own back is covered.]
"I don't need protecting," I said, "I need the truth." Which I realise sounds rather Hollywood court room scene when written down but I meant it. What they meant by 'protecting' me was of course protecting them. Besides, they were well aware that for a couple of years, Steve and I had regularly faced all manner of stakeholders, including big players who wanted to do nothing more than shoot us down. What protected us? The fact we always told the truth.
"So Stephen McPartland actually made the judicial review threat?" I said. "Yes," he replied. McPartland MP is [still is] Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the furniture industry. Steve recently discovered that just a few weeks after Swinson had she wasn't ready to go ahead with the new match test, McPartland was given a place on the board of Furniture Village - minimum work for a cool £40K a year. Now we know why.
There is a mystery here, of course, which is why did John tell me this? He knew I'd been told by Barbara that it was FIRA and the NBF who made the threat and probably figured I'd never find out the real truth and even if I did, I wouldn't have fingered him, only Barbara - ah! so there it is; how cunning.
This new information about the JR threat is probably on reflection the most useful part of the session for me. Barbara had told me that the basis of the threat was that Steve and I should not have processed the consultation returns. Of course, what BIS should have said by way of reply to whoever made such a threat was: "Bug off. It's perfectly proper that our two experts should do this work." Better Regulation had actually told Barbara this, and she knew it herself anyway. But they didn't send the accuser packing, which meant that Andrew Stephenson MP was able to repeat the claim about me and Steve in the Adjournment Debate with Swinson.
When Barbara first told me that FIRA/NBF had made this threat, she'd said they'd guessed Steve and would be handling the consultation returns. At the time, that seemed a pretty lame move but not implausible coming from FIRA/NBF. Now, I can see she'd lied and why: because if she'd told me it was McPartland, I'd have known he would not risk his reputation on a guess. Someone had told him about me and Steve. But the question is who?
What had happened was this: we had to process 113 consultation returns super-quick, because the deadline for implementation by April 2015 was very close. In fact, we only had a week to do it in. John put together a team of 5 to do the work: him, me, Nicola and the two analysts. But then he came up with this very complicated and cumbersome spreadsheet he insisted we use. Progress was very slow, not helped by him suddenly deciding to take two days leave. By the end of Friday, we'd only got through a quarter of the returns.
So I phoned Steve and asked him to come to London the following week and help me process the returns. He did so and we started fresh, without the stupid spreadsheet, and got through all the returns in just two days. In case anyone might protest that Steve should not have read the returns (even though, again, Better Regulation told us it was perfectly proper to have our technical expert work on them), only I read them, asking Steve specific questions where necessary.
When John found out, it was the only time I actually saw him lose his cool. At first, I thought this was simply because he already resented us - me for handling the project so much better than him, despite being two grades lower down the chain, and Steve for being, well, more of a man. But you know what: I reckon the real reason was that we'd scuppered his perfect tactic for delaying implementation. And that was sure to also upset whoever had told him to do so.
But, again, who told McPartland? Who needed to tell him, a) in order to get the delay back on and b) to cover the cock-up. Hmmmm, pretty obvious, really. [Update: later, when I saw the actual documents from the BFM and McPartland to Swinson carrying the JR threat, the timing was highly suspicious, i.e. the BFM wrote to McPartland to complain that Steve and I were handling the consultation responses just the day after we'd finished doing so. And at that time, only two people other than us knew about it. Yes, it could have been Barbara but all the evidence points to John. By the way, when I pointed out to my case officer that this was evidence that a BIS civil servant had possibly leaked information to industry resulting in an important piece of safety legislation being blocked, he turned white and refused to answer.]
SIDEBAR TO THE SIDEBAR:
Steve was at BIS this week and Barbara decided to have her long-delayed one-to-one with him. Later, Steve told me that when he came into our team's area with Barbara, John became extremely agitated - fidgeting, standing up, sitting down again - again, very unusual for him. This was probably because Barbara hadn't told him she was meeting Steve. For once, John wasn't in control and if I'm right about him, he may well have feared that Barbara had decided to cover herself by telling Steve the truth about the JR threat. Which might explain why he decided today to tell me about McPartland and thereby reveal that Barbara lied to me.
BACK TO THE SIDEBAR
So, John was no doubt furious because essentially: 1) we'd exposed his project management skills as shite (and/or he's corrupt) and 2) we'd got the project back on time.
But John then did something that further proved he's bent or at the very least allowed anger and pride to guide his actions: he decided to scrap all the work Steve and I had done and start again. He set up a new team to do it, including Mark Portman who did nothing but complain about it. When I pointed out to John that Portman has no knowledge of the Furniture Regs, he said he wanted to introduce a "fresh pair of eyes". What he really wanted of course, is what he got: that it took a further three weeks for them to process the consultation returns by which time we'd missed the deadline.
Now I think about it, there is something else that smells extremely fishy about this JR threat and probably explains why they keep hiding the details from me, which is that me and Steve handling the returns, even if wrong, is nowhere near enough to justify a JR challenge to a Minister.
The most likely explanation is that the JR threat was always designed to simply delay the new test - the fact of it, not the substance, which is why Barbara never intended to tell me about it. And the fact of it is clearly about collusion between all the parties who have a vested interest in preventing the new test going ahead: the chemical industry, FIRA, McPartland, Stevenson, John, Barbara and probably Swinson too, if only because to stand against it she'd have to side with the lower grade technical nutter against all those senior civil servants covering their backs, Tory MPs pushing her to support business before safety, and the chemical industry itself which clearly also always puts profit first.
To summarise, my best guess about what actually happened is this: John was determined (bribed) to scupper the project but without of course damaging himself in the process. He got a lucky break when Barbara turned up as his new boss only a month or so before we went out to consultation. He took advantage of her ignorance, steering her towards taking the cautious path of 'mitigating' the naysayers; then took full advantage of her breakdown at the experts' meeting to tip off the villains to come up with the JR threat (any suspicions were more likely to fall on the woman who'd cracked up and refused to inform the Minister that the experts gave us the go-ahead, than the smooth sociopath sitting quietly in the corner) which served all his purposes in one go: to block implementation and discredit me and Steve; well, and Barbara too.
BACK TO THE MAIN THREAD:
So John's 'explanation' for sabotaging all those Ministerial submissions turns out to be that he had to do what a civil servant has to do; which, he said today, means giving the Minister what she needs in order to deal with 'the situation', i.e. not the truth. Which sounds absurd but hey it was delivered in that pleasant voice of reason (copyright Sir Humphrey). But here are the questions/points I put to him today that he couldn't and didn't answer:
- Everyone, including him, now agrees that the new test is good to go and the current one is dangerous to the public.
- If he didn't think it was good before the consultation, he should have said so then but didn't.
- I've always known the test is good and always said so.
Which means all that confusion after the consultation, which led to the project failing can only be down to him and Barbara but mostly him because she was new to the project while he was a year into it.
The fact he couldn't answer my points means he's guilty, of course. But silence in the civil service is often taken as innocence, as I've learned over the past few months. It suits senior management that way but, as Steve said, is really just another form of corruption.
Another example of his subterfuge that I questioned him about was the time when I'd yet again slogged away on another submission; finished it then heard him on the phone to Tracy in the Minister's office, telling her we weren't putting it up. I asked him today why he'd done that, and he said it had actually been Barbara's decision. I said, "But I saw you - you hadn't moved from your desk since I emailed you the sub; so how could it have been Barbara's decision?" And he said, "Barbara sent me an email about it." Which is ridiculous: if Barbara had thought the submission was no good, she'd have contacted Tracy direct, or at the very least had a word with me and John first. Also, John being heavily into self-protection means he would have told me at the time if it was B's decision. Doubly so since now he's implying he didn't actually agree with her decision so, again, would have made sure I knew at the time. But sociopaths think fast and I reckon he calculated there was no way I could now check this out.
What I'm now pretty sure of is this: everyone apart from me, Steve, most of the ground level fire services, most of Trading Standards (e.g. Toni) and the families of those who will die because of this delay - i.e. no one who really counts - wants this consultation to be negated. There will be mixed views on what happens next but all parties (except for the above) will want to kick the project back at least a year, leave it to the next government and so on. John will score plenty of brownie points over this, for taking the moderate, reasonable, mitigating line. Barbara will soon get back on her senior CS career course. The Minister can forget all about it. RW [owner of huge chemical treatment company] gets another year or more of scamming income. FIRA re-claims its position as furniture industry guru (although somewhat tainted by its antics). And so on. All because these days no one is ever held accountable when the public is at risk.
Result of mediation: absolutely nothing, other than that BIS HR can tick a box to say they followed the correct procedures.