The Chief Inspector of Probation has resigned from his post over fears his wife’s job could create a conflict of interest.
Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling today announced that Paul McDowell is standing down.
It comes after it emerged that Mr McDowell’s wife Janine is the deputy managing director of private justice company Sodexo, which won contracts to run probation services in England and Wales.
In a written statement to the House of Commons, Mr Grayling said: “I wish to inform the House that Mr Paul McDowell has tendered his resignation from his post as Chief Inspector of Probation.
“As I discussed with the Justice Select Committee on 2nd December and covered in subsequent correspondence with the committee chair, an issue arose about a potential perceived conflict of interest for Mr McDowell given his wife’s employment with Sodexo, and their role as a provider of probation services.
“I have considered carefully all of the potential mechanisms and systems that could be introduced and used to manage any actual or perceived conflict of interest.
“However, Mr McDowell has decided that, in the circumstances, he will resign.
“Throughout this process Mr McDowell has acted with utter transparency and professionalism.”
Mr Grayling praised Mr McDowell’s “assured leadership and the grounded independence” in his work.
He stressed that vetting processes were properly followed when Mr McDowell was appointed in November 2013.
The minister added: “I regret that circumstances have changed and are now such that we have reached this position.
“At time of his appointment, Mr McDowell’s position was fully reasonable and the appropriate pre-appointment processes in place at that time were properly followed.”
He said the justice select committee will be involved in the appointment of a permanent successor.
A spokeswoman for Napo, the trade union and professional association of probation staff, said: “It is a shame that he had to go, but his position was clearly no longer tenable.
“We thought he was very good but, given that his wife had financial interests with Sodexo, he could no longer remain in his post – it is something that could not be maintained in the new private sector partnership.”
Announcing his resignation from his £135,000-a-year job, Mr McDowell said: “I have today resigned from my position as HM Chief Inspector of Probation for England and Wales.
“It is imperative that any inspectorate is independent and seen to be so.
“Although we have measures in place to manage any conflicts of interest, and I would always carry out my duties without fear or favour, it is clear that a perception of conflict around my post remains. It is therefore right that I resign.
“It has been a privilege to lead the skilled and professional team at the inspectorate and I am proud of the significant progress we have made in developing our new inspection method.
“Its specific focus on testing the impact of probation services and promoting effective practice is critical to public protection at a time of great change in the criminal justice system.”
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan has previously called for the circumstances surrounding Mr McDowell’s appointment to be investigated.
He said: “Chris Grayling is stumbling from one crisis to another. Not content with sacking the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the Chief Inspector of Probation has now resigned over conflicts of interest the Justice Secretary was fully aware of at the time he appointed him. A chief inspector needs to be able to do the job without fear or favour, without any hint of bias, perceived or otherwise.
“Time and again, Labour has warned the Government that Mr McDowell’s position as Chief Inspector of Probation appeared compromised through links to private companies picking up one-third of the privatised Probation Service.
“It is shocking that Mr McDowell’s departure has been delayed until the day after private companies take over the running of probation.
“When probation is undergoing the biggest upheaval in its history and dedicated staff are demoralised because of the Government’s reckless privatisation, this is the time when a strong, independent chief inspector is needed the most as the guardian of the public’s safety.
“The Justice Secretary needs to urgently explain his role in this fiasco and how these multi-billion contracts will be inspected and supervised without a chief inspector.”
Towards the end of last year it publicly emerged that Mr McDowell’s wife holds a senior post at private contractor Sodexo.
Mr McDowell has said he declared the potential conflict of interest when he applied for the job at the end of 2013.
However, members of the Justice Select Committee have said they were not told of Mrs McDowell’s leading role at the organisation when they endorsed her husband for the job.
Sodexo won the contracts to supervise tens of thousands of offenders in six out of the 21 new probation areas created by the Government’s privatisation of the service.
Sodexo took over the contracts on Sunday in partnership with the crime reduction charity Nacro, of which Mr McDowell used to be chief executive.
Mark Leech editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales asked why it had taken so long.
Mr Leech said: “I have known Paul McDowell for 20 years, when he was a senior prison governor and beyond and his integrity has never been in doubt.
“What on earth took him so long to see that his position was untenable and risked damaging the independence of the Inspectorate – his integrity is untarnished but I’m afraid his judgement has been damaged by this unneccessary and inexplicable delay.”