Sacked whistleblower ‘foolish and naive’ to share emails with journalist

A sacked Foreign Office whistleblower has told an employment tribunal she was “foolish and naive” to share internal emails with a journalist, but said: “I do not think I did the wrong thing.”

Josie Stewart shared emails with a BBC journalist which allegedly showed that senior staff at the department had sought guidance from Number 10 over whether to prioritise the evacuation of staff from the animal charity Nowzad during the 2021 fall of Kabul, the tribunal in central London heard on Wednesday.

Ms Stewart, a former civil servant at the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), was sacked after the journalist accidentally revealed her name by posting the emails on social media in January 2022.

She is now alleging unfair dismissal for making a protected disclosure under whistleblowing laws.

The 2021 Nowzad flight sparked controversy as animals were safely airlifted out of Afghanistan while thousands of people trying to flee the Taliban in Kabul were left behind.

Afghanistan Nowzad Dogs charity
Seble, the eight-week-old puppy that was rescued at the Nowzad Dogs charity based in Kabul, Afghanistan (Ben Birchall/PA)

In her witness statement she said she was “disgusted” that then prime minister Boris Johnson had “intervened and overruled policy” to allow animals and staff from the charity to be evacuated, a claim Mr Johnson had publicly labelled as “complete nonsense”.

At the time Ms Stewart shared the emails, there were questions in the media around whether the Government had prioritised animals over people during the evacuation.

However, she told the tribunal she did not believe that that was what had happened.

She said she shared the emails with the BBC journalist because she believed they showed another story, that Number 10 had intervened in the decision to evacuate the charity’s staff.

“I did not think that was a story,” she said.

“I did not think that was what had happened.

“It was obvious to me what the story was, which was that the prime minister had made the decision.”

She added: “It was absolutely obvious that the prime minister’s lying was the important element of the story here.”

She said she was foolish not to redact the email when she said it.

“I accept that I was foolish and naive for having shared the information with the journalist because I failed to redact it fully myself and it led to the situation we are all in today,” she said.

“I do not think I did the wrong thing.”

She said she did not think of herself as a whistleblower when she shared the emails.

“I did not think of myself as a whistleblower,” she said.

“I now know that no one ever does until they have had the time to understand what has happened to them.”

Nowzad was set up by former Royal Marine Paul “Pen” Farthing, who launched a high-profile campaign to get his staff and animals out of Kabul as the Taliban swept across Afghanistan.

Despite the alleged intervention from No 10, Nowzad’s staff eventually fled Afghanistan to Pakistan rather than on a plane from Kabul, but the charity’s animals were able to leave on a charter flight with Mr Farthing.

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