September 30, 2022

Unitranche

Supportive Business Potential

How the FCA tried to catch its ‘poogate’ suspect

When the Financial Conduct Authority headed to new offices in London’s East End in 2018, the regulator hoped staff would welcome the move with open arms. Instead, a select number chose to mark the occasion with a form of dirty protest.

It took 18 months for the fresh headquarters in Stratford, on the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, to descend into “shameful” squalor, according to a message sent by then chief operating officer Georgina Philippou, leaked to the Evening Standard.

The message detailed how the £60m base was now littered with overflowing trash cans, alcohol bottles in sanitary bins, and crockery strewn across kitchens.

But one allegation caught the eye in particular, as Philippou slammed colleagues for “defecating on the floor in toilet cubicles”.

Thanks to the magic of the Freedom of Information Act, the extent of ‘poogate’, and the watchdog’s attempts to track down the culprit, can now be revealed.

As it turns out, Philippou was not referring to an isolated incident. The FCA, was, in fact, aware of eight incidents occurring across floors 4, 5, 6, 9, 10 and 11 of the new premises in Stratford.

No culprits came forward. But the FCA did have a potential suspect.

READ An audience with Megan Butler: the City’s female enforcer

Emails disclosed under the Act show that Peter Hewitt-Penfold — the FCA’s head of property and estates — informed Philippou and enforcement director Mark Steward about an incident on January 22, 2019, after a staffer reported finding a “large piece of excrement on the floor in front of the toilet” in the ladies’ loos on the fifth floor.

A week later, another incident had to be dealt with by the night housekeeper, this time on the 11th floor. On this occasion, the defecation was left on the seat.

Two months later, Hewitt-Penfold wrote to a number of colleagues that “we are still encountering problems with the 11[th] floor ladies’ toilets”, asking for feedback on what steps had been taken.

By May, the FCA’s legal team were involved, including Joe Usher, the regulator’s senior commercial counsel.

Lawyers called

The emails suggest mid-tier City law firm Eversheds Sutherland was also roped in for legal advice, as efforts to catch the perpetrator were stepped up.

Hewitt-Penfold requested permission to access CCTV footage and security card data “in order to apprehend the person(s) responsible for the toilet behaviour”.

“The camera is now focused on the ladies toilet door and the toilets are being checked every 15 mins,” he wrote. “We have not had a repeat offence last week or this week. However, our suspect is on annual leave and we wish to validate our data as part of the investigation.”

READ FCA looks to recruit outside of London to double down on regional strategy

Data protection issues were also at play; Hewitt-Penfold wrote that he would need to provide a still of the CCTV footage to chief information security officer Andy Cobbett for GDPR purposes.

In the end, the identification of the suspect was “based on a misunderstanding”, the regulator said.

“We would also like to explain that activity to identify suspect(s) was not pursued further as these incidents ceased to take place,” the FCA’s response to the FOI request reads.

The FCA declined to comment further.

The regulator can only hope its efforts have convinced staff to clean up their act from now, as it enters another tricky period for morale.

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email Justin Cash