Reports of whistleblower allegations of a multi-billion pound cover-up of HS2’s soaring costs are “a disgrace”, the embattled project’s interim boss has said.
Sir Jon Thompson, executive chairman of HS2 Ltd, told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that allegations reported in The Sunday Times were an example of “poor journalism” and the article was, “frankly a disgrace”.
Last month, The Sunday Times reported allegations from a number of whistleblowers, claiming senior executives at HS2 shredded documents and used misleading cost projections to ensure money kept flowing into the project.
Three whistleblowers, director Doug Thornton, head of planning and performance Andrew Bruce and former analyst Stephen Cresswell said they were encouraged to downplay separate cost-related issues.
Thornton, who claimed his boss became “aggressive” after he planned to raise concerns at a board meeting, told journalists he was sacked 11 minutes after filing a formal grievance.
Thompson argued Mr Thornton and Mr Bruce’s allegations were reviewed in a national audit office report in 2018 and “they didn’t find any major issues.”
“We have a free media and they are allowed to do what they like but we completely refute those allegations, there’s no evidence for the first two allegations”
No recommendations were made by the government’s internal audit agency after reviewing Cresswell’s claims, Thompson added. “I can understand why reading the popular media you might think that’s an issue but we completely refute that and I think… that’s poor journalism frankly.”
The explosive allegations piled yet more pressure on executives at HS2, who are handling the fallout from the government’s decision in October to axe the Northern leg of the project amid wildly out-of-control costs.
Louise Haigh, shadow transport secretary, told City A.M. at the time the reports were “breathtaking” and made the “lack of oversight of HS2 all the more shocking”. Hs2’s internal fraud unit is investigating the allegations.
Thompson has been filling the role of interim chief executive since the departure of boss Mark Thurston over the summer.
MPs heard that HS2’s new boss could be paid even more. While base pay will come in lower, “there will be more opportunity to earn a higher salary if you meet all the necessary targets on schedule and cost”, Thompson said.
The Sunday Times were approached for comment.