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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Minister found guilty of sex bias
Patricia Hewitt
Patricia Hewitt said her decision was based on a Code of Practice
A government minister has admitted breaking the Sex Discrimination Act by appointing a "weaker" candidate to a prestigious job.

Patricia Hewitt was taken to court in her former position as Trade Secretary, by Malcolm Hanney from Somerset.

Despite being the "strongest" candidate, Mr Hanney was not offered a 9,000 job with the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA).

He has called on Mrs Hewitt, now Health Secretary, to apologise.

Mr Hanney, 52, from Chew Magna, said he was "pleased with the outcome" but asked her to say sorry personally.

He said: "It's taken some time to go through but I'm very pleased with the outcome.

"Obviously I was disappointed I didn't get the job and the object of this was to get an admission that the DTI was responsible.

"I knew I had a pretty good case. It seemed an open and shut case of sexual discrimination."

She should know what the laws are on sexual discrimination are - it was her job
Malcolm Hanney

Mr Hanney, a Bath and North East Somerset councillor, was interviewed for a position on the board of SWRDA last September and felt confident he had impressed the interview panel in Exeter.

When he was passed over in favour of a woman applicant who was the interview panel's third choice, he applied under the Freedom of Information Act to see the notes made by the interview board.

He said: "I had scored 28 out of 30 points and the panel said I was by far the strongest candidate.

"It said that they should appoint me, it was as simple as that. It was really rather emphatic."

But the final decision on the appointment was taken by Mrs Hewitt. Her department rejected the interview board recommendation and instead appointed Devon councillor, 60-year-old Christine Channon.

Department apology

Last month the DTI agreed to pay his costs, but failed to offer him a job on the agency's board.

Mr Hanney said he had received an apology from the department and the Permanent Secretary, but nothing from Mrs Hewitt herself.

"I think a personal apology from her would have been appropriate. But ministers tend to hide behind civil servants and blame them.

"She should know what the laws are on sexual discrimination are - it was her job."

Mrs Hewitt said the appointment was made on the basis of the Code of Practice on Public Appointments, which said: "Ministers will wish to balance boards in terms of diversity as well as skills and experience."

The DTI said processes have now been changed to ensure the situation did not happen again.

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