The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is blighted by poor management, favouritism and ‘unacceptable’ behaviour, according to a review by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI).

In a report published today, the inspectorate says the SFO’s ‘sharp focus’ on casework delivery had ‘in many instances, led to tolerance of neglectful approaches to management or, in some cases, of unacceptable behaviours’.

Staff also complained of favouritism and unfairness, claiming their ability to progress in the organisation depended disproportionately on who was managing them. The report added that employees feel the SFO focuses more on dealing with cases quickly than on having a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, or encouraging personal development.

The inspectorate was approached by the SFO last year, following a survey that revealed a fall in staff engagement. A review was formally requested in February 2019.

The review team interviewed more than 85 staff from different areas of the organisation. It also issued a survey and examined documents and minutes from meetings.

The SFO's director, Lisa Osofsky, said: 'This report doesn’t make comfortable reading, but it is necessary to understand where we are as we plan the route to where we want to be. As the inspectors acknowledge, a number of initiatives are already underway to address some of the concerns identified. A focused programme of work is being developed, which will draw on the insights, ideas and goodwill of colleagues across the business.'

HM Chief Inspector Kevin McGinty said: ‘The fact that the director and chief operating officer of the SFO asked us to undertake this review clearly demonstrates how serious they are in engendering a culture that puts people first at the SFO. As the report shows there are some aspects that need to improve, but setting clear people priorities as part of the core SFO aims will improve engagement scores.’