The head of the Civil Service has told Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger that Richard Caseby went “beyond what I would expect of a civil servant” in a comment piece which appeared in Press Gazette last month.
Former Sun managing editor Caseby, now director of communications for the Department of Work and Pensions, wrote a comment piece for Press Gazette last month suggesting The Guardian should be "blackballed" from the Independent Press Standards Organisation press regulator.
In the piece, he cited several inaccuracies in the newspaper's coverage of welfare reform and described IPSO as the "only show in town" for press regulation.
In a reply letter to Rusbridger, Sir Bob Kerslake said Caseby had "assured [DWP permanent secretary Robert Devereux] that future articles will adhere to the Civil Service Code".
But Kerslake also backed Caseby's right to complain about The Guardian's inaccurate reporting around welfare reform.
The letter was sent in response to one from Rusbridger, both of which have been seen by Press Gazette following a Freedom of Information Act request.
In his letter, Rusbridger said: "Can I draw your attention to a piece published by the Press Gazette and written by the DWP's director of communications, Richard Caseby.
"Mr Caseby is, as I understand it, a civil servant required to act within the civil service code – a code whose watchwords, I believe, are integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality."
Rusbridger added: "In his capacity as a senior civil servant, Mr Caseby is required to act with professionalism and in a manner which deserves and retains the confidence of those with whom he deals."
The editor brought Kerslake's attention to Caseby's "history" as managing editor of The Sun, and recounted an incident in 2011 when he received "a roll of lavatory paper with a note saying: 'I hear [Guardian journalist] Marina Hyde's turd landed on your desk. Well you can use this to wipe her arse.'"
Caseby sent this to Rusbridger in response to a Hyde article in which she falsely reported that a journalist for The Sun had doorstepped one of the Leveson Inquiry lawyers.
She said in a front-page piece, which later prompted an apology from The Guardian, that this was tantamount to "casually defecating on his lordship's desk while doing a thumbs-up sign".
Rusbridger wrote: "Mr Caseby, while working for Rupert Murdoch, mounted a number of other attacks on the Guardian and me personally.
"Mr Caseby's style and behaviour while working for News Corp was a matter for that company. But he is now a senior civil servant with the Government Information Service. I have dealt with members of the GIS for many years and have found the Service to be professional, courteous and impartial.
"You may judge the tone of Mr Caseby's latest piece and determine whether it is in keeping with the traditions of the GIS."
In particular, Rusbridger highlighted part of Caseby's article in which he suggested The Guardian should be "blackballed" from joining IPSO, which The Guardian has not signed up to. He said: "I am… surprised to hear a senior civil servant describe IPSO as 'the only show in town'."
He added: "Several people – including the director of the rival Impress regulator – have expressed incredulity that a senior civil servant should be urging a supposedly independent regulator to boycott one of the UK's leading newspapers.
"You will be aware that the government has gone to great lengths to emphasise that it is for the press to regulate itself, entirely without any political influence. Yet here is one of the government's most senior communications directors telling the regulator how to behave.
"I look forward to learning of your reaction to this article and to your thoughts on the integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality of Mr Caseby's intervention."
In response, Kerslake said he had "discussed the issues raised" with DWP permanent secretary Devereux.
He told Rusbridger: "The purpose of Richard Caseby's article was to highlight the number of factual inaccuracies in reporting about welfare reform, and the Department's efforts to get the media to correct such inaccuracies.
"This is an important part of the job of any Government press officer, and as clearly came through in Richard's article, staff are understandably frustrated with repeated inaccurate reporting.
"His comments might have been expressed more moderately, and the wider comments made by Richard about press regulation (which is of course not a matter for the DWP) go beyond what I would expect of a civil servant."
Below are the letters obtained by Press Gazette: