Top civil servant begins legal case against Priti Patel and Home Office | Priti Patel

Sir Philip Rutnam, the senior civil servant who resigned on Saturday claiming he was bullied and forced from office, has begun legal action against the government over his treatment by Priti Patel, his union has told the Guardian.

Legal documents name the home secretary, the Home Office and the Cabinet Office as respondents, the FDA said. It would mean that Patel will be expected to give evidence under oath if the case comes to tribunal.

The development comes as the home secretary has expressed her regret at the decision of the top civil servant at the Home Office to quit and urged staff in the department to come together as “one team”.

Rutnam dramatically announced at the weekend that he was standing down as permanent secretary, claiming constructive dismissal and accusing Patel of bullying her subordinates.

Soon after, the government conceded in response to an urgent question from Jeremy Corbyn that there would be an inquiry into Patel’s actions. The new set of allegations accused her of acting “without warning” and with “an unprovoked level of aggression”.

Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA union which will back Rutnam’s claim, said he has lodged an initial complaint with the arbitration service Acas, the first stage of making a claim to a tribunal. “We can confirm that Sir Philip has commenced legal process,” he said.

Sir Philip Rutman Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

Patel, who was international development secretary from July 2016 until November 2017, has been beset by a raft of reports alleging she bullied and belittled officials at both the Home Office and the Department for International Development, where she reportedly openly described staff as “fucking useless”.

In claims reported by the BBC, the embattled minister was accused of shouting at a former work and pensions aide with “unprovoked aggression” before removing her from her job.

Patel has sent a joint email to staff written with Rutnam’s interim successor Shona Dunn stating they cared about the wellbeing of all employees.

They expressed their gratitude to the staff for their continuing hard work and “commitment to deliver the government’s priorities”.

“We both deeply value the work that every person in this department does and care about the well-being of all our staff. It is therefore a time for us all to come together as one team,” they wrote.

“We also recognise the importance of candour, confidentiality and courtesy in building trust and confidence between ministers and civil servants.

“Both of us are fully committed to making sure the professionalism you would expect to support this is upheld.”

They added: “We both regret Sir Philip’s decision to resign. He had a long and dedicated career of public service for which we thank him.”

The email comes after the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove announced on Monday that there was to be an inquiry into allegations Patel had broken the ministerial code.

Patel has denied any allegations of wrongdoing.

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