A SEVERENCE package of more than £400,000 paid to the South Lakeland-based former chief executive of the Serious Fraud Office is to be investigated by MPs.

The pay and pension exit deal agreed with Phillippa Williamson will be examined by the Commons Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Margaret Hodge, at a one-day hearing next month.

Ms Williamson first hit the headlines in February last year after it was revealed she was paid £27,600 to cover the cost of her weekly commute between her Lake district home and London.

Officials at the SFO revealed that she was paid £12,600 to cover travel costs and £15,000 for accommodation on top of her £120,000 salary.

At the time they defended the decision saying Ms Williamson had ‘transformed the organsation’, making it ‘probably the most effective and efficient department in Government’.

However, Ms Williamson unexpectedly took voluntary redundancy last April, agreeing a ‘special severence payment’ of £15,000 plus £407,000 to be paid into her pension pot to cover the additional costs of her early departure.

One of the aspects the Public Accounts Committee is expected to examine is why approval for the package was not sought from either the Treasury or the Cabinet office.

The committee has said it will also examine the £450,000 severence package agreed with Christian Bailes, the SFO’s former chief operating officer, who also left the organisation last April.

The pay and pension deals led to the National Audit Office ‘qualifying’ the SFO’s annual accounts.

Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Attorney-General, who has been pressing for the inquiry, said: “These payout deals have damaged not only the SFO’s already limited finances, but its reputation as well.

“It is clear that we still have not got to the bottom of what has been going on.”

Before joining the SFO, Ms Williamson, who studied for an executive masters in business administration EMBA) at Lancaster University, worked for HM Revenue and Customs, where she was in charge of the national team for tax credits.