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This article considers the accountability of ministerial advisers and their relationship with departments in the light of ‘the children overboard’ incident. It argues that if ministers are not going to accept responsibility for the actions of their advisers then on those occasions the advisers should be separately accountable to the parliament. The article further suggests that the department heads have a particular responsibility for ensuring the integrity of ministerial advice, and proposes steps to reinforce their capacity to fulfil that responsibility.