BBC probe fails to end post-Hutton anger

Thomson: co-chaired inquiry

Senior BBC journalists who took part in an internal disciplinary inquiry into the events that led up to the Today programme’s 29 May broadcast of the “sexed-up dossier” are questioning its legality and are considering appeals against the process, Press Gazette has learnt.

Although the BBC announced this week that no participants – including director of news Richard Sambrook, deputy Mark Damazer, head of radio news Stephen Mitchell and Today editor Kevin Marsh – would be dismissed from the corporation, the probe is said to have caused bitterness.

A BBC executive, who declined to be named, said the inquiry had been “an absolutely crass way to try to learn any lessons and was always destined to put one person against another. It has been damaging for morale and led people to think: ‘This is not the BBC I thought I was working for.'” It is understood that participants, some of whom had their own legal representation, registered their objections to the procedure and their belief that BBC’s disciplinary guidelines were breached in setting up the inquiry.

The role of BBC policy and legal director Caroline Thomson in the disciplinary hearing was also seen as contentious.

She was said to be central to the BBC’s defence strategy during the Hutton Inquiry, yet later found herself to be sitting in judgement on everything that led up to it.

“She was also in Greg Dyke’s office while all of this was going on – she was a player, certainly as much as anybody was, in deciding the strategy at the Hutton Inquiry itself. She was part and parcel of that,” the source said.

“Her conflict of interest would obviously be something that somebody might want to look at properly.”

However, the BBC said it was “wrong” to suggest any conflict. “She was not involved in compiling the legal strategy for the Hutton Inquiry,” a spokeswoman insisted.One senior BBC journalist familiar with the proceedings told Press Gazette that “if any of the people do appeal, that will be the first grounds. The process was not in line with the BBC’s own guidelines. The guidelines are very clear about putting specific charges with specific evidence, and that was never done.”

The source also said the BBC had not clarified the limits of the disciplinary hearings. “Was it being confined to the process before the pieces went out? Or to the handling of the complaint? It was never made clear.

Gilligan: ‘was made the sin-eater’

“There was a degree of dishonesty about it. They were always very cagey about calling it a disciplinary inquiry or hearing, but when you saw the documents relating to it, it made it absolutely clear that’s what it was.”

This week the BBC announced Thomson and personnel director Stephen Dando’s conclusion was that former Today correspondent Andrew Gilligan had not followed a core script that was “properly prepared and cleared in line with normal production practices in place at the time”, in effect laying the blame at the his door.

However, Gilligan said the inquiry had become “an embarrassment to all concerned”. He knew that, as the most junior person involved, he would be made “the sin-eater for the failings of others”, he told Press Gazette.

The editorial inquiry led by Ron Neil, former director of news and current affairs, into lessons from the Hutton Inquiry is expected to report in June.

By Wale Azeez

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