Michael Crick, the freelance investigative journalist at the centre of allegations against Iain Duncan Smith, has suspended his work with the BBC “by mutual agreement” until the case has been fully investigated by the parliamentary commissioner for standards.
“Both sides have decided that, while this is going on, it’s a bit inappropriate for me to be a Newsnight reporter,” he told Press Gazette this week.
Crick has a six-month freelance contract with the corporation.
He filed a report for Newsnight alleging that Duncan Smith paid his wife £18,000 for secretarial work not actually carried out during the first 15 months of his party leadership. Due to be broadcast on 3 October, it was spiked after the Tories threatened the BBC with legal action if the allegations were aired.
The decision to pull the programme was made by Mark Byford, director of the World Service and global news, who was standing in for director general Greg Dyke while he was on holiday.
The move caused anger among BBC journalists, who saw it as an indication that the corporation had lost its nerve in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry. One senior BBC News journalist said it was “as if we backed the wrong horse in Gilligan and then backed away from the right one in Crick”.
However, Crick would not be drawn on the BBC’s decision to spike his Newsnight report.
As Press Gazette went to press, Crick was compiling an analysis of Duncan Smith’s rebuttal of his allegations, which the MP submitted to the parliamentary commissioner for standards on Monday. Crick will in turn submit his analysis to the commissioner.
He said: “If wrongdoing is brought to one’s attention, one has a duty as a journalist to examine it and investigate it and ultimately to publish it. In this case, when it looked as if publication was going to be difficult, I felt I had a duty to publish it elsewhere and a duty to take it to the authorities – a course of action Mr Duncan Smith had suggested in an earlier letter to the BBC.”
Crick said journalists had to be “very careful before getting involved in the political process”. He added that during his investigation he obtained signed witness statements from three sources within the Conservative Party.
By Wale Azeez