Tower Hamlets council 'spent more than £120k on law firms and PR for Panorama investigation'

  • Council reportedly spent £41,000 on PR firm Champollion
  • Ex-BBC journalist Kim Catcheside, who joined PR firm in 2010, said to have been paid £250 an hour to advise mayor
  • Further £81,924 spent on Taylor Wessing law firm
  • In brief to law firms, council allegedly suggested documentary could be blocked by highlighting "potential breach" of BBC code

Tower Hamlets council reportedly spent more than £120,000 on PR and legal advice after learning of a BBC Panorama investigation into alleged corruption.

According to Tower Hamlets blogger Ted Jeory, law firm Taylor Wessing was paid £81,924, and PR Champollion £41,000.

Jeory reports that former BBC journalist Kim Catcheside – who joined Champollion as a director in 2010 – was paid £250 an hour to prepare Mayor Lutfur Rahman for an interview with Panorama’s John Ware.

The programme alleged that Rahman has favoured Bengali charities for grant allocations, increasing spending on them from £1.5m to £3.6m.

Jeory, a former accountant, obtained the documents under the Audit Commission Act, which means there is a four-week window every year when councils must "throw open its books for public inspection" (see more on Jeory's blog).

The Evening Standard, which followed up on Jeory's blog, said that Champollion “apparently drew up ‘defensive lines and crisis communications’ and prepared interviewees for ‘challenging questioning’”.

It also said that in its brief to bidding law firms, the council suggested that querying a “potential breach” of the BBC’s editorial guidelines could prevent the broadcast.

In April, after the documentary was broadcast, it emerged that a journalist ‘whistleblower’ leaked documents from the probe to Rahman.

According to Jeory the ‘whistleblower’ was a broadcast journalism student of Bengali origin who worked with the production company Films of Record for a short period in January.

She took information about the documentary from a shared hard drive and leaked it to Rahman’s office. According to the Daily Mail, it includes the names of dozens of confidential sources.

The Evening Standard quotes a Tower Hamlets spokesperson as saying: A Tower Hamlets council spokesperson said:”The Council received a dossier of material from a whistle-blower who worked on the then upcoming Panorama programme who believed it would be unfair and misleading.

“As the programme was due to air before the Mayoral election, we needed to communicate our concerns to the BBC to ensure balanced coverage.

“There was no in-house legal experience or capacity to deal with issues of journalistic standards and editorial compliance, so suitably experienced external legal firms were approached to pitch for the work.

“Taylor Wessing were selected and advised on the operation of BBC guidelines, based on their experience of tackling investigative reporting and regulatory compliance by the BBC and also on the editorial decision-making processes within the BBC.

“They also advised on Data Protection considerations for the Council that applied to the personal data revealed in the dossier.”

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