The BBC has published the minutes of the meeting in which they decided to sack Director General Greg Dyke in the aftermath of the Hutton inquiry.
Until now the minutes, from a Board of Directors' meeting on January 28, were withheld by the BBC Trust under section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act.
Journalist Heather Brooke and the Guardian had originally requested the information under the Act in 2005 but were refused. Together, they appealed against the decision and this week the Information Tribunal ruled that the BBC should disclose the files under the Act because disclosure was in the public interest.
Minutes of the 28 January meeting reveal that Dyke thought Lord Hutton's report was "the most one-sided report of its kind he had ever seen". And it details how Dyke was asked to leave the room while directors discussed his position. Opinion was split on whether he should be sacked and Dyke himself offered to resign, only to withdraw the offer later in the meeting and invite the board to "dismiss him or maintain him in the post".
In the end the board agreed: "It would be impossible to sustain Greg as DG…since the Board's authority would be destroyed."
Negotiations with Dyke and the board went on until 1.30am, which explains why the announcement of his departure was not made until 29 January.
The minutes also reveal that BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies decided to tell BBC political correspondent Andrew Marr of his resignation before telling the board because he "had not wanted to be hounded out of office by the BBC's opponents and the Press."
The minutes provides a fascinating fly on the wall account of a climactic episode in recent British history.
Here is an abridged version of the 28 January meeting minutes – information in square brackets is added:
Private session of the BBC Board of Governors on 28 January, 2004 [the day the Hutton report was published. Meeting starts at 5pm.]
Gavyn Davies [chairman of the BBC] began the meeting by summarizing Lord Hutton's criticisms of the BBC. He believed the Report was unfair but that we had to accept the referee's verdict. Gavyn explained that he had seen no alternative but to resign as Chairman as this was the decent thing to do.
Gavyn then explained why he had decided to tell Andrew Marr of his decision at about 4.30pm, ahead of the Governors's meeting. He had not wanted to be hounded from office by the BBC's opponents and the Press.
During the brief a discussion which followed, there was recognition that Gavyn's resignation was very big loss but probably necessary. There was agreement that collective or selective further resignations by Governors would significantly damage the BBC. It was recognized as important to move forward in stages with protecting the independence of the BBC a primary objective. It was suggested that Richard Ryder [vice chairman of the Governors] should ensure DCMS [Department of Culture Media and Sport] know that the BBC and the Board remain in business.
Davies left the meeting at about 5.45pm.
Richard Ryder then became acting chairman and explained that the Board would require some private time without Greg Dyke to discuss next steps.
Dyke leaves the meeting.
After a lengthy discussion Richard Ryder concluded by saying he judged that the overall view of the Board was that Greg's offer of resignation should be accepted.
Simon Milner [board secretary] asked the Board if they wished to consider sleeping on such a significant decision. In light of the discussion, Richard Ryder said it would be more dignified if Greg were to announce his resignation that evening. The Board concurred that delay would give rise to the impression of dismissal.
Richard Ryder left the meeting at about 7.15pm to relay the Board's decision to Gavyn and Greg.
Richard Ryder eported on his first meeting with Greg Dyke, who was very surprised and therefore shattered by the news. He appreciated that this was not a hanging jury, but had asked to be able to talk with the Board in person. Richard had told him that this would not be possible. Greg had then asked that everyone sleep on the decision overnight, and said that he wanted to talk with Gavyn about his position. Stephen Dando[head of BBC People] joined the meeting at about 8.10pm. . Stephen thanked the Board for allowing him to advise them in his professional capacity on the impact of their decision in HR terms. He pointed out that Greg Dyke had had a huge, personal impact on the BBC. His emotional connection with staff at all levels was very different from the previous management regime.
Greg was the driving force behind One BBC and this initiative was having a hugely important impact on the organisation. The recent staff survey indicated that two-thirds of staff were behind the change process. This enthusiasm might diminish without Greg's leadership.
Stephen moved on to explain that the Executive Committee has undergone a difficult journey on Charter Review. There was now considerable agreement but this might be set back many months if Greg were to go now.
Stephen said that the vast majority of the Executive Committee supported Greg continuing despite the Hutton Report. Greg was the best CEO that many of the Executive (including Stephen himself) have ever worked for. It would be very difficult to find someone with his strengths and qualities to run the organisation in future.
Stephen concluded by saying that the Board's decision could be extremely destabilising for the organisation. Its consequences could be very profound.
Simon Milner returned to the meeting at 8.30pm.
He reported that Greg had withdrawn his offer to resign and instead had invited the Board to dismiss him or maintain him in post.
After a brief discussion, the Board agreed that it would be impossible to sustain Greg as DG in these circumstances since the Board's authority would be destroyed. The mood of the Board was to dismiss Greg as DG if necessary, but that it would be in the BBC's, the Board's and Greg's interests if he were to resign.
Over the course of the next 2-3 hours, Richard Ryder and Pauline Neville-Jones [board member] undertook two meetings with Greg Dyke, reporting back to the Board on further developments.
At 9.30pm they reported that Greg was pursuing three distinct arguments as to why he should not resign:
He had had an understanding with Gavyn Davies that the Chairman would resign and that Greg would offer the Board an opportunity to back him.
The external debate on the Hutton Report was swinging in the BBC's favour, and there would not therefore be a united public demand for Greg's resignation to follow Gavyn's.
His work at the BBC was incomplete.
At 10.20pm they reported that Greg had agreed that the terms of his departure should be discussed. Stephen Dando was now involved on advising Richard and Pauline on the terms of Greg's contract regarding voluntary termination. Stephen Dando and Janet Youngson (the BBC's Head of Employment Law) recommended a payment equivalent to 12 months salary and a pro rata bonus payment. The Board agreed in principle to a termination on this basis.
At 11.45pm Richard Ryder asked that Mark Byford [head of global news and chosen candidate as acting director general] join the meeting.
After some supportive and encouraging comments from Governors, Mark recounted his experience of moving from National and Regional Broadcasting to the World Service some five years previously. Mark then made a number of points, including his views on the key actions he felt were now necessary:
The Executive Committee would need to be calm and together.
The internal and external communications would have to be even more closely aligned than usual.
Richard Sambrook must not be left in limbo and must be well handled.
The leadership challenge would be immense in a highly turbulent period. It would be important to uphold high-quality, independent journalism within a framework of rigour.
The meeting concluded formally at about 12.30am. Negotiations with Greg Dyke concerning the terms of his departure were continued until he decided to leave for home at about 1.30am. These were resumed the following morning, being completed by 1pm.