BBC home affairs correspondent Sally Chidzoy is appealing an employment tribunal’s decision to throw out her claim because she spoke to a journalist.
A barrister for the BBC complained to the judge after Chidzoy was spotted talking to a reporter outside the Cambridge courtroom last month.
- May 23, 2019
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Press Gazette understands from a well-placed source that Chidzoy “exchanged pleasantries” with a journalist from the Cambridge Times.
Judge Michael Ord threw out her case, in which she claimed unfair treatment by the corporation, because he said Chidzoy had been guilty of “unreasonable conduct” by speaking with the reporter.
Her case was outlined in a 54-page witness statement which details how she feels which was bullied and victimised over a period of several years after pointing out an apparent conflict of interest involving her line manager.
Her emails were trawled through by BBC investigators and she claims at one point she was held against her will in a room when bosses tried to seize her mobile phone.
Chidzoy contends that three stories exposing high pay and perks enjoyed by an NHS boss were spiked at the behest of then health minister Norman Lamb MP.
Chidzoy has been with the BBC for 29 years. Her witness statement includes information obtained under a subject access request she made to the BBC under the Data Protection Act.
She said that in August 2013 she was investigating a story about how the Centre for Business and Public Sector Ethics was supporting a planned visit by the Chinese secret police to Cambridge.
She said she was “taken aback” when told that the organisation’s spokesperson was Nikki O’Donnell, who was also her editor at the BBC.
Chidzoy said she felt she had no option but to spike the story saying “I had been placed in a very difficult position”.
She said that she raised her concerns about a potential conflict of interest at a private meeting with O’Donnell on 13 August 2013. O’Donnell said she was not paid for the role.
Later in 2013 Chidzoy said that Look East broadcast a live programme from Shanghai and that it made a payment to the Centre for Business and Public Ethics. This was revealed to be a “fixer fee” of £400.
Chidzoy said that after her August meeting with O’Donnell “I gradually became aware that my work relationships with management were deteriorating”. She said: “I was subject to verbal aggression and unjustified criticism”.
She said that after her disclosure about O’Donnell’s outside interests she was “ostracised, isolated and left without management support”.
She said that the last appraisal she was given in 2012 stated: “Sally is one of our best journalists.”
In the summer of 2014 Chidzoy said that several stories detailing high pay and perks for East of England ambulance chief Anthony Marsh were withheld by the BBC in the wake of emails sent by then health minister Lamb.
These included details of his £275,000 salary and £20,000 chauffeur costs.
Chidzoy said: “All of my three stories on Anthony Marsh made major headlines in the national press in the following weeks.
In an email to colleagues in July 2014, Chidzoy outlined her concerns: “Here we have a cabinet minister writing to the BBC trying to get a story I was working on spiked – I have been investigating widespread corruption and financial allegations involving staff at the top of the East of England Ambulance Service.”
An email sent by Lamb to the BBC found its way to the Mail on Sunday This prompted the BBC to launch what Chidzoy described as a “covert operation” against her to find out if she leaked the document – looking at details of her emails, texts and phone calls.
She said that at a meeting with managers on 29 September, 2014, “there was an attempted seizure of my mobile telephone and I was falsely imprisoned”.
She said: “Given the intervention by an MP and minister regarding an investigation that had not been broadcast, my concern was elevated as I feared my sources could be compromised.”
She said in her witness statement: “I was subject to covert investigation by ex-Metropolitan police officers who populate the BBC investigations unit.”
She said she was asked by managers if she had been in contact with a Mail on Sunday journalist. She said she had not, although later admitted that she had been in contact with a freelance journalist who it emerged did work for the Mail on Sunday. This was used as evidence of a disciplinary breach.
Chidzoy said: “There is nothing unusual in journalists calling others on stories in the hope of receiving help…I did not assist with information in respect of this story, however.”
On 10 December, 2014, BBC East regional manager Mick Rawsthorne sent an email to 16 senior BBC managers which referred to Chidzoy as a “shitsu” and a “dangerous dog”
Although no evidence was found that Chidzoy leaked the Lamb email, she was subjected to a further disciplinary investigation for sharing it with a handful of BBC colleagues.
She said: “In marked contrast to me sharing the Norman Lamb email with a few trusted colleagues, Mr Rawsthorne, during the investigation into allegations against me, sent the Shitsu email to 16 senior managers which denigrated and demeaned me.
“No action or investigation was ever conducted against him. People are treated differently in relation to the rules at the BBC.”
She was eventually given a final written warning for the alleged crime of “changing my story in relation to contact with the outside journalist”.
She said: “The punishment was unjustified and disproportionate” and “I do not accept that I did anything wrong”.
A BBC Spokesperson said: “We are aware there has been an appeal of the Tribunal’s decision and are waiting to hear the outcome of the appeal.”