R4 admits error over MMR interview

Liddle: "it was a one-off incident"

Today editor Rod Liddle has conceded that health minister Jacqui Smith should have been given notice before she was was put on the spot over MMR vaccines during an interview on the Radio 4 breakfast programme.

Back in December, Smith had been booked for the interview on Today to discuss claims that untrained social workers had been ignoring claims of child abuse.

Halfway through the interview, presenter John Humphrys asked her why she and other ministers refused to answer questions about the use of MMR in their own families.

She refused to answer and Humphrys accused her of being "holier than thou".

Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, was reportedly so incensed by the interview that he threatened to boycott the programme and the Health Department was said to be preparing a formal letter of complaint.

However, it appears no letter was sent, but Liddle confirmed that he had received a private letter from Alastair Campbell, director of communications at 10 Downing Street, over the interview.

Liddle denied claims that the programme deliberately tried to ambush the minister.

But he conceded that Today should have given Smith some notice that it wanted to discuss the MMR vaccine issue.

"We should have told her we wanted to talk about MMR," said Liddle. "We usually do. It was a one-off incident and we just forgot."

By Martin McNamara

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