5 Sep 2013

Thompson claims BBC misled MPs over payoffs

Former BBC director general Mark Thompson accuses the BBC Trust of misleading MPs on the public accounts committee over what it knew about executives’ payoffs, the BBC reports.

Mr Thompson, who is due to appear before the public accounts committee on Monday, alleges that he has emails that appear to show that BBC trust members – including the current chairman Lord Patten and senior BBC boss Anthony Fry – approved payoffs to executives.

The BBC has been criticised for paying at least £2m more than necessary to senior members of staff departing the corporation.

The BBC Trust denies Lord Patten and the other trust member misled MPs.

In a letter to MPs investigating the issue, Mr Thompson says statements by the trust’s chairman were inaccurate, information was kept from the National Audit Office and the head of human resources misled MPs over her involvement.

The 13,000-word document came in response to allegations made in July before MPs that he had not been open with the trust about pay-offs to two senior executives.

According to the BBC, the document included a briefing note prepared for Lord Patten on defending the size of the payments.

A ‘bizarre document’

Another attachment challenged the BBC head of human resources’ claim that she did not know of an email explaining the pay-offs, and appeared to show that she helped to compose it.

In a statement, the BBC Trust said: “This is a bizarre document.

“We reject the suggestion that Lord Patten and Anthony Fry misled the PAC [Public Accounts Committee.]

“We completely disagree with Mark Thompson’s analysis, much of which is unsubstantiated, in particular the suggestion that Lord Patten was given a full and formal briefing on the exact terms of Mark Byford’s departure, which in any event took place before the current chairman’s arrival at the Trust.

“It remains the case, as noted by the NAO [National Audit Office] in its original report, both that the trust under the chairmanship of Sir Michael Lyons was told that these payments were within contractual terms and that the Trust did not have a role in the approval process.

“The trust has already published its own account of events, which took place well before Lord Patten’s arrival, and we look forward to answering fully and openly further questions at Monday’s PAC hearing.

“For Lord Patten and Anthony Fry the overriding concern remains the best interests and good standing of the BBC.”