BBC Trust accused of ‘dragging heels’ over release of payoff scandal emails

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  By Angela Haggerty

The BBC Trust has been criticised for “dragging its heels” after delaying the publication of emails related to the pay-off scandal for top executives at the corporation.

A request for the release of email correspondences between the BBC and former Director-General Mark Thompson was submitted by Stephen Barclay, a Conservative member of the public accounts committee, but the BBC Trust is reportedly considering blocking the request.

There have been strong calls for full transparency in a bid to get to the bottom of who knew what and when over payoffs totalling £25 million which were given to 150 executives who left the BBC during Thompson’s time in charge.

Mr Barclay told the Times: “The BBC Trust is dragging its heels on releasing information which is in the public interest, and which will show whether what executives said privately to each other differs from what they told Parliament.  The trust appears once again to be on the side of the executive, not the licence-fee payer.”

The revelations come while the broadcaster is implementing budget cuts that could see 2,000 people made redundant under the Delivering Quality First cost-slashing programme.

In Scotland, the NUJ is balloting members after claiming the corporation was targeting employees for compulsory redundancy, despite a stated policy of redeployment from the broadcaster.

In London, BBC head of news James Harding recently announced a further 75 jobs would become redundant over the coming months at BBC News.

The BBC Trust has requested more time to consider the Freedom of Information request from Mr Barclay on account of the risk that publication could inhibit other executives from engaging in “free and frank provision of advice or exchange of views”, in accordance with Section 36 of the Act.

The Trust’s Chairman, Lord Patten, normally makes judgement on whether the release of information is in the public interest but the responsibility will be passed to vice-chairman Diane Coyle because of Lord Patten’s personal involvement in the payoff row.

In July, he hinted to MPs that Mr Thompson had not informed the Trust about a £1m payoff given to his former deputy Mark Byford.

However, Mr Thompson denied the suggestions and accused Lord Patten of “fundamentally misleading MPs” over the saga and insisted the Trust had been “fully briefed” about the settlement.

Mr Thomspon, who was BBC Director-General from 2004-2013 and is now chief executive at the New York Times, accused Lord Patten and BBC Trustee Antony Fry of submitting “false” evidence to the Commons select committee hearing earlier this year.

Meanwhile, UK culture secretary Maria Miller has called on the BBC Trust to “put their house in order” and described the recent controversies surrounding the broadcaster as “totally unacceptable”.