Belfast Telegraph

BBC Northern Ireland's £350k in hush money to gag 13 local workers

By Adrian Rutherford

BBC Northern Ireland spent more than £350,000 securing the silence of 13 staff with controversial gagging orders, it can be revealed.

The corporation admitted most of its "compromise agreements" included confidentiality and non-derogatory clauses, meaning employees cannot speak publicly about their experiences.

It will raise suspicions that some cases of bullying or harassment may have been kept under wraps because of the payments.

The BBC said it followed normal business practice, adding that the agreements did not prevent staff raising legitimate concerns.

Details of the confidentiality agreements were released to the Belfast Telegraph following a Freedom of Information request.

In the past six years, the BBC entered into 13 compromise agreements or CO3 agreements – resolved through the Labour Relations Agency – with staff based in Northern Ireland.

All 13 contained confidentiality clauses. And 11 of the 13 cases also had a non-derogatory clause – known as a gagging clause.

In total the settlements, which relate to former and existing staff, cost £358,370, before legal costs.

The BBC refused to provide a breakdown of how much each settlement cost. But in nine cases it made a specific confidentiality payment to the recipient.

The BBC said not all staff who left its Northern Ireland wing signed a CO3.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said the BBC needed to be more transparent. "There is a need for openness and the BBC have come to openness and transparency very, very slowly," he said. "They are still not there yet, and, based on this information, they have a considerable way to go yet."

Earlier this year it emerged the BBC had spent £28m nationally on gagging orders for 539 staff. Among those the BBC tried to silence was ex-Countryfile presenter Miriam O'Reilly.

The 56-year-old, who won an ageism case against the corporation in 2011, rejected a five-figure offer to stay silent. She previously said: "I was offered a large amount of money to go away and forget about it – never speak of it again. I didn't want to do that because I am a journalist.

"The fact that the BBC was asking me to sign away my freedom of speech for hard money made me feel sick. I was ashamed."

The BBC recently said it will be removing derogatory statement restrictions from future contracts and compromise agreements. It said the reason for entering into a CO3 agreement depends on the facts of individual circumstances."

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