Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Campbell slams BBC over 'one-sided' Spotlight Troubles inquests probe

 

By Cate McCurry

A BBC reporter who produced a highly critical Spotlight investigation into the police is an ex-officer who left the PSNI after appearing in court, an MP has claimed in Parliament.

The details emerged during a series of claims made in a parliamentary debate on the transparency of the BBC.

During the debate called by Gregory Campbell, the DUP MP asked if the reporter – who he did not name – had declared her past police history to the corporation.

The BBC NI Spotlight programme, which aired last October, focused on how many victims of the Troubles must wait years for an inquest into how their relatives were killed.

The Troubled Legacy programme included victims of alleged RUC shootings.

Speaking under parliamentary privilege during yesterday’s debate, Mr Campbell named the Spotlight show and said: “The programme was critical of police and both serving and former officers were concerned at the one-sided picture that this programme portrayed.

“Shortly after the broadcast I was told that the reporter who conducted the interviews and carried out the broadcast on the BBC had herself previously been a serving police officer.

“I wrote to the reporter and asked if she could confirm whether she had ever been a serving police officer in Northern Ireland and if yes, to outline the circumstances of her leaving.

“I also asked that as a presenter of a programme that is critical of the police ‘do you believe you had a conflict of interest?’ and whether the BBC asked you to complete a declaration of interest prior to this programme, and how much was she paid.”

The East Londonderry MP also referred to a court case involving a police officer.

According to Mr Campbell, the former officer in the case — who was based in north Belfast — “subsequently left the police, joined the BBC and did a programme that was critical of the police”.

“No explanation has been given as to why it is critical, or why that reporter did what she did. Did she state on a declaration of interest that she was a former police officer? Did the BBC know that and then allow her to do a programme that was critical of the police?” Mr Campbell said.

In his letter to the BBC reporter, Mr Campbell had asked whether the court case, which appeared on the BBC website at the time “related to you”.

“That news story was of a serving police officer who was in court who faced a charge,” he said, adding he had received no responses.

The charges were two counts of shoplifting and one of obstructing a constable.

The female officer had given a false name to police.

However, she was acquitted of those charges. Two other shoplifting charges relating to two bras worth a total of £90 and of causing criminal damage to a pair of trousers were “left on the books”.

At the hearing the judge told Belfast Crown Court “she should have known better to give a proper name” rather than her sister’s. Binding her to be of good behaviour for a year on her own bond of £500, the judge warned her she could forfeit some or all of this money if she breached the order.

Mr Campbell went on to query “what would happen in the public arena if it was discovered, after I or anyone else in this House raised an issue, that we had an interest in it that we did not declare”.

In a statement in response, a BBC spokesman said: “As we have already indicated to Mr Campbell, we deal with queries about the personal information of BBC staff in ways that safeguard their rights and fulfil the requirements of law.”

He went on to accuse the Beeb of hiring a production company that was not yet legally incorporated and whose offices appear to be at a taxi rank.

The company, Third Street Studios, was commissioned by the BBC to produce the series Story Of A Lifetime, which aired in October 2014.

The company was not legally incorporated until two months after the programme appeared on television screens.

Mr Campbell continued: “I asked the BBC: to whom and when did the BBC NI award the contract for the series and what address the BBC used to communicate the commission to Third Street Studios, and did the BBC check that it was incorporated before it was commissioned? To date, neither the company involved nor the BBC have been able to tell me where their offices are located and to how much the contract is for.

“According to the map on their website, their office is at Belfast City Hall.

“It is very prestigious in front of the City Hall, at a taxi rank.

“Again, we have some questions that need answering.”

During the debate, lasting over an hour, the DUP MP also slammed the “BBC fat cats” in Belfast who he described as “either incredibly arrogant or incredibly shifty”.

“One thing they are not, however, is open and transparent,” he added.

“Questions about the use of public money are ignored or else they have a veil of secrecy over them.”

He also criticised a Radio Ulster programme’s handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal. He said: “The presenter of the programme used inaccurate and outrageous commentary. I appeared on the programme and confronted this deliberate misrepresentation and pointed out that as the scheme had only begun and scheduled to last 20 years, why did this presenter continue to say public money had been wasted and gone up in smoke.

“Only after that, coupled with strong letters from my party to the BBC hierarchy, was this reprehensible language stopped.”

Mr Campbell concluded: “The bottom line here is the BBC needs to radically alter the way they carry out their business using our money.”

A BBC spokesman said: “We are committed to a high level of transparency, including around our commissioning processes. We also have to protect the BBC’s editorial independence. Value for money is fundamental to everything that we do.  

“We invited Mr Campbell to discuss his concerns about BBC commissioning in December 2016. This offer remains open.”

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