18 July 2023

BBC boss tells peers: There was huge pressure on us to name Huw Edwards

18 July 2023

The acting chairwoman of the BBC has told peers that there was “huge pressure” on the corporation to name Huw Edwards as the presenter caught up in a controversy.

Dame Elan Closs Stephens told a pre-arranged meeting of the Communications and Digital Committee on Tuesday that she was “informed immediately” following allegations that a BBC presenter paid a young person for explicit images.

She said the corporation’s board met twice to discuss the controversy following the Sun newspaper, who initially made claims, publishing its July 8 front page.

Speaking about about the board’s reaction, Dame Elan said: “We had a duty to act with some calm and rationality in the face of lack of rationality and lack of calm.

“There were an awful lot of questions that could not be answered.

“There was a huge pressure to disclose the name of somebody to whom we had a duty of care, and duty of privacy, in addition to the family and young man that were concerned in this maelstrom.

“So I was on the one hand seeking to establish the right of the board to oversee what was happening, but at the same time, I was trying my best to make for a calm and rational discussion of the issue before we all got carried away in what could have been very wrong directions.”

BBC director-general Tim Davie also updated the committee on the review he has ordered into the internal protocols and procedures on complaints at the corporation.

Mr Davie also confirmed that the BBC has been in touch with the complainant and the corporation wants to be “engaged and appropriately listening and understanding their concerns”.

The family of the young person had originally complained to the BBC in May and the corporation said it tried to contact them twice.

In a letter to BBC News, the young person at the centre of the controversy later said via lawyers that nothing inappropriate or unlawful happened with the then unnamed presenter.

Mr Davie also said he expects to report in the autumn or late autumn.

Dame Elan also told peers that Simon Cuerden, a forensic partner at Deloitte and senior independent director at the BBC, Sir Nick Serota, will be leading the broadcaster’s review into how complaints are assessed.

She added: “The terms of reference will be in front of the full board this coming Thursday, in two days time.

“They will be published in due course and the inquiry will get under way.”

Last week, in a statement to the PA news agency, Edwards was named by his wife, Vicky Flind, who said at the time he is receiving in-patient hospital care and is suffering “serious mental health issues”.

Mr Davie also told the committee: “This has been a difficult affair where we have tried to calmly and reasonably navigate some difficult concerns around the allegations themselves, duty of care, privacy and legitimate public interest.”

He also said the corporation’s fact-finding investigation into the allegations against Huw Edwards could take “weeks or a couple of months or even longer” as he was not in “control of all the variables”.

Mr Davie added: “My main priority is to be fair and get all the information into that process and act judiciously.”

He also confirmed that high-profile staff members have in their contract a clause about not bringing the BBC into disrepute.

The BBC also released a letter on Tuesday sent to Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer from Dame Elan, which was mentioned in the meeting and sets out the two stages of the corporation’s investigation.

She wrote this would involve a “fact finding investigation” and “if the threshold for a disciplinary is met” will move to that process.

Dame Elan added: “It is too early to determine if a disciplinary case may be required, and we have a current duty of care to the individual to consider as well.”

The Lords’ committee chairwoman Baroness Tina Stowell, chairwoman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Dame Caroline Dinenage, and Ofcom chairman Baron Michael Grade were also copied into the letter.

Mr Davie also told peers that the due to the history of the media industry everyone should be “concerned” about the dynamics between presenters and people in power and others.

He added: “You need to ensure that you’re very, very clear on what your expectations are culturally, as well as the policy.”

Mr Davie also said there is a “a safe place” where staff can go to raise concerns, which is the whistleblowing complaints process that is “external and confidential”.

He said: “We’ve got most people very confident in it, but we need to keep working on it. There’s still gaps in that and this is normal when you’re deploying these things.”

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Police said no criminal offence has been committed by Edwards and The Sun said it has no plans to publish further allegations and will co-operate with the BBC’s internal investigation process.

BBC News had reported a second person claiming they felt threatened by messages they received from Edwards.

BBC Newsnight has also reported claims that one former and two current employees at the corporation claim they had received messages from the veteran broadcaster that made them feel uncomfortable.

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