UK

BBC crisis: Entwistle 'wanted £450,000 to leave'

  • 22 November 2012
  • From the section UK

Former BBC director general George Entwistle was only prepared to resign for the £450,000 pay-off he would have received if sacked, MPs have been told.

BBC Trustee Anthony Fry told the Public Accounts Committee of his "irritation" at having to pay the full sum and not the £225,000 payable for a resignation - but said a quick departure was best.

And BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten has said the pay-off followed legal advice.

Mr Entwistle quit on 10 November after the Newsnight Lord McAlpine row.

Mr Fry told MPs that Mr Entwistle would have concluded from his meeting with the BBC Trust earlier that day that he no longer had its full confidence.

His lawyers soon afterwards made it clear he would resign for the £450,000 pay-off, which represented a year's salary.

"I had to take off my substantial irritation and think, what at this point is in the best interests of the BBC and the licence fee-payers?" said Mr Fry.

"And I was very clearly of the view that trying to reach this accommodation quickly, to get an acting director general in place and to stabilise the organisation was by far and away more important than sitting on a moral high horse and trying to get the director general to change his mind under which he would leave."

Letting the process drag on potentially for days, then sacking Mr Entwistle - who still retained significant staff support - would have further damaged morale at the BBC, Mr Fry said.

"Did I feel good about it? Absolutely not." But he added: "I still think it was the right thing to do."

Fifty-four days

Mr Entwistle announced his resignation that evening, saying that as editor-in-chief he was ultimately responsible for the "unacceptable journalistic standards" of the 2 November Newsnight film which led to Lord McAlpine being wrongly accused of child abuse.

Mr Entwistle's resignation made him the BBC's shortest-serving director general

He said that the report, covering cases of child abuse at north Wales care homes, should not have been broadcast.

He had been in the job just 54 days, making him the BBC's shortest-serving director general.

Mr Fry said: "I absolutely recognise that, from the viewpoint of the overwhelming number of licence fee-payers and your constituents, any of the numbers we talk about today are frankly in the stratosphere.

"So whether it's £225,000 or £450,000, these are huge numbers and I fully recognise that."

He revealed that the terms of Mr Entwistle's settlement also included: 12 months' private medical cover; up to £10,000 to cover legal fees related to his resignation; up to £25,000 worth of legal expenses for contributions to the inquiries into the Jimmy Savile scandal; and £10,000 for public relations.

Committee chair Margaret Hodge said the details of the package highlighted a lack of "understanding of what the ordinary punter turning on the telly feels about it".

"It demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of how this is viewed in the public domain, given that it is licence fee-payers' money," she said.

"He took a public job, he was hugely well remunerated, he failed in 54 days - he gets incredibly rewarded for failure."

Meanwhile BBC, chief financial officer Zarin Patel revealed that almost 600 managers were currently receiving private medical cover, but that it was no longer being offered to new senior managers.

Speaking at a news conference after announcing the appointment of Lord Hall as the new director general, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said of Mr Entwistle's departure: "The deal we did, while it may annoy for reasons I understand in headlines, was the best one for the BBC and for the licence fee-payer because anything else we would have done would have cost us more."