Entertainment & Arts

Former BBC IT head unfairly dismissed over DMI failure

John Linwood
Image caption John Linwood was paid an annual salary of £280,000

The former BBC technology chief sacked over the failed £100m Digital Media Initiative was unfairly dismissed, an employment tribunal has found.

John Linwood claimed he was made a "scapegoat" for the failure of the DMI project, which sought to move the BBC away from using video tape.

The tribunal said it was "astonished" at the BBC's "cavalier disregard" for the disciplinary process.

However, it ruled Mr Linwood had partially contributed to his dismissal.

It also rejected two other complaints he made against the corporation.

The DMI scheme was scrapped in May 2013 by director general Tony Hall, in one of his first acts after taking up the post. The total cost to the licence fee payer of the failed project was £98.4m.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) later branded it "a complete failure" and said the BBC had been "far too complacent" over its handling of the scheme.

In a statement, the BBC said the failure of the project had been "a very difficult set of circumstances" and expressed disappointment over the tribunal's decision.

"We had a major failure of a significant project, and we had lost confidence - as the tribunal acknowledges - in John Linwood.

"At the time we believed we acted appropriately," the corporation continued. "The tribunal has taken a different view.

"We are disappointed with the outcome, but nevertheless we will learn lessons from the judgment and we're grateful to staff who were involved in dealing with a very difficult case."

Foregone conclusion

The tribunal's findings outline a lengthy series of meetings and emails involving three directors general, numerous BBC executives and Lucy Adams, the BBC's former HR director.

It said the BBC's executive board had decided Mr Linwood should be dismissed "one way or another" at a meeting on 13 May 2013, and several emails sent subsequently discussed his dismissal as a foregone conclusion.

The BBC, it continued, interviewed replacements for Mr Linwood before the disciplinary procedure began and was in breach of its disciplinary procedures by failing to conduct an investigation before hearings began.

It failed to present documents to Mr Linwood in a timely manner and sent him "thousands of emails" on 19 and 21 June 2013 to help prepare for a meeting just a few days later.

Mr Linwood asked for a postponement in order to read the documents and because he had already booked family leave. The BBC responded by bringing forward the date of the hearing.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Public Accounts Committee said the BBC had been 'complacent' in handling the DMI project

In his evidence to the tribunal, Mr Linwood said that, after leaving one meeting about his future, he was told by a colleague that the procedure was "a stitch up".

The BBC's then acting head of press Gavin Dawson told the tribunal Mr Linwood was "arguably" depicted a scapegoat in the media. However, he added, that "is not the way I would characterise it".

"The newspapers are always going to be after someone," he added.

In its own representations, the BBC said Mr Linwood had been fairly dismissed after a "full and even-handed disciplinary procedure".

Analysis: David Sillito, BBC media correspondent

When John Linwood started his job at the BBC, one of the first emails he read informed him that a digital media project called DMI was in serious trouble. Eventually, it was scrapped and one man was sacked... John Linwood. It was, in his words, "a stitch up".

The Tribunal largely agreed. Emails from senior managers about how to present the calamity to the press by leaving Linwood "spinning in the wind" were described as "extraordinarily unattractive" in tone.

When Linwood asked for a disciplinary hearing to to be postponed, the BBC brought it forward. He was given one day to go through 16,000 documents.

The tribunal says it was simply astonished at the "cavalier disregard for any of the norms of a fair disciplinary process".

Speaking after the judgment, Mr Linwood said: "Serious allegations of misconduct were made against me out of the blue and without any foundation or prior investigation.

"I was told to resign or be put through a disciplinary process and face dismissal. I refused to resign because I had not committed any act of misconduct.

"The employment tribunal has now found that the allegations made against me were 'general, vague, broad in nature and non-specific' and 'virtually impossible to address in any practical way' and that my summary dismissal was profoundly procedurally and substantively unfair.

"I believe I was made a scapegoat by the BBC. I am profoundly grateful to the employment tribunal for getting to the heart of this whole sorry episode."

His solicitor, Louise Hobbs, of Signet Partners, said: "The judgment gives an unedifying insight into the inner workings of the BBC at senior management level."

The amount of compensation that will be paid to Linwood, who earned £290,000 a year, will be decided at a later date. The date for a remedy hearing will be set by the end of August.

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