September 6, 2013 12:46 pm

BBC Trust attacks Mark Thompson’s position on pay-offs

The BBC Trust has attacked as “bizarre” leaked evidence from Mark Thompson, its former director-general, claiming the corporation’s governing body misled parliament over pay-offs to senior executives.

Mr Thompson, who left the BBC last September to become chief executive of the New York Times, alleges that Lord Patten, chair of the trust, and trustee Anthony Fry, told “specific untruths and inaccuracies” to MPs at the Commons public accounts committee on July 10 this year.

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A report by the National Audit Office, published this week, revealed that departing senior managers at the BBC received almost £2m more than they were contractually entitled to. The report covered a three-year period to the end of December last year and looked at 150 severance payments.

Lord Patten told MPs in July that he did not know about key aspects of severance settlements made to Mark Byford, former deputy director-general, and Sharon Baylay, a former director of marketing.

Mr Byford received a pay-off of £949,000, over and above his contractual entitlement, as part of moves to streamline management. Ms Baylay received a pay-off of almost £400,000.

But, in a 25-page witness statement, Mr Thompson alleges that Lord Patten misled MPs and was in fact “fully briefed, in writing as well as orally, about the Mark Byford and Sharon Baylay settlements soon after his arrival as chairman in 2011”.

Speaking to the BBC, Lord Patten said: “I have no concerns at all about the remarks which Mr Thompson has made.”

In a statement, the BBC Trust said: “This is a bizarre document. We reject the suggestion that Lord Patten and Anthony Fry misled the PAC. We completely disagree with Mark Thompson’s analysis, much of which is unsubstantiated, in particular the suggestion that Lord Patten was given a full and formal briefing on the exact terms of Mark Byford’s departure, which in any event took place before the current chairman’s arrival at the trust.”

The trust added: “It remains the case, as noted by the NAO in its original report, both that the trust under the chairmanship of Sir Michael Lyons was told that these payments were within contractual terms and that the trust did not have a role in the approval process.”

This latest public spat between Lord Patten and Mr Thompson indicates their appearance on Monday before the public accounts committee may be heated.

Speaking to the BBC about whether MPs had been misled, Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said: “We will have to discover that next Monday. Certainly those individuals we are having in front of us don’t agree with each other on what happened or who knew what, and until we can unravel that we won’t know whether or not we were misled.”

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