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Ex-BBC Boss: Chairman Misled U.K. Parliament Over Excessive Severance Payments

DOWN: Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson, former BBC director general, current CEO of the New York Times Company

Mark Thompson, now CEO of the New York Times Co., says BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten told "specific untruths and inaccuracies."

LONDON – Former BBC director general Mark Thompson has accused BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten of "fundamentally misleading" the British parliament in a debate about excessive severance payments and his knowledge of them.

A BBC news report and the Guardian said on Friday that in written evidence to parliament Thompson, who is now CEO of the New York Times Co., accuses Patten and BBC trustee Anthony Fry of telling "specific untruths and inaccuracies" at a July hearing.

The BBC earlier this year was criticized by Britain's financial watchdog for making several severance payments that exceeded contractual promises. Patten said at the time that he was surprised by the revelations and emphasized that the BBC Trust, the broadcaster's governing body, had no real power in severance decisions.

"The insinuation that they were kept in the dark by me or anyone else is false and is not supported by the evidence," Thompson wrote in a 25-page witness statement, according to the Guardian.

Thompson in his witness statement said that Patten knew of two settlements that promised more than contractually guaranteed to two departing executives.

Thompson was the U.K.'s public broadcaster's director general from 2004 until last year.

A BBC Trust spokesman said the governing body was rejecting the suggestion that its members misled parliament. "We completely disagree with Mark Thompson's analysis, much of which is unsubstantiated," he said.

On Monday, Thompson and Patten are set to appear before a parliamentary committee for the latest hearing on excessive severance payouts.

Current BBC director general Tony Hall earlier in the week unveiled stricter processes for the review of severance packages that exceed contractual guarantees.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai