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BBC Chairman Says He Had No Choice Over Payoff to Former Director General

Chris Patten - H 2012

Chris Patten tells a parliamentary committee that after consulting with lawyers, there were no legal grounds for dismissal after editorial missteps led to George Entwistle's resignation.

LONDON -- BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten told a parliamentary committee Tuesday that there were no legal grounds for the dismissal of the former BBC director general George Entwistle.

Entwistle exited Nov. 11 after a reporting misstep made by flagship late-evening show Newsnight led to a former top British politician being linked to a child-abuse scandal.

For many it was seen as a final straw for Entwistle, whose stint at the top of the broadcaster already had been buffeted by the ongoing fallout from the sexual-abuse allegations against former Top of the Pops presenter Jimmy Savile, who died in October 2011. Newsnight previously had shelved a sex-abuse investigation into the late BBC TV stalwart.

Patten, giving evidence to Parliament's culture, media and sport committee on Entwistle's resignation and subsequent $720,000 payoff, said he had taken extensive advice from the public broadcaster's legal eagles before deciding to greenlight the package.

Patten told the panel that Entwistle had asked him if the BBC Trust, the corporation's governing body, was "urging him to go."

He was told: "We are not urging you to go. But we are not urging you to stay."

Patten said Entwistle and his lawyers insisted he would not go unless he was paid a full 12 months' salary as well as private medical coverage and legal costs.

Patten described negotiations to Parliament as being "feverish" ahead of Entwistle's shocking exit.

Lawyers told Patten that should a payoff deal be refused, Entwistle could go to an industrial tribunal and would stand to win an extra $128,000 on top of the $720,000.

"We did not have grounds for dismissal," Patton said. "We could either accept a consensual deal for 12 months, or the situation would drift on and we would find ourselves with a constructive dismissal [claim] and also an unfair dismissal."

Referring to Entwistle, Patten said he refused to "trash a decent man" who had been "overwhelmed" by events.

Earlier, Patten told the committee the BBC must not "abandon or resign from investigative journalism" because of the mistakes made by Newsnight.

Acting director general Tim Davie told the same committee the BBC was not "falling apart" but said there were staff concerns amid the Newsnight issues.

"It was a bad editorial mistake, and there will be consequences," Davie said.

Tony Hall, a former BBC news executive who runs the Royal Opera House, has been appointed the next director general beginning in March.

Patten said he was "greatly looking forward" to working with Hall.