Police decline to launch probe into BBC pay-offs

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 16, 2013 8:09 AM
Police decline to launch probe into BBC pay-offs

LONDON (Reuters) - British police said on Friday they would not launch a criminal investigation into allegations the publicly funded BBC broadcaster broke the law by giving departing executives huge pay-offs.

Last week, fraud squad detectives announced they were examining whether the pay-offs constituted criminal offences after the government's spending watchdog concluded the BBC had breached its own policies without good reason.

The payments, described by the head of parliament's Public Accounts Committee as excessive, come as the BBC deals with a 16 percent real terms cut to its budget this year and the wider public sector faces tough government austerity measures.

London's Metropolitan police said in a statement: "The assessment, of available material, has concluded there is insufficient evidence of dishonesty or criminal misconduct to begin a criminal investigation."

The National Audit Office (NAO) watchdog said 60 million pounds ($93 million) was paid to senior managers between 2005 and March this year. It found that in 14 of the 60 cases it reviewed, the recipients had been given more cash than they were entitled to, costing taxpayers at least 1 million pounds.

Former BBC Director-General George Entwistle, who resigned after just 54 days in the job in the wake of a child abuse scandal involving the late presenter Jimmy Savile, was given a 450,000 pound pay off.

Former Director General Mark Thomson - now chief executive of the New York Times - approved some of the payouts highlighted, according to the NAO report.

He is expected to be asked about them when he appears before the Public Accounts Committee in the coming months.

The broadcaster's governing body, the BBC Trust, has blamed weak governance from the broadcaster's executives for the failure to follow agreed severance procedures.

Lawmakers wrote to the police last week asking them to investigate the payments and whether BBC executives might have committed an offence of misconduct in a public office. ($1 = 0.6428 British pounds)

(Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Alison Williams)