Apology over Dorries’ claims tops off day of controversy for BBC

The corporation said Nadine Dorries should have been challenged more over claims she made about top civil servant Sue Gray.
The corporation said Nadine Dorries should have been challenged more over claims she made about top civil servant Sue Gray.

An apology issued for the failure to properly scrutinise claims made by Nadine Dorries on a BBC show has topped off a day of controversies for the corporation.

The broadcaster said in a statement on Friday that “there should have been more challenge” when the former culture secretary and Boris Johnson loyalist made allegations about Sue Gray on Radio 4’s World At One.

Ms Dorries had suggested the report by former civil servant Ms Gray into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street during Mr Johnson’s premiership was discredited following her decision to become chief of staff for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Sue Gray quits the Cabinet Office
Sue Gray (Aaron Chown/PA)

She described the ex-mandarin as a “personal friend of Keir Starmer, someone who has been in discussion over who knows what period of time… about taking the role as his chief of staff, with the primary objective of taking down the Tory Government”.

The former cabinet minister went on to allege there may have been political motivations in the findings Ms Gray reached over the lockdown investigation.

The comments went unchallenged, but Sir Keir clarified in an interview with LBC that Ms Gray was “not a friend” and is “not in the same social circles” as him.

In a statement on Friday, the BBC said it had received complaints from listeners who felt Ms Dorries was allowed to make “inaccurate and biased” claims.

It said: “Nadine Dorries was the first and only Cabinet minister and Boris Johnson loyalist to have given an interview about Sue Gray’s appointment, and the programme was keen to press her on her reaction as well as what the appointment meant for the work of the Privileges Committee. In hindsight we agree that there should have been more challenge to Ms Dorries’ claims.”

It added that the show’s full sequence included comments made by crossbench peer Lord Kerslake, who questioned whether Ms Gray and Sir Keir were friends and defended Ms Gray’s integrity as a senior civil servant.

But the corporation acknowledged that his remarks had not been heard directly after Ms Dorries’, which may have left some listeners thinking her claims were uncontested.

The fiasco comes amid a day of controversies for the BBC surrounding Match Of The Day presenter Gary Lineker, Question Time presenter Fiona Bruce and the broadcasting of a show by Sir David Attenborough.

The corporation said on Friday that it had “decided” Lineker would take a break from presenting the highlights programme until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached.

Gary Lineker comments on Illegal Migration Bill
Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker (James Manning/PA)

Lineker, 62, has been embroiled in a row over impartiality after comparing the language used to launch a new Government asylum policy with 1930s Germany on Twitter.

Pundits Alan Shearer and Ian Wright have now announced they are boycotting Match Of The Day this weekend over the move.

The corporation was later forced to defend Bruce against accusations that she trivialised domestic abuse during a discussion about Stanley Johnson.

The presenter had interrupted while a panel member was describing the father of former prime minister Boris Johnson as a “wife-beater”, explaining that his friends had stated he attacked his wife but it was “a one-off.”

The BBC said in a statement that Bruce had an obligation to follow right of reply rules when serious allegations were made about people on air, and that she had not been expressing “personal opinion”.

The corporation has also hit back at claims that it pulled an episode of a new series featuring Sir David out of fears of a political backlash.

The Guardian reported that insiders had claimed the broadcaster was bowing to pressure from lobbying groups by making the Save Our Wild Isles show available only on iPlayer.

The paper said it was originally intended as a sixth episode of the Wild Isles series, but that it had been separated to avoid criticism from Tory MPs and right-wing newspapers.

A spokesperson from the BBC said the claims were “totally inaccurate” and that “Wild Isles is – and always was – a five-part series and does not shy away from environmental content”.