Newcastle’s MP responds to BBC Newsnight

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25 Apr 2018

I was away at the weekend and have only now seen the Newsnight broadcast this morning. It is, however, as similarly unfair and unbalanced as the written piece on the BBC website.

I spent a week dealing with accusations from Newsnight, which are essentially recycled material from a Mail on Sunday story in 2012. My lawyer made a full, robust response to the BBC last Tuesday, and this has already caused great distress to my family.

These are baseless, untrue allegations, which were looked at and not upheld. Those spreading them again should be ashamed of themselves. From other allegations made to the BBC, there seems to be a wider agenda afoot and it is sad that Newsnight should have been so one-sided.

I am taking further advice, but the basic facts are these:

In 2012, during a really difficult, controversial, high profile report into who from the Murdoch newspapers had misled us over phone-hacking, the relatively new clerk of the Committee went off with stress. Her boss, the then Clerk of Committees, organised a complaint, blaming me for this. This was entirely unfair and, of course, I defended it.

For whatever reason, some of that has now re-surfaced - in this leak to the BBC of documents which I have never seen, relating to as far back as 2004 (from the clerk who went off with stress) and from another anonymous staff member in 2009, presumably so as to evidence some sort of 'pattern of behaviour'.

This is, I'm afraid, just not the case. Regarding the 2004 allegation used by the BBC, for instance, I am aware of it in various versions now, including in relation to a visit with a Committee I wasn't on, and then putting the Committee in a completely different country. It is entirely baseless and untrue.

When the central complaint came to me in 2012, I also consulted lawyers personally for the first time, as I thought it had been constructed to leak. And it indeed was, to the Mail on Sunday, two days before our Phone Hacking report was due to be published.

As I contested the complaint, it became clear that under employment law, and basic accepted workplace grievance procedures, the House of Commons' initial Respect Policy was so deeply flawed and unfair that it was later scrapped as 'unfit for purpose'.

Far from protecting MPs, it allowed 'one-way traffic' against them. In my case, for instance, two members of staff handling it had both worked closely with the senior clerk who had brought the complaint. There was no fairness or independence involved, nor did MPs have a right of appeal under the original policy, while staff did.

My response to the BBC made all those points about basic fairness, but sadly it has chosen not to use them and has instead just rushed to judgement after these latest orchestrated leaks.

In all this, however, I am still constrained by obligations of confidentiality under the Respect Policy, while those recycling all this clearly feel they are not.

In the meantime, I'm very grateful for the support from people who recall this attack in the media from 2012 to undermine our report, but am saddened by the reactions of some who have been all too quick to jump to conclusions.

This was the statement, too, as part of our response, which we asked the BBC to use:

'In 2012, allegations were made about me having bullied a clerk to the Committee during the compilation of the Phone Hacking report. These allegations were investigated and not upheld. Despite this, I apologised if I had inadvertently upset the clerk who had suffered stress. The policy under which they were investigated was considered to be so unfair to those complained about that it was immediately withdrawn and replaced by another policy.'

Paul Farrelly MP, 12th March, 2018