BBC pay-offs: Trust denies Mark Thompson claims

Mark Thompson avoided answering questions about his allegation that the BBC Trust had misled Parliament

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The BBC Trust has denied former director general Mark Thompson's claim it approved a £949,000 severance package for his deputy Mark Byford.

Writing to a group of MPs, Mr Thompson said the payment was made with the "full prior knowledge" of the trust.

Earlier, BBC head of human resources Lucy Adams said she made a mistake when she told MPs she did not know about an email about pay-offs to top executives.

The BBC has been criticised for paying £25m to 150 outgoing senior executives.

This was £2m more than their contracts necessitated.

Mr Byford's deal included £73,000 for unused leave.

In a letter to MPs investigating the pay-offs, Mr Thompson accused the BBC Trust - which represents licence fee payers' interests - of misleading Parliament.

He said statements by the trust's chairman Lord Patten were inaccurate and information was kept from the National Audit Office which carried out a report into the severance packages.

The document was prepared ahead of Mr Thompson's appearance before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday, where he will be expected to answer allegations made in July that he had not been open with the trust about pay-offs to two senior executives.

Speaking to BBC reporter Andrew Verity, Mr Thompson said he would not comment on the issue until he appeared before the committee.

The hearing is a follow-up to a similar hearing in July which saw Lord Patten tell MPs he was "shocked and dismayed" by pay-offs totalling £25m to senior managers.

The row has opened up a growing split between past and present BBC executives.

Lucy Adams Adams has since said she helped compose the email to the Trust about the pay offs

Mr Thompson, who left the BBC last year and is now chief executive of the New York Times, also highlighted previous evidence given by Ms Adams in his submission.

She told the PAC hearing in July that she did not know of an email about the pay-offs.

Ms Adams has since said she helped compose the email but did not recognise it from its description during the hearing.

In a statement on Friday, five members of the trust who were in their posts at the time of Mr Byford's departure said they were assured that Mr Byford's package "was within contractual terms and that the chairman of the BBC's executive remuneration committee had agreed to it being approved".

"We were not asked for approval of the financial package, formally or informally," they said. "Nor did we give it."

The statement from Richard Ayre, Diane Coyle, Anthony Fry, Alison Hastings and David Liddiment added: "The trust's concern throughout this period was to ensure that the director general met the strategy set for him by the trust: to reduce radically both the number of senior managers and the cost of the management pay bill, and he achieved both."

Speaking on Friday morning, Lord Patten said he had "no concerns at all" about the statements made by Mr Thompson and was "looking forward" to appearing before the committee on Monday.

Former director of Global News, Richard Sambrook, said: "Obviously it's a bit of an unseemly row that's breaking out and I personally wouldn't like to be in the committee room on Monday morning."

Mr Sambrook called Mr Thompson a "capable and thorough" director general adding: "It's a question of administrative cock up than conspiracy I suspect, I don't think this is a question of somebody doing something wrong, it's a question of management approach."

Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris, a committee member, expressed his dismay at the situation.

He said: "I don't think the BBC is making itself look particularly great at this point in time. I've not seen anything quite like this before in my short time in politics.

"But the one thing I do know is that my fellow committee members, Margaret Hodge the chairman and I will be trying to get to the bottom of who's actually telling the truth and if anybody has actually mislead the committee in the past."

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