Summary of Actions and Findings regarding 2 November Newsnight

Date: 12.11.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.14
Category: Corporate
Set out below is a summary of actions being taken by the BBC Executive Board regarding the 2 November edition of Newsnight. We have also set out a summary of the findings from BBC Scotland Director, Ken MacQuarrie, who was asked to investigate the circumstances and editorial failings around the programme.

The report from Mr MacQuarrie below is a summary of his findings. The full report will be used to inform disciplinary proceedings, which will begin immediately. The BBC will release the full report, subject to any legal redactions, following the completion of disciplinary actions.

The failings identified by Mr MacQuarrie are unacceptable, and the Executive Board is taking clear and decisive action, as set out below, to restore public trust in the BBC’s journalism. The Executive Board thanks Mr MacQuarrie for undertaking his report quickly.

The actions are being taken by the Executive Board and have been reported to the BBC Trust.


Having received the report, the Executive Board have put in place the following actions with immediate effect:

1. To address the lack of clarity around the senior editorial chain of command, a decision has been taken to re-establish a single management to deal with all output, Savile related or otherwise, as announced earlier today.

2. To address the pressure on the Newsnight team Karen O’Connor has agreed to take on the role of Acting Editor of Newsnight.

3. We will now embark on a disciplinary process where appropriate. Clearly we will not discuss the details of these individual cases.

4. We will as a matter of urgency fill the current vacancy for a Non-Executive Director of the BBC with a senior external figure with a proven track record of overseeing journalism.


On 9 November Ken MacQuarrie was asked to speak to those involved to identify what had happened on the Newsnight report into child abuse into children’s homes in Wales. Over Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 November he spoke to the key individuals involved in the broadcast and he is submitting a full report of his findings to the Executive Board. Set out below is a summary of his understanding of the background to the Newsnight item and the reasons it was broadcast.


On Friday 2 November 2012 Newsnight broadcast a report on historical allegations dating from the 1970s and 1980s of child abuse at children's homes in Wales. The programme claimed to reveal that two victims had alleged that a leading Conservative politician from the Thatcher era had been among their abusers. The politician was not named in the report.

The report was the result of a collaboration with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), an organisation based at City University which works with media organisations on investigative stories. The BIJ has worked on a number of occasions in the past with BBC outlets, including Newsnight.

Earlier on the day of the broadcast, various names were mentioned extensively on social media and other internet forums. Speculation as to the identity of the politician referred to in the programme was intense. On Friday 9 November, and following press reports that the politician in question might have been the victim of mistaken identity, Lord McAlpine, former treasurer and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, issued a statement denying his involvement and setting out his intention to take legal action. Later that day, the first victim issued a statement to the effect that the person he described as "the individual concerned" was not the person he had previously identified as Lord McAlpine and apologised to Lord McAlpine and his family.

That evening, Newsnight broadcast a statement apologising unreservedly for having broadcast the original report and announcing various further actions.

During the period since the investigation into allegations surrounding Jimmy Savile began an editorial sign off process in News had been put in place to provide separation between ‘business as usual’ stories and ‘Savile-related’ stories. A separate editorial chain of command was established for all Savile-related material.


The key findings identified in the report are as follows:

Nature of the Story

This was a highly complex story that went from commission to transmission within a short period (Sunday, 28 October – Friday, 2 November)

Editorial Management of Newsnight

The Newsnight editorial management structure had been seriously weakened since the Editor stood aside and one of the Deputy Editors left the organisation. The editorial leadership of the team was under very considerable pressure.

Editorial Approval

It was not clear whether this story was regarded as Savile-related or not, or when that decision was made and communicated: a clear decision on this does not appear to have been taken until lunchtime on Friday 2 November. As a consequence there was ambiguity around who was taking the ultimate editorial responsibility for the Newsnight report, particularly in the days leading up to the day of transmission.

Basic Journalistic Checks

During the editorial decision-making process, some of the basic journalistic checks were not completed. Specifically, identification was not confirmed by photograph with the first victim. The second victim could not be traced in order to provide up to date corroboration. Legal advice was sought. No right of reply was offered to the unnamed individual at the centre of the allegation.

Final Editorial Sign Off

There was a different understanding by the key parties about where the responsibility lay for the final editorial sign off for the story on the day.