Ex-BBC chief Mark Thompson accuses BBC Trust of misleading MPs

Lord Patten and Mark Thompson
Image caption Lord Patten joined the BBC Trust in 2011, while Mark Thompson was director general

A former BBC director general has accused the BBC Trust, which represents licence fee payers' interests, of misleading parliament about excessive pay-offs to senior executives.

Mark Thompson says he has emails which show that trust members, including the chairman Lord Patten and a senior BBC boss, approved the payments.

The BBC has been criticised for paying £2m more than contracts necessitated.

The BBC Trust says the claims are bizarre and it denied MPs were misled.

In a letter to MPs investigating the issue, Mr Thompson says statements by the trust's chairman were inaccurate, information was kept from the National Audit Office and the head of human resources misled MPs over her involvement.

'Bizarre' statement

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Media captionLord Patten: "I have no concerns at all about the remarks which Mr Thompson has made"

The 13,000-word document was prepared ahead of his appearance before the Public Accounts Committee 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.

The document included a briefing note prepared for Lord Patten on defending the size of the payments.

Another attachment challenged the BBC head of human resources Lucy Adams' claim that she did not know of an email explaining the pay-offs, and appeared to show that she helped to compose it.

He also claims the trust did not reveal its full involvement with the pay-offs to the National Audit Office.

Media commentator Steve Hewlett said the letter raises "serious questions".

He said Lord Patten's position could be called into question "if Mr Thompson's argument prevails".

Mr Hewlett added that if it appears that Mr Thompson, who is now chief executive of the New York Times "where executive ethics are a top drawer issue, has misled the Trust, then it is going to be very difficult for him".

The BBC Trust said: "We reject the suggestion that Lord Patten and Anthony Fry misled the PAC [Public Accounts Committee].

"We completely disagree with Mark Thompson's analysis, much of which is unsubstantiated."

It added that it was looking forward to putting its side of the case to the Public Accounts Committee next week.

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

He said that if Mr Thompson was called before MPs, he would be "as interested as you are, why we didn't know".

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

Speaking outside his home on Friday, he said it was "very curious" that Mr Thompson should focus on the £949,000 payout to his deputy, Mark Byford, as that happened before he became chairman of BBC Trust.

Mark Thompson has said previously that the BBC Trust knew about the severance payment to Mr Byford, which included £73,000 for unused leave, saying they had been told "in writing, as well as orally".

It is understood the outgoing BBC HR director Lucy Adams will also give evidence at Monday's hearing.

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