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BBC crisis: Wronged politician reaches settlement over false sex abuse allegations

Reuters file

In this file photo, Lord McAlpine, left, former treasurer of the Conservative Party and actor Edward Fox pose for photographers, while launching a poster campaign for the Referendum Party in Brighton, on Oct. 18, 1996.

Updated 6:05 p.m. ET: The BBC has agreed to pay 185,000 pounds ($295,000) to a former senior UK politician wrongly accused of child sex abuse as a result of one of its reports.

Lord Alistair McAlpine, an ally of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was widely named on the internet as being the unidentified senior politician accused in a report by the BBC's flagship Newsnight program of abusing boys in social care. 

The BBC has already apologized for linking McAlpine, a member of the House of Lords, to child sex abuse that happened decades ago in Wales. The mistaken report, broadcast nearly two weeks ago, has caused turmoil within BBC management ranks and led to the resignation of its chief.

McAlpine, 70, told BBC radio he had been shocked by the report, which did not directly name him but led to Internet chatter about his purported role.


Q & A: Crisis at the BBC

BBC Director General George Entwistle resigned on Saturday as the BBC spiraled further into scandal over its coverage of two separate sex abuse cases – one, a cover up, and the other, a possible wrongful accusation. NBC's Keir Simmons reports.


He said the BBC had not contacted him to try to verify the report before it was televised on its "Newsnight" program. He said he would have told the broadcaster the reports were false. 

"They should have called me and I would have told them exactly what they learned later on — that it was complete rubbish," he said.

He expressed sympathy for the sex abuse victim who had mistakenly told BBC that McAlpine was the culprit, pointing out that the victim had suffered greatly because of the abuse.

"But it wasn't me," McAlpine said.

He said some of the damage done by the false report could never be undone.

Sweeping child abuse scandal shakes BBC and other British institutions

"It can be repaired to a point," McAlpine said. "But there is a British proverb, which is insidious and awful, where people say 'there's no smoke without a fire' — you know, 'he appears to be innocent, but...'

McAlpine said "to find yourself a figure of public hatred, unjustifiably, is terrifying."

Among those who could face legal action for identifying McAlpine as the un-named figure in the “Newsnight” report is Sally Bercow, wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

His lawyer advised people who had named McAlpine on Twitter to come forward or face expensive lawsuits. 


This file picture shows Dave Lee Travis attending Family Portrait Week at the Eat And Two Veg restaurant on March 13, 2009 in London.

"It's easier to come forward and see us and apologize and arrange to settle with us because, in the long run, this is the cheapest and best way to bring this matter to an end," Andrew Reid said.

The BBC, which was already facing severe criticism for its handling of child sex abuse claims against its late TV host Jimmy Savile, has broadcast a complete on-air apology for the erroneous investigative report into historic child abuse in Wales.

Meanwhile, police on Thursday arrested Dave Lee Travis, a former BBC radio DJ and television host, as part of the widening investigation into historic allegations of sex offences that began with complaints about Savile.

Police said Travis, who they did not officially name but whose identity was confirmed to ITV News by neighbors, was held on suspicion of sexual offences and taken into custody. The BBC later said it was dropping a scheduled broadcast of an archive episode of music show Top of the Pops, dating from the 1970s, which Travis had hosted.

Police are dividing their investigation into three strands: offences allegedly committed alone by Savile, who died last year aged 84, offences committed by him with others and offences committed by others alone.

The statement said Thursday's arrest fell into the third category, "others." It was the fourth arrest in an operation codenamed "Yewtree".

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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