Video: Lord McAlpine to reach settlement with BBC after child sex smears
Published 15/11/2012 | 09:25
BRITAIN’S Lord McAlpine, the former senior Conservative politician wrongly implicated in a child sex abuse scandal, will reach a settlement with the BBC over their Newsnight investigation, his solicitor has disclosed.
Lawyers for Lord McAlpine indicated they were taking legal action after the programme led to the peer being mistakenly linked to a paedophile ring that targeted children at a care home in Wrexham in north Wales.
Speaking for the first time about the allegations Lord McAlpine said he felt sympathy for his accuser but said simply: "it wasn't me."
He even thanked accuser Steve Messham for having the courage to come forward and admit he was wrong.
Lord McAlpine told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: "I was very grateful that he said that. I actually have a deep sympathy with him. He was obviously a man who suffered a lot in his life. I've been blessed and I've been very lucky but he has had a terrible time. But it wasn't me."
The BBC is in the process of agreeing a settlement package with the former Tory Party treasurer.
Lord McAlpine said the Newsnight investigation, which began a crisis at the corporation and led to the resignation of BBC director-general George Entwistle, had left him "devastated" and "got into his soul".
He added the entire matter could have been avoided if investigators had contacted him to offer a right of reply to the allegations before the report was aired.
His solicitor added he hoped to reach a settlement today, with any financial compensation being negotiated on the understanding it would be ultimately be paid by taxpayers.
Lord McAlpine said: "They could have saved themselves a lot of agonising, and money actually, if they had just made that telephone call.
"They should have called me and I would have told them exactly what they learned later on - that it was complete rubbish and that I had only ever been to Wrexham once in my life.
"It gets into your bones, it makes you angry, and that's extremely bad for you to be angry, and it gets into your soul and you just think there is something wrong with the world."
Lord McAlpine's solicitor Andrew Reid told Radio 4 he was hoping to agree a settlement with the BBC today.
He said: "Lord McAlpine is more than aware that the ultimate people who will paying for any monies that he may receive are in fact the licence payers, the people who really own the BBC, and he is very much aware of this and hence any agreement that is reached is tempered in the light of that."
He also advised those who named the peer on Twitter to come forward and apologise warning them: "We know who you are."
Specialist firms have recorded every Tweet which named the peer, he said.
Mr Reid said: "We know who you are, we know exactly the extent of what you have done. It's easiest to come forward, because that is the cheapest and best way."
In a statement released this morning, the BBC today said it shared the view of Lord McAlpine regarding a potential settlement, and also hoped to "reach a conclusion today".
Although the November 2 Newsnight programme did not name the peer, it referred to a senior Conservative politician from the Thatcher era.
The report quickly resulted in Lord McAlpine being identified on internet blogs and social media sites.
The current affairs show later carried a full, on air apology for the broadcast.
An official report into botched investigation by the BBC's Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie concluded Newsnight staff failed to complete "basic journalistic checks".
Mr MacQuarrie also found there was confusion about who had the ultimate responsibility for "final editorial sign-off", adding the programme's editorial management structure had been "seriously weakened" as a result of the editor having to step aside over the Jimmy Savile scandal, and the departure of the deputy editor.
Although legal advice was sought over the report, no right of reply was offered to the unnamed individual at the centre of the allegation.
The programme featured an interview with Steve Messham, an abuse victim who said a senior political figure of the time abused him. He later said he wrongly identified his abuser and apologised.
Iain Overton, editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism which worked on the story, has already resigned after sparking online speculation with a tweet promising Newsnight would feature a story about a "very senior political figure who is a paedophile”.
The botched programme heaped more pressure on the BBC, which has been left reeling from the Jimmy Savile abuse sex scandal.
A review led by former Sky News chief Nick Pollard is already looking into an earlier decision to shelve a Newsnight investigation into the late television presenter's sexual abuse of youngsters.
BBC director of news Helen Boaden and her deputy Stephen Mitchell have stepped aside from their posts temporarily in the wake of the Savile affair.
The corporation said this was in response to the "lack of clarity" surrounding who is in charge while the Pollard Review is making its inquiries.
The BBC's head of news gathering, Fran Unsworth, and Ceri Thomas, the editor of the Radio 4 Today programme, are filling in for Ms Boaden and Mr Mitchell until after the review is concluded.
Acting director general Tim Davie, who took charge of the BBC following the resignation of Mr Entwistle, has vowed to "get a grip of the situation".
The corporation has also launched an investigation into the culture and practices at the BBC during Savile's career and a probe into the handling of past sexual harassment
By Hannah Furness Telegraph.co.uk