Saturday 10 November 2018

'Marr' editor John Neal on that Arron Banks interview

Transcript time (as it's Saturday)..

Here's John Neal, Rob Burley's successor as editor of The Andrew Marr Show - and Newswatch! - being interviewed on Newswatch by Samira Ahmed.

John Neal, editor of Newswatch/The Andrew Marr Show

Samira Ahmed: Well, let's talk about the interview which did take place with John Neal, the editor of The Andrew Marr Show. Why did you decide to interview Arron Banks last Sunday? 
John Neal: Arron Banks made the single biggest donation in British political history to the unofficial Leave campaign, Leave.EU, and on Tuesday the Electoral Commission published a 6-page document which set out questions that it still thinks needs answering about where the money came from that Arron Banks then passed on to Leave.EU, and then on Thursday the National Crime Agency announced they were undertaking a criminal investigation into these details. So on Sunday there was a clear public interest in doing that interview, and it is a news story and we're a news programme and it's an obvious interview for us to want to do. 
Samira AhmedOf course, this was after we knew he was under investigation by the National Crime Agency, who look into serious and organised crime. Is it right for the BBC to have decided to interview him under those circumstances? 
John NealI can see why people are concerned about this. I mean, absolutely I think it is. So, first of all if we deal with the legal side of it, so Arron Banks has denied any wrongdoing all the way along, he has never been charged or arrested with any crime so proceedings aren't active, so there's no legal impediment to us doing the interview. We can't prejudice any future trial. But at the same time, I can see that it is an unusual interview to do but I think it is purely unusual because it's not very often that people who are under criminal investigation will do a live TV news interview, but I think that is largely because their lawyers advise them not to. In this instance, Arron Banks was happy to do the interview and we wanted to do the interview with him because, as I said, there were very clear questions that hadn't been answered about where the money came from that went into Leave.EU.
Samira Ahmed: Even if there is no legal reason why you couldn't do the interview can you not see why many viewers were concerned that it might prejudice a future trial and the BBC should have been thinking about that? 
John NealWell, we were thinking about it. And you know, again, the answer comes back to the fact that legally, there was no impediment whatsoever to that interview. Again, Mr Banks has not been charged, he hasn't been arrested so there is no active proceedings, and as there is no active proceedings, there is no reason for us not to do the interview. I will say again, you know, it is an unusual, I think it is an unusual occurrence to interview someone who is under criminal investigation but that tends to be because those people tend not to do interviews, or they certainly tend not to do news interviews, on the advice of their lawyers, but we didn't have that problem...
Samira Ahmed: Have you asked people in similar circumstances? Under criminal investigation? 
John NealI don't think I have. I can't think of an instance where we have, but there is no reason that we wouldn't. I mean, one doesn't come to mind but again, there is no reason we wouldn't do that. 
Samira Ahmed: BBC editors would say "We're always in charge of the interviews" but some viewers think what you did was give Arron Banks a platform. 
John NealI mean, I have a slight issue with the word 'platform' because that implies that he has been invited on to give a speech and go unchallenged, and I think anyone who watched the interview will be able to see we clearly did challenge him. We challenged him on where the money had come from and we kept bringing it back to that central underlying question when the interview moved elsewhere. So it isn't a platform, it's an interview and that's what we do. I got sent some documents, a ream of documents I got sent - various e-mail chains and bank statements on Friday, so all of Friday, from Mr Banks, so through Friday and Saturday night, we went through all of these documents, I went through them and we had some expertise inside the BBC who helped and you know, the same question that I had at the start, before we received the e-mails which is where did the money come from still seemed to the same question at the end of going through those e-mails, so that's the line of questioning that we wanted to stick to and we knew we would be able to pull him back to that line of questioning. 
Samira Ahmed: When you said 'expertise', was that legal expertise looking over those documents he sent in? 
John NealIt was reporters in the BBC who have sort of looked, have worked on the Arron Banks story previously. 
Samira Ahmed: Looking back, what would you say the interview achieved? 
John NealI think it achieved a couple of things. I have already talked about going through the documents, and you know, to try and find an evidence trail of where the money had come from that went into Leave.EU, and we then used that as our central theme throughout the interview. We didn't get a clear answer to that and I think that that in itself raises new questions. And then there was a second sort of very clear thing I thought we got out of it, which is that the evidence that Arron Banks gave to the Select Committee of MPs chaired by Damian Collins was different to the answer that he gave us on The Andrew Marr Show about where the money had come from and the role of Rock Services Limited, his UK-based company, in that process, and I think that bears further scrutiny and I think that moves the story on, and there will be more questions to be asked about it. 
Samira AhmedJohn Neil, thank you. 


  1. Samira Ahmed has a rather large platform for her views doesn't she, which she makes full us of under guise of interviewing people? This being a free country some might find her views extreme and wish she was de-platformed.

  2. "It was reporters in the BBC who have sort of looked"

    Rigourous, for the BBC.


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