I was going to write about this first thing yesterday morning, but couldn't think what to say. Plus it's such a gruesome story that it's not something I particularly want to think about, but it's Saturday afternoon and I've taken a deep breath...
Under the banner BBC USED LICENCE FEE PAYERS MONEY TO LAVISH TENS OF THOUSANDS OF POUNDS ON TWO MURDERERS, the Defund the BBC campaign has taken up the outrage of many on reading the Daily Mail's story about it yesterday, tweeting:
This story is so outrageous it’s almost hard to believe. Two men with previous violent convictions that the BBC hired, and paid £52,000 for their last bit of work alone, have been convicted of murdering a man and forcing his children to watch him die.
The BBC's role in it, as presented by the Mail, is quite complicated and has several facets, but I'll try to boil it down into eight points:
- Both murderers were used as undercover operatives on several BBC projects, being paid considerable amounts of money by the BBC.
- But they weren't murderers when the BBC producer at the time, Fiona Campbell, used them on her undercover crime documentaries. All she could have known about them was that one of them had a conviction for violence and the other had been cleared on a rape charge.
- The murder took place during the post-production stage of their final BBC investigation together when they were used as consultants.
- Ms Campbell's decision to use the men was signed off by three senior figures at the BBC back then: Peter Horrocks, the then-head of current affairs who went on to become the director of the World Service, Steven Whittle, the head of editorial policy, and Roger Law, the head of the BBC legal department.
- Despite one of the murderer's being jailed and the other going on the run after the murder, the BBC broadcast this final documentary, including the pair’s secretly filmed footage.
- Ms Campbell told police she didn't ask them how they obtained information.
- Ms Campbell was criticised by a judge in a separate trial related to the pair’s involvement in the counterfeiting programme for allowing them to operate without effective scrutiny.
- Rosie Campbell is now the £215,000-a-year controller of BBC3, and credited with hits like Fleabag, Normal People and Killing Eve.
It raises many ethical questions but, given that her bosses authorised their use and it was evidently legal, I don't think Fiona Campbell will face any questions from her present bosses over this.
That said, it would be interesting to know from her present bosses: [a] if the BBC would still use people with convictions for violence in their undercover crime reporting; [b] if they would still not ask those working undercover for them what methods they used - especially in light of the judge in the counterfeiting trial saying the BBC shouldn't have allowed them to operate without effective scrutiny; [c] when exactly the BBC first became aware of the murder trial, and when [or if] the men's involvement with the BBC was first publicly acknowledged; and [d] whether the BBC would still go ahead and broadcast a programme if such a thing were to happen again now.
This Daily Mail story is causing a bad smell around the BBC, fairly or unfairly, but I think that's as far as can be gone with this... except for pursuing the BBC over those questions.