Exaro editor Mark Watts has suggested the BBC’s Panorama programme on the Metropolitan Police’s VIP paedophile investigation was in “contravention” of guidance issued by the Attorney General’s Office.
The programme, broadcast on Tuesday night, also drew criticism from the Met Police, which said it had “serious concerns about the impact of this programme on its investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse and homicide, on the witnesses involved, and on the willingness of victims of abuse to come forward to police”.
The documentary interviewed an individual named as David who said that campaigners may have led him into making false sex abuse claims.
He told the programme he had provided VIP names – including that of ex-Home Secretary Leon Brittan – “as a joke suggestion to start with”.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Media Show yesterday, Watts suggested the documentary was guilty of “pre-judging” the outcome of the Met’s Operation Midland.
He said this was in "contravention" of a warning issued by the Attorney General’s Office last month.
Watts also suggested this kind of “attack” could lead to victims in future being “deterred from coming forward”.
Investigative journalism website Exaro has reported extensively on the VIP paedophile claims at the centre of the Met's Operation Midland.
Watts told the Media Show: “I have several concerns. First of all, it was a brazenly biased programme in my view and one that set out with a pre-determined agenda. But that was the least of its crimes, which I’ll put in inverted commas.”
Watts said: “Questioning what the police are doing and questioning what the media’s doing is fair enough. That is legitimate and within the bounds I would say of what [Attorney General] Robert Buckland warned the media about.
“What is not in the bounds of what he warned about was to say or suggest or imply that a key witness at the base of a police investigation is talking nonsense.”
Watts declined to be interviewed for the Panorama programme. He said this was because “it was clear to me that they had a pre-determined view of the subject”.
In a blog, Watts revealed that another part of his reasoning was "the BBC has no credibility on the subject of VIP paedophiles given that the two well-established cases of VIP paedophiles are both BBC VIPs [Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall]".
Media Show host Steve Hewlett suggested to Watts that Panorama was independent of the BBC and pointed to the fact that it broadcast an investigation into the BBC’s own handling of the Savile scandal.
Watts said: “Yes it did, Steve. And where did the editor end up?”
Earlier this year, former Newsnight producer Meirion Jones, whose investigation into Jimmy Savile was spiked by the BBC, told Press Gazette: “Everyone involved on the right side of the Savile argument has been forced out of the BBC.” Jones was referring to the fact that he, presenter Liz Mackean, Panorama editor Tom Giles and former BBC director of global news Peter Horrocks (who was in overall charge of Panorama at the time) have all now left the corporation.
Jones was also critical of the Panorama documentary on Operation Midland, tweeting: “This is absurd – categorically a very young boy was repeatedly abused by paedophiles at EGH [Elm Guest House].”
Mackean commented: “Far more energy expended getting this prog aired than on preventing original #savile investigation.”
Yesterday Panorama editor Ceri Thomas said: "We were enormously concerned throughout not to do anything that would deter victims from coming forward.
"But we think we have to be able to scrutinise how the police go about big investigations like this and there really isn't a way to do that without looking at the way that police have treated statements from victims and treated the evidence they've brought forward."