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November 6, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:32am

Claim Question Time put BBC editor’s son in audience as Brexit supporter debunked as hoax

By Freddy Mayhew

A claim that BBC Question Time hired the son of Politics Live editor Rob Burley to pose as a Brexit and Boris Johnson supporter in the show’s audience has been officially debunked as a hoax.

Full Fact, the UK’s foremost fact-checking organisation, said the false claim originated from a spoof account on Twitter.

It followed a clip of a young man speaking on Question Time last week, saying he hopes Johnson gets a majority at the election and delivers Brexit, which was shared on the BBC programme’s official Twitter account.

Twitter user @DrRobertZands tweeted the morning after the show aired from Birmingham to say that the man in the clip was called “Cyril” and was “from an incredibly affluent family”.

The account claimed Burley had “dressed him and had his hair cut to make him look like a regular working class youngster”, adding: “I can assure you, I know this boy and he is a fox hunter”.

The original tweet, seen by Press Gazette, has since been deleted but had already amassed more than 1,000 likes.

The same account later backtracked on the claim and has since said it had been an “honest mistake”, but also a “sensational viral tweet”.

Other social media users went on claim the man was Burley’s son, while a separate post on Facebook said he was an actor, sharing an apparently genuine profile from a online directory called Star Now.

The man has since identified himself on Twitter as 19-year-old Layton J Smith, a Conservative Party member and Brexiteer.

Full Fact said: “The possible implication that Mr Smith’s beliefs are not genuinely held is not borne out by his social media accounts, which appear to be authentic and demonstrate a history of support for Brexit.”

Burley was forced to respond to people on Twitter who had seemingly bought into the bogus claim. He tweeted: “It’s not my son and I’m not the editor of Question time (I have nothing to do with the show).”

Head of communications at BBC News, Charlotte Morgan, also spoke out. She tweeted: “Rob does not edit Question Time. This is not his son. It’s literally my job to know if that is true or not.”

Burley is editor of live political programmes at the BBC, which includes The Andrew Marr Show, The Andrew Neil Show, Politics Live, Brexitcast (on TV), Westminster Hour and Newswatch.

Burley’s Linkedin profile shows that he worked as executive editor of Question Time for a few years until 2011. He took up his current role in February last year.

The current editor of Question Time is Hilary O’Neill, who was appointed in 2017.

Sharing Full Fact’s finding, Burley tweeted: “Well, it’s been surreal. But  for any Cyril truthers still out there, the verdict is in.”

Read Full Fact’s verdict.

Picture: BBC

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