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October 1, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:24am

John Sweeney leaves BBC after 17 years with parting shot at Tommy Robinson

By Freddy Mayhew

BBC journalist John Sweeney is leaving the corporation after 17 years, having made a name for himself reporting for Panorama and Newsnight on topics ranging from Scientology to North Korea.

“It’s high time to make trouble elsewhere,” he tweeted today about his departure.

In a parting shot to right-wing activist Tommy Robinson, whom he had investigated earlier this year, Sweeney added: “…I can finally say these are not the views of the BBC but he’s a complete c**t.”

Sweeney’s report on Robinson for BBC Panorama never aired after he was secretly filmed speaking with a source over drinks who turned out to be an ally of Robinson, with the footage later shared online.

Some of Sweeney’s remarks during the encounter forced Panorama to issue a statement acknowledging they had been “offensive and inappropriate” and apologising on his behalf.

Thousands of Robinson’s supporters took to the streets outside the BBC’s Salford offices in February to protest the Panorama investigation into him. Robinson believes the media is “corrupt” and out to smear him.

Panorama’s arranged interview with Robinson was also hijacked by the English Defence League founder who filmed the encounter for his own video attempting to bring down the investigations programme.

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In the video, published online earlier this year, Robinson tells Sweeney: “You’re finished,” to which the journalist replied: “If you think I’m finished you’ve got another thing coming and I can give you that for free.”

Sweeney is perhaps most well-known for his angry outburst at Scientology spokesperson Tommy Davis during a 2007 Panorama special, having been targeted by the church over his investigation into it.

He later apologised, saying he was “wrong to lose it”. Sweeney did a follow-up programme on Scientology for Panorama in 2010 in which a former handler for the church admitted hiring people to follow him.

But it was his work helping to clear the names of five mothers wrongly accused of killing their children, who had in fact died of cot death, for which he won the Paul Foot Award in 2005 and a Royal Television Society gong.

Sweeney joined the BBC in 2001 after 12 years at The Observer, having started his journalism career at the Sheffield Telegraph.

He survived repeated attempts to make him redundant at Panorama, at one point earning the office nickname “dead man walking”. He was most recently reporting for Newsnight.

Appraising his career today, Sweeney tweeted: “Thanks to my great pals at BBC. Together we helped free five cot death mums starting with Sally Clark, jailed on wrong evidence of Prof Sir Roy Meadow.

“Trump got challenged over his links with Russian mob, Putin over the shoot-down of MH17 and I yelled at Church of Scientology.”

Joanna Carr, the BBC’s head of current affairs, said: “During his time here, John has carried out courageous and award-winning journalism…

“John’s investigations have made a significant contribution to BBC journalism and we wish him all the best for the future.”

Sweeney also revealed he has written a book on the death of investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed in a car bomb in Malta two years ago. No-one has yet been put on trial for her murder.

Murder On The Malta Express: Who Killed Daphne Caruana Galizia, is set to be published on 14 October.

Sweeney added: “I remain an old school reporter, up for the right kind of trouble. I’ll be back.”

Picture: BBC Newsnight

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