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Former director general Mark Thompson accuses BBC Trust of misleading MPs

By PA Mediapoint

Former BBC director general Mark Thompson has launched a scathing attack on the BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten, accusing him of misleading Parliament over pay-offs to exiting top brass at the broadcaster.

He claimed Lord Patten and BBC Trustee Anthony Fry told "specific untruths and inaccuracies" in evidence to MPs investigating the controversial golden goodbye deals.

Thompson will appear before the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday, and in a written submission to the MPs before the hearing he insisted that Lord Patten had been "fully briefed" about the details of severance packages to former deputy director general Mark Byford and former marketing chief Sharon Baylay.

The Guardian reported that Thompson's written evidence to the committee said: "The picture painted for the PAC by the BBC Trust witnesses on 10 July 2013 was – in addition to specific untruths and inaccuracies – fundamentally misleading about the extent of Trust knowledge and involvement.

"The insinuation that they were kept in the dark by me or anyone else is false and is not supported by the evidence."

In evidence in July, Fry told the PAC that members of the Trust were not always included in decision-making. And he said there was ''some disconnect'' between what Thompson had written in a letter to the Trust about Byford's pay-off in which he had apparently declared it was within contractual arrangements, when the National Audit Office (NAO) had found it was not.

Byford departed with a total payout of £949,000 and Ms Baylay's settlement was worth £394,638.

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It was reported that Thompson claimed that Lord Patten knew in 2011 that both had received settlements of more than they were contractually entitled to and their formal notice of departure was delayed.

"In fact, Lord Patten was himself fully briefed, in writing as well as orally, about the Mark Byford and Sharon Baylay settlements soon after his arrival as chairman in 2011," Thompson said.

He concludes that the evidence given to the NAO and PAC was "inadequate, and in some important instances, very misleading testimony".

A BBC Trust spokesman said last night: "This is a bizarre document. We reject the suggestion that Lord Patten and Anthony Fry misled the PAC.

"We completely disagree with Mark Thompson's analysis, much of which is unsubstantiated, in particular the suggestion that Lord Patten was given a full and formal briefing on the exact terms of Mark Byford's departure, which in any event took place before the current Chairman's arrival at the Trust.

"It remains the case, as noted by the NAO in its original report, both that the Trust under the Chairmanship of Sir Michael Lyons was told that these payments were within contractual terms and that the Trust did not have a role in the approval process.

"The Trust has already published its own account of events, which took place well before Lord Patten's arrival, and we look forward to answering fully and openly further questions at Monday's PAC hearing. For Lord Patten and Anthony Fry the overriding concern remains the best interests and good standing of the BBC. "

Conservative Reading East MP Rob Wilson said: "It is not altogether surprising that Mark Thompson and Chris Patten are fighting like ferrets in a sack. As the light has been shone into the dark corners of the BBC, people with questions to answer have began to mount campaigns to save their own skin.

"They've been caught out and it's now become every senior executive for himself at the BBC, whether a past Director General or a current chairman of the BBC Trust. It 's all deeply disappointing and embarrassing but altogether predictable."

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