BBC’s Entwistle Says Newsnight Sex-Abuse Report Was Wrong

A British Broadcasting Corp. report that led to the former treasurer and deputy chairman of the U.K. Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher being improperly accused of child abuse was “fundamentally wrong,” BBC Director General George Entwistle said.

Entwistle spoke after Alistair McAlpine issued a statement yesterday denying Internet rumors that emerged in relation to a report on the BBC’s Newsnight program in which a victim of abuse at a Wales children’s home alleged involvement by a senior Tory party figure. The BBC, which didn’t identify the politician, yesterday apologized “unreservedly” for airing the report and temporarily halted all Newsnight investigations.

The report was “unacceptable” and staff involved in the program may face disciplinary action, Entwistle told BBC Radio today.

“We should not have put out a film that was so fundamentally wrong,” he said. “What happened here is completely unacceptable. I have taken clear and decisive action to start to find out what happened and put things right.”

McAlpine, who held the Tory treasurer post from 1975 to 1990, issued his statement three days after Home Secretary Theresa May announced plans to examine whether allegations of sexual abuse at the Bryn Estyn children’s home in Wrexham in the 1970s and 1980s were properly handled.

“Ill- or uninformed commentators have been using blogs and other Internet media outlets to accuse me,” McAlpine said in an e-mailed statement. He said he “must publicly tackle these slurs and set the record straight.”

Defamation Claims

McAlpine said he was reserving the right to take legal action against “those who have defamed me in the recent past or who may do so in the future.”

Steve Messham, a Bryn Estyn abuse victim, said in an interview with Newsnight last week a senior Tory party figure was involved. He then said yesterday that he was mistaken about the identity of his abuser and apologized, the BBC reported.

According to the broadcaster, Messham said police showed him a picture of his abuser in the early 1990s and incorrectly identified the man as McAlpine.

“After seeing a picture in the past hour of the individual concerned,” Messham said, it was clear it wasn’t “the person I identified by photograph presented to me by the police in the early 1990s, who told me the man in the photograph was Lord McAlpine.”

Alleged Abuse

A report into the alleged north Wales abuse, for which 650 people were questioned, was published in 2000 by Ronald Waterhouse, a retired judge, after a three-year inquiry. Messham said that inquiry didn’t uncover all the crimes at the home.

Waterhouse’s findings will now be investigated by Judge Julia Wendy Macur. Keith Bristow, the director general of the National Crime Agency, will also review how police handled the original abuse complaints and investigate any new allegations.

“I do not suggest that Mr. Messham is malicious in making the allegations of sexual abuse about me,” McAlpine said. “If he does think I am the man who abused him all those years ago I can only suggest that he is mistaken.”

McAlpine said he’d only been to Wrexham once in his life and hadn’t gone to the children’s home.

The BBC Trust, which governs the broadcaster, said today Entwistle has been asked to investigate the Newsnight report, describing it as a “deeply troubling episode.”

“The Trust notes the executive’s apology and would like to offer its own apology,” it said in a statement on its website. “The Trust has impressed upon the director general the need to get to the bottom of this as a matter of the utmost urgency and will expect an explanation as quickly as possible so that we can ensure that appropriate action is being taken.”

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