BBC's director-general, George Entwistle, resigns over Newsnight mistakes

Investigation which wrongly identified a Tory peer as a child abuser topples the BBC's boss.

The BBC's director-general, George Entwistle, has resigned over mistakes made by Newsnight in reporting allegations of child abuse in a care home in north Wales. He had been in the post for just 54 days.

Entwistle made a statement just after 9pm alongside BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten. Patten referred to "unacceptable, shoddy" journalism at Newsnight, and praised Entwistle's "courage" in acting honourably by stepping down. Neither Entwistle or Patten took any questions, although Patten will appear on the Andrew Marr programme tomorrow.

Tim Davie, head of audio and music, will be acting director-general. As the FT's Ben Fenton notes, he does not have a journalistic background:

Yesterday, the BBC apologised for the Newsnight report which led to Tory peer Lord McAlpine being wrongly identified as a child abuser. It later emerged that the victim, Steve Messham, had identified another man.

Here is Entwistle's full statement:

In the light of the fact that the Director-General is also the Editor-in-Chief and ultimately responsible for all content; and in the light of the unacceptable journalistic standards of the Newsnight film broadcast on Friday 2nd November; I have decided that the honourable thing to do is to step down from the post of Director-General.

When appointed to the role, with 23 years' experience as a producer and leader at the BBC, I was confident the Trustees had chosen the best candidate for the post, and the right person to tackle the challenges and opportunities ahead. However, the wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader.

To have been the Director-General of the BBC even for a short period, and in the most challenging of circumstances, has been a great honour. While there is understandable public concern over a number of issues well covered in the media - which I’m confident will be addressed by the Review process - we must not lose sight of the fact that the BBC is full of people of the greatest talent and the highest integrity. That’s what will continue to make it the finest broadcaster in the world.

Many have contrasted Entwistle's decision with that of other media bosses who have been affected by scandal. The New Statesman's former editor - and current media commentator - Peter Wilby noted:

George Entwistle. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.