LONDON – A British politician wrongly smeared as a pedophile by the BBC has spoken out publicly for the first time about his anger at the allegations, as the scandal-scarred broadcaster said it had reached a six-figure settlement deal.
The BBC’s flagship evening current affairs show, "Newsnight," earlier this month incorrectly linked Lord McAlpine, a former treasurer of the Conservative Party, with a sexual abuse scandal at a children’s home in Wrexham, north Wales, in the 1980s.
While McAlpine was not named, the blanks were quickly filled in online and on social media, prompting the former adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to publicly deny the allegations.
The program was forced to apologize for the report, after it emerged that McAlpine was wrongly identified and was not contacted prior to the report's airing.
"It gets into your bones. It gets into, it makes you angry."
- Lord McAlpine, wrongly accused by the BBC
The BBC said in a statement late Thursday it would pay McAlpine $293,000 plus legal costs.
"The settlement is comprehensive and reflects the gravity of the allegations that were wrongly made," the corporation said.
McAlpine welcomed the “quick and early settlement,” but said he would continue to seek settlements against Twitter users that identified him as a pedophile.
Earlier, McAlpine spoke of his dismay at the BBC’s shoddy journalism and the horror of being wrongly labeled a child abuser.
"Of course they [the BBC] should have called me and I would have told them exactly what they learned later on,” McAlpine, who is 70, told BBC Radio.
He described the report as “complete rubbish,” adding, “they could have saved themselves a lot of agonizing and money, actually, if they'd just made that telephone call."
"It gets into your bones. It gets into, it makes you angry. And that's extremely bad for you to be angry. And it gets into your soul and you just think there's something wrong with the world,” he said,
The scandal has plunged the 90-year-old broadcaster into crisis, raising questions over its journalistic and management standards and leading to the resignation of its director-general, George Entwistle, after just eight weeks in the job.
The crisis centers on two failures by "Newsnight" on stories related to child abuse. In the first case, the show chose not to broadcast allegations of child abuse about the former BBC TV presenter Jimmy Savile. The reports were later broadcast by another network.
The posthumous allegations prompted a wave of other victims to come forward and highlighted a culture of sexual exploitation by some stars at the BBC, particularly during the 1970s.
So far four people have been arrested in connection with the Savile abuse, including well-known personalities from the British entertainment industry. Earlier Thursday, a former BBC Radio DJ, Dave Lee Travis, was arrested. He was later released on bail.
"Newsnight" compounded the error by incorrectly linking McAlpine to child abuse. The report caused a national furor, with at one point Prime Minister David Cameron even being ambushed with a list of suspected pedophile politicians live on TV.
It turned out that "Newsnight," by its own admission, had failed to carry out even the most rudimentary checks before airing the program.
The victim was not asked to identify the former politician by photo, nor was McAlpine contacted prior to broadcasting.
Entwistle was forced to resign after a humiliating round of interviews which cast severe doubt on his ability to control the vast organization. His temporary replacement, Tim Davie, vowed to “get a grip.”
Chris Patten, the former Hong Kong governor and current chairman of the BBC Trust, which oversees the broadcaster, has come under heavy pressure for approving a full-year payout for Entwistle, despite him lasting just eight weeks in the job.
The BBC is funded by the “license fee,” essentially a tax on households that own televisions.