BBC Scotland Documentary Has Complaints Upheld Against It

The BBC’s internal complaints body has upheld two out five parts of a complaint made against a documentary broadcast by BBC Scotland four years ago.

The documentary, part of the Frontline Scotland strand, concerned the case of a man convicted of sexually abusing children at a children’s home. The programme examined “whether some of the children he cared for made up false allegations against him in order to claim compensation and asks whether historical child abuse cases leave anyone who has ever worked with children open to accusations”.

The editorial standards committee of the BBC Trust considered a complaint from one of the children.

It concluded that the programme had not made sufficient attempts to give the complainant a fair opportunity to respond, and that the on-air explanation of the complainant’s non-participation in the programme was inadequate.

It also noted that a key premise of the programme was that it would present evidence that the jury did not hear, which would cast doubt on the conviction. The committee concluded that this ‘new’ evidence was not adequately researched or tested. It also concluded that some interviews
were not edited fairly.

It did not, however, uphold the following other components of the complaint:

Treatment of other interviewees

The committee concluded that other contributors were treated appropriately during interviews.


The committee accepted that people who knew the complainant from his time in the children’s home would have been able to identify him, but that his involvement in the case would already have been known to them. The committee did not accept that the wider general public would have been able to identify the complainant.

Conflicts of interest

The committee found no evidence of any improper relationship between the programme makers and the children’s home.

The committee also noted that the complaint had been “badly handled”, but that the BBC’s overall complaints-handling procedures had been “transformed” since this particular complaint had been instigated.

The committee expressed concern that any failures might be the result of systemic failures. Therefore, it was agreed that the committee chair will write to the BBC’s deputy director-general asking for a report on issues, including:

* Did the failures arise because of undue pressures on time or budget?

* To what extent was the long run of the programme and the need to meet
deadlines a contributory factor?

* Was there sufficient editorial oversight? and

* What are the lessons for complaints handling in the future?

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