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Entwistle pay-off 'hard to justify'

The Prime Minister and Culture Secretary have criticised the 450,000 pay-off given to George Entwistle, calling it "hard to justify", as an official report found the botched Newsnight programme failed to complete "basic journalistic checks".

The former director-general, who resigned on Saturday, has been awarded a full year's pay after bowing out 54 days into his reign, despite normally being entitled to only half that figure.

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten defended the sum, saying it was "justified and necessary" to allow a clean break and avoid lengthy delays.

The settlement was discussed in Parliament in a further day of drama which saw two senior figures - BBC director of news Helen Boaden and her deputy Stephen Mitchell - step aside from their posts temporarily.

And an official report by the BBC's Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie into the Newsnight blunders found there was confusion about who had the ultimate responsibility for "final editorial sign-off" on the story which mistakenly implicated Lord McAlpine in a child sex abuse scandal.

In the report, he said the programme's editorial management structure had been "seriously weakened" as a result of the editor having to step aside over the Jimmy Savile scandal, and the departure of the deputy editor.

Mr MacQuarrie added that there were shortcomings in the quality of the journalism.

He said: "During the editorial decision-making process, some of the basic journalistic checks were not completed.

"Specifically, identification was not confirmed by photograph with the first victim. The second victim could not be traced in order to provide up-to-date corroboration."

Although legal advice was sought over the report, no right of reply was offered to the unnamed individual at the centre of the allegation.

The programme featured an interview with Steve Messham, an abuse victim who said a senior political figure of the time abused him. He later said he wrongly identified his abuser and apologised.

Acting director-general Tim Davie earlier began to try to restore confidence in the broadcaster, claiming his role was "to get a grip of the situation".

He pledged to personally apologise to Lord McAlpine following the resignation of Mr Entwistle, who stepped down at the weekend after trying to defend his leadership of the corporation.

He has been given 12 months' pay - the amount he could have expected if he was sacked - rather than the six-month figure he was entitled to under his contract. The extra money is equivalent to the income from 1,546 licence fees.

In the House of Commons, Culture Secretary Maria Miller described it as a "reward for failure" but said ultimately it was a matter for the BBC Trust to decide the figure.

The payment was described as "outrageous" by some MPs, and a spokesman for David Cameron said it was "hard to justify".

But in a letter to John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Lord Patten said the payment was agreed to avoid "long drawn-out discussions and continuing uncertainty".

He wrote: "In circumstances where we needed to conclude matters quickly and required George's ongoing co-operation in a number of very difficult and sensitive matters, including the inquiries into issues associated with Savile, I concluded that a consensual resignation on these terms was clearly the better route.

"I consulted my colleagues on the trust's remuneration committee and took legal advice. Our conclusion was that a settlement on these terms was justified and necessary."

Earlier it was announced Ms Boaden and Mr Mitchell had stepped aside, although the BBC said this was not as a result of the Newsnight programme this month.

Instead, they were in response to the "lack of clarity" surrounding who is in charge while the Pollard Review is making its inquiries.

This review - led by former Sky News chief Nick Pollard - is looking into an earlier decision to shelve a Newsnight investigation into Savile's sexual abuse.

There was also the resignation of Iain Overton as editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism over its involvement with the Newsnight programme which broadcast allegations linking a senior Tory to child abuse.

Mr Overton tweeted before the start of the programme that Newsnight would feature an item, which the BIJ worked on, about a "senior political figure" who was said to be a paedophile.

It led to rumours circulating about the identity of the figure in question, eventually linking it to Lord McAlpine's name, although the story proved to be untrue.

Mr Davie told Radio 4's World At One he wanted to apologise personally to the peer.

He addressed staff by email earlier, telling them he was "determined to give the BBC the clarity and leadership it deserves", and said management would pull together as "one team".

The BBC's head of news gathering, Fran Unsworth, and Ceri Thomas, the editor of the Radio 4 Today programme, are to fill in for Ms Boaden and Mr Mitchell temporarily.

Karen O'Connor, a former deputy editor of Panorama and Newsnight, has been drafted in as acting editor of Newsnight.

The BBC Trust said tonight that Mr MacQuarrie's findings of "serious failures" were "very concerning".

A spokeswoman said: "It is clear from the MacQuarrie report on the November 2 Newsnight that there were serious failures in the normal checks and balances that the trust expects from BBC journalism, and these were compounded by the confusion created by the dual reporting structure in news established during the Pollard inquiry. This is very concerning.

"The measures that Tim Davie has put in place are sensible and appropriate while the inquiry carries out its work, and we note that consideration is being given to further action in respect of the November 2 Newsnight.

"We expect to receive regular updates on this issue from the acting director-general as he works with the utmost urgency to restore public confidence in the BBC and the integrity of its journalism."

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