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Patten defends 'justified' payoff

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten defended the award of a year's salary as a payoff to George Entwistle as "justified and necessary".

He said the size of the fee - twice what would have been expected - had been needed "to conclude matters quickly", avoiding lengthy negotiations.

The BBC Trust had come under pressure from the Government today as Culture Secretary Maria Miller described Mr Entwistle's 450,000 payoff as "tough to justify".

And the Prime Minister's spokesman echoed similar sentiments, although he said it was a matter for the Trust to decide.

Mrs Miller questioned the size of the severance payment given the circumstances of Mr Entwistle's resignation as director-general of the BBC over the botched Newsnight investigation.

"This is a large amount of money, and tough to justify considering the circumstances of Mr Entwistle's departure and his contractual arrangements," she said.

"The Trust will need to justify this - it is accountable to licence fee-payers in ensuring value for money, and we expect it to have considered that carefully."

Mr Entwistle is to receive a full 12 months' salary despite serving just 54 days in the job. Under the standard executive board contract, he would normally be entitled to just six months' pay, although if he had been sacked it would have been 12.

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

He wrote: "In agreeing to 12 months' notice rather than six, we had in mind the following points. In the absence of George's honourable offer to resign, I would have had to speak to the Trustees about the option of termination by us (which, fortunately, was not necessary).

"In these circumstances, George would have been entitled to 12 months' notice. 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 (Jimmy) 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."

He added: "The alternative was long drawn-out discussions and continuing uncertainty at a time when the BBC needs all of its focus to be on resolving fundamental issues of trust in BBC journalism."

Lord Patten wrote to Mr Whittingdale after the MP had questioned the size of the payment, saying: "I have to say that I find it very difficult to see a justification for that amount of money to be paid to somebody who has had to resign in these circumstances."

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