BBC faces questions over vetting of Tory leadership debate questioners

BBC faces troubling questions over its vetting of guests after Tory leadership questioners were chosen just 24 hours before debate following social media searches as background checks

  • Aman Thakar worked for Labour in London HQ and stood as a council candidate
  • BBC knew of his links to party but did not mention it to the 5m people watching
  • Imam Abdullah Patel is exposed as an anti-Semite after series of Twitter posts 
  • The tweets also saw him blaming women for rape and praising Jeremy Corbyn 
  • Show’s editor insists that the Imam had hidden his social media posts from them 

The BBC has been blasted over its ‘appalling’ vetting of guests after its Tory leadership debate disaster and their choices may have breached the broadcaster’s own rules on impartiality, MailOnline can reveal today.

The corporation has been rocked by scandal after an Imam’s anti-Semitic tweets were not uncovered and they failed to tell the 5million people watching last night that another questioner stood to be a Labour councillor. 

The show’s editor Rob Burley also revealed the guests were ‘not confirmed until very late’ and ‘routine’ background checks were only completed on Monday – just 24 hours before they grilled Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Rory Stewart.  

Nicky Campbell, who interviewed Abdullah Patel on 5Live this morning, apologised to listeners today after his ‘extremely disturbing’ remarks emerged on Twitter and suggested that the BBC’s checks on him had not been up to scratch.

The Imam told Boris Johnson last night that ‘words have consequences’ – but was later outed as a Jeremy Corbyn supporter making anti-Semitic comments and blaming women for rape on social media. 

BBC bosses have since accused Mr Patel, who has been suspended from his job as a deputy headteacher of a Gloucestershire primary school, of deleting his social media profiles to avoid their checks.

But critics have said that even if his Facebook and Twitter accounts had been temporarily deactivated, researchers could and should have looked harder, a claim denied by the BBC.

The BBC has also admitted it knew another questioner Aman Thakar, who asked the Tory candidates about calling a general election, is a lawyer who had worked for Labour in its London HQ investigating anti-Semitism complaints.

He also stood for the party as a council candidate in south London last year and the BBC admitted they knew about his past but failed to mention it on last night’s show. 

Brexit Minister James Cleverly, who stood in the leadership race before backing Boris Johnson, said: ‘I love and value the BBC, but stuff like this makes it really hard to defend you from critics. Didn’t you think it relevant to inform viewers that Aman had been Labour Party staff? Other questioners said their political affiliations.’ 

Michael Gove supporter Michael Fabricant added: ‘This is appalling. The BBC should apologise’. 

Aman Thakar (pictured) who questioned if the candidates had a democratic mandate, has worked in the Labour Party’s legal department and was council candidate in 2018  – but the BBC didn’t tell viewers

Labour supporter Mr Thakar asked the Tory candidates about calling a general election and their right to govern

This is the section of the BBC’s own impartiality rules which says that viewers may have to be told of a person’s  affiliation to an organisation if relevant to a political show

The show’s editor Rob Burley has said that the Imam hid his social media posts but admitted that guests were not checked and confirmed until the 24 hours before the debate

For the past few weeks the BBC invited the public to submit questions for the Tory candidates to answer via email or an online form, and got 30,000 back, MailOnline understands. 

They first analysed the questions to get a good range covering all the important topics, a BBC source said.

Then from that pool of people, they chose questioners to represent a cross sections of the general population, by geographic spread, age and ethnicity. It is not clear if they were asked for political affiliations.

They then carried out the background checks including social media searches, before confirming the questioners as guests in the 24 hours before the debate.

These searches and decisions about who made the questions were done by the BBC, not by an outside production company, but nobody has been suspended over the decisions made. 

The two questioners at the centre of the row have been suspended by their employers. 

Critics have said failing to reveal Mr Thakar’s links to a political political party to the 5million people watching the debate last night could be in breach of the BBC’s own rules on impartiality in political programmes.

This is because Section 4 of their editorial guidelines says: ‘We may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made’.

A series of vile posts by Abdullah Patel were unearthed last night moments after the BBC debate

A series of posts tweeted by Patel were exposed last night revealing his controversial views

But Emily Maitlis only introduced him as Aman Thakar from London when he faced the five candidates on live TV.

Five million people tune into BBC debate 

The BBC’s Tory leadership debate was watched by more than five million viewers, it emerged today.

It drew an average of 5.3 million viewers and peaked at 5.7 million. 

According to the corporation, the hour-long broadcast from 8pm was the ‘best performing programme of the night across all channels’. 

Channel 4’s debate on Sunday averaged 1.3 million viewers and peaked at 1.5 million. 

It included five of the Tory hopefuls, including Dominic Raab who failed to reach the next stage in the voting process yesterday, with an empty lectern left for Mr Johnson who did not participate. 

It was hosted by Krishnan Guru-Murthy. 

Sky News had previously announced plans to host a live head-to-head debate with the final two candidates. It will be hosted by Kay Burley, but the date has not yet been announced. 

It has also been reported ITV News will host its own leadership debate, but details are not yet known. 

Others on screen declared their affiliations to political parties, including the Tory party and Brexit Party. 

The executive editor of last night’s debate was Jonathan Munro, who was head of newsgathering at the BBC when they filmed police raiding the home of Sir Cliff Richard.

Mr Munro was hauled before the High Court to appear in the case brought by the star, and told the judge that he reviewed ‘helicopter footage’ and did not have ‘any concerns’.

Sir Cliff, 77, successfully sued the BBC over the coverage, which involved the use of a helicopter, was a ‘very serious invasion’ of his privacy.

Mr Munro is yet to comment on the case.

But his boss Rob Burley, who edited the programme, took to Twitter to defend the BBC’s vetting process saying that Abdullah Patel actively hid his social media posts.

He tweeted: ‘It was AFTER the show that Mr Patel reactivated his account revealing his tweets.

‘We wouldn’t have put him on the programme if these were public before broadcast, but they were not. We also carried out a number of other routine checks which didn’t uncover anything untoward.’

When asked when he was chosen for the show he said: ‘Not confirmed until very late, the social media search was on Monday’.

In response to the accusation that the BBC knew of Mr Thakar’s links to the Labour Party, BBC Live Political Programmes Editor Rob Burley tweeted: ‘There was also self-described Conservative on the programme.’ 

Who asked the questions in BBC Tory leader debate? 

Question one: Lee from Norwich

He asked: ‘As a lifelong Conservative voter I voted for the Brexit party in the recent European elections.

‘My question to you all is can you guarantee that you will be able to get your Brexit plan through Parliament by the 31st of October.

Question two: Carmella from Southampton

She asked: ‘My question as a mother of three with a husband in the property industry is if we have a No Deal my husband could lose his job and my children face an uncertain future.

‘Why are you even contemplating a No Deal Brexit?’

Question three: Mark in Belfast

He asked: ‘I grew up during the Troubles and I have seen how a free and open border to the Republic of Ireland has helped secure both piece but support trade and development.

‘Can the candidates explain how they will solve the issue of the Irish border, a subject many people here see as Theresa May’s downfall.’

 Question four: James in Oxford

He asked: ‘I used to be a Conservative voter but now consider myself party-less. I have reluctantly voted for the Brexit Party. 

‘My question to all of you is what is your plan to lift the tax burden on the working classes?’

Question five: Tina in Tunbridge Wells

She asked: ‘I have fostered more than 10 children over 27 years despite the support from my local authority I now struggle to get appropriate mental health services, special educational needs support and even doctors’ appointments. What are you going to do for vulnerable children.’

Question six: Abdullah in Bristol

He asked: ‘I am the imam of a mosque and I see first-hand the everyday impact of Islamophobic rhetoric on my community. 

‘Do the candidates agree that words have consequences?’

Question seven: Erin in Glasgow

 She asked: ‘On behalf of youth strikers all over the UK I’d like to ask can you promise that the environment will be your top priority if elected? Will you commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2025?’


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