The BBC has been found to have unfairly dismissed its former technology chief John Linwood over the failed £100m Digital Media Initiative (DMI), after a tribunal investigated his termination.
Linwood prompted the tribunal after he claimed the BBC had made him a “public scapegoat” over the decision to close the DMI, which cost the licence fee payer £98.4m.
From investigating the events before and during Linwood’s dismissal, the tribunal found that he had been given the option to resign or face the corporation’s disciplinary process.
As such, Linwood claimed that he was being “stitched up” by BBC executives.
The tribunal said that Linwood’s dismissal was “akin to ministerial responsibility” adding: “It was also clear to the tribunal that there existed a deeply ingrained cultural expectation within the organisation of sacrificial accountability when something large and/or public went wrong ‘on your watch’.”
Disturbingly, the tribunal investigation revealed that various emails sent between the senior managers handling Linwood’s dismissal engendered this culture of blame.
One email, described by the tribunal as having an “extraordinarily unattractive tone”, said that Linwood would be left “spinning in the wind”.
In view of the evidence gathered, the tribunal declared the BBC’s executive board had decreed that Linwood would be dismissed “one way or another”.
Furthermore, it declared that the failure of the DMI under Linwood’s authority did not justify his dismissal on the grounds of misconduct.
It went on to cite that its investigation into Linwood’s dismissal revealed inconsistent evidence and the failure to provide him with a fair disciplinary process.
The tribunal branded the BBC’s investigation into Linwood’s handling of the DMI as “fundamentally flawed”, adding that those involved in Linwood’s dismissal had a, “cavalier disregard for any of the accepted norms of a fair disciplinary process”.
The BBC told V3 it was a difficult set of circumstances for the BBC given the failure of such a significant project and, in the circumstances, the corporation had acted appropriately with the dismissal of Linwood.
“The tribunal has taken a different view – we are disappointed with the outcome, but nevertheless we will learn lessons from the judgment and we’re grateful to staff who were involved in dealing with a very difficult case,” the BBC declared.
Despite the tribunal ruling in Linwood’s favour it did say that, in his position as chief technology officer, he did bear some responsibility for the failure of the DMI project, and thus contributed to his subsequent dismissal.
However, on the evidence gathered in the tribunal investigation, only 15 percent of Linwood’s dismissal could be legitimately attributed to his own conduct, and therefore did not constitute his sacking.
In response to the decision Linwood said that the serious allegations of misconduct made against him were “out of the blue and without any foundation of prior investigation”.
Despite describing the past year as “horrendous” Linwood said he refused to accept resignation and that he had a duty to fight the BBC’s allegations.
“The tribunal’s judgment that my summary dismissal was both unreasonable and unfair is a complete vindication of my decision to fight this on a point of principle,” he concluded.
Linwood now holds the position of chief executive officer at commercial intelligence firm, Wood Mackenzie.
Before it was shut down, the DMI – first launched in 2008 – was designed to help BBC staff to create content with digital rather than analogue video tools.
Matthew Postgate has now succeeded Linwood as the BBC’s chief technology officer. While he is not currently encumbered with any projects to same scale as DMI, Postgate will be overseeing innovations around digital television technologies and ultra-high definition broadcasts.