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Under-fire BBC chairman Richard Sharp ‘helped friend get adviser role’

The Independent logo The Independent 19/03/2023 Adam Forrest

Under-pressure BBC chairman Richard Sharp reportedly helped his close friend get a paid role advising the corporation about its editorial standards.

Mr Sharp put forward Caroline Daniel, a public relations executive and former editor of the FT Weekend, for a position in the wake of the Martin Bashir scandal, according tothe Sunday Times.

He was an usher at her wedding to ex-Emmerdale actor Christopher Villiers in 2019 – with whom he is also close, the paper reports.

Mr Sharp, who is already facing pressure to resign over the circumstances surrounding his own appointment, is said to have introduced Ms Daniel to the BBC’s senior independent director who gave her the job.

The appointment left others feeling she had been “shoe-horned” into the role, which paid £15,000 a year for about 15 days’ work, according to the paper.

The former Goldman Sachs banker, 67, then reportedly rubber-stamped her selection for a second position last June as an external editorial adviser to the corporation without publicly declaring their personal ties.

He is said not to have withdrawn himself from discussions about the appointment at the BBC nominations committee, which he chairs, or state the friendship in his declaration of personal interests.

The paper reports that Ms Daniel has stated the relationship was “fully disclosed with relevant BBC executives at the time” – an account backed up by the corporation – who are believed to include director-general Tim Davie.

“The relationship with Richard Sharp was fully disclosed with relevant BBC executives at the time, in line with the BBC requirements,” she is quoted as saying.

Ms Daniel, 51, was appointed to help with the review into editorial standards that came in the wake of a damning report on Bashir’s Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales in 1995.

Among others supporting the review, led by the BBC’s senior independent director Sir Nicholas Serota, were non-executive directors Sir Robbie Gibb and Ian Hargreaves.

BBC chairman Richard Sharp appearing before the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (PA) © Provided by The Independent BBC chairman Richard Sharp appearing before the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (PA)

A source close to the Serota review told the paper: “Other people were uncomfortable about their relationship — they felt she was being shoe-horned into the review. However, it was useful having her perspective.”

The BBC created two “editorial adviser” positions for outside experts to offer guidance on journalistic standards as a result of the review.

The report will place further pressure on Mr Sharp, who has been embroiled in a cronyism row over helping former prime minister Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility in recent months.

An investigation is being launched into the circumstances surrounding his appointment, which was already controversial following donations he had previously made to the Conservative Party.

He faced renewed scrutiny as his position was brought into question amid the backlash against the BBC’s decision to take sports presenter Gary Lineker off air for comparing language used to launch a new government asylum seeker policy with 1930s Germany in a tweet.

MPs have already criticised him for actions which “constitute a breach of the standards expected of individuals” applying for prominent public appointments and found he made “significant errors of judgment” in a cross-party report last month.

Mr Sharp is being investigated for helping former prime minister Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility (PA) © Provided by The Independent Mr Sharp is being investigated for helping former prime minister Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility (PA)

The chairman can only be removed from the post by the government – not the BBC – and Rishi Sunak has repeatedly refused to defend Mr Sharp, citing the ongoing investigation.

Labour leader Keir Starmer challenged Mr Sunak over his ties to under-fire BBC chairman at PMQs this week. He claimed that Mr Sharp was “not just any old Tory donor” saying he was “so close to the prime minister he has been described as his mentor”.

Appearing to distance himself from the chairman, Mr Sunak said Mr Sharp was appointed “before I became prime minister”. He added: “Instead of pre-judging, and pre-empting that review we should let it conclude and wait for the outcome.”

The BBC said it is “completely satisfied” that its processes had been complied with in full.

A BBC spokesperson said: “Following the completion of the Serota Review into editorial process, governance and culture in October 2021 – and in line with recommendations in the review – the BBC appointed two independent, external editorial experts to advise the BBC Board’s editorial guidelines and standards committee.”

They added: “These roles were formally advertised externally and open to anyone to apply. The appointment process was overseen by the nominations committee, in line with BBC rules, and the appointments were approved by the full BBC Board.

“This process set out clearly the expectations of independence required for the role, and it included full disclosure of any relevant conflicts of interest. We are completely satisfied that all process and procedure has been complied with in full.”

Mr Sharp has been contacted for comment.

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