Tony Blackburn sacking – employment law and unfair dismissal

Is it fair that Tony Blackburn should be dismissed by the BBC because he said his recollection was that he wasn’t interviewed in 1971 in relation to a young girl making allegations against him and Jimmy Saville but documents discovered during the inquiry indicate that he was?

Assuming the documents were shown to Mr Blackburn, the question is whether the BBC can conclude that Mr Blackburn was being dishonest or deliberately refusing reasonable cooperation when he said he wasn’t interviewed.   While the view expressed by Tony Hall, BBC Director General, that Blackburn’s position was untenable, there is a notable absence of any direct allegation of dishonesty or gross misconduct in announcements.  This rather suggests that evidence against Blackburn is less than conclusive.   It seems Mr Hall has considered that his overriding priority must be to demonstrate that the BBC is taking its responsibilities to ensure the investigation is complete and truthful and that if he thinks a black cloud of suspicion hovers over Blackburn then, harsh or not, he had to go.

That may be a matter of judgement for Mr Hall.  Whether it is a good one is not likely to play out in the Courts or Employment Tribunals.  The value of any unfair dismissal claim would likely be of relatively little value compared to contractual claims and risk of adverse publicity for Mr Blackburn.  The BBC and Blackburn are now likely to engage in fairly straightforward commercial negotiation of the value of any notice period under his contract, settle the matter and then seek to move on.  Hardly satisfactory to Mr Blackburn, but whether or not he wishes to drag the detail of this dispute into the public scrutiny is best a matter for discussion with his PR advisers.

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