Thursday, August 7, 2014


The BBC's nasty side is revealed in the judgement of former Chief Technology Officer John Linwood's case against Auntie for unfair dismissal over the 'failed' DMI project. His case, essentially that he was stitched-up as a scapegoat, was deemed 'well-founded' by Employment Judge Angela Stewart (though, in the odd weather-forecast way these judgements have, Linwood's conduct was deemed to have contributed to the extent of 15% to his dismissal). The summary of 28 days of evidence takes over 60 pages, and is well worth a full read, if you have an idle hour or two. Here's some bits readers might enjoy.

Former Director of Future Media and Technology Erik Huggers approached Linwood in 2008, saying the BBC was a great place to work. He joined for a salary of £240k, plus a £140k signing on bonus, payable in two halves, after six and eighteen months' service.

By 2010, the DMI project was taken away from Siemens, and John Linwood negotiated a £27.5m clawback under a "no fault settlement agreement".

When the promised benefits, delivery times and scope started weakening, the Tribunal noted that both Caroline Thomson and Mark Thompson told him to "get on with it" as late as March 2012. "The tribunal concluded unanimously that the Claimant was not hiding whatever problems there were and was factually reporting those matters through the appropriate reporting channels..... Overall it was clear to the Tribunal that the entire executive was well aware of the problems of DMI throughout".

The Tribunal notes an email of May 2012 from George Entwistle, then Director of Vision, which it says displayed "a clear and nuanced understanding" of DMI and its problems, ending by indicating that everyone was enthusiastically awaiting full deployment, which he had delegated Pat Younge to run.  However, Pat didn't attend any Steering Group meetings as project sponsor until October, when a decision was taken to pause DMI, except for work on the meta-data archive.

In September 2012, George Entwistle assumed the role of DG, and Chief Operating Officer Caroline Thomson was asked to go; Chief Finance Officer Zarin Patel took over as Executive sponsor of DMI. Dominic Coles was anointed Director of Operations and Linwood's new line manager.  John had clearly uncomfortable conversations with Entwistle and HR boss Lucy Adams, in which he was asked to consider his position, though George, according to the Tribunal, offered a "disengagement as generous and elegant as it could be". This, he said "was not about throwing him to the wolves".

Under Mr Coles (£300k pa), Alice Webb (£189k) was asked to review DMI under the code Pasadena, which took from October to the following March. In October, the DMI Production Tools Release 12 completed testing with "no show stoppers" - but that same month the Steering Group and Executive Board Finance Committee ordered a stop of their own.

George Entwistle went in November; Pat Younge (£255k) and Alice Webb were put in charge of DMI, says the Tribunal. John Linwood stood aside, but kept arguing about the scale of the write-down being put against work stopped - saying figures of £24m were too high, as elements were working.

In April 2014 Lord Hall arrived; on 29 April, his finance committee approved a recommendation to close down all work on DMI.

Then we get to a very busy May; Lord Patten comes in specially for a Trust Finance Committee meeting on the 8th chaired by Antony Fry, attending only for the DMI agenda item. They all express "profound concern" at the write-off of DMI assets.  I think it's fair to say that ordure hits the ventilation unit after that - here's the Tribunal's note on events that same evening, commenting on an exchange of emails of a "quite extraordinarily unattractive tone".

On 10 May, non-executive director Simon Burke emailed Zarin Patel to say that the proposed write-off was not enough; he and Antony Fry wanted everything written off.

On 13 May, the Executive discussed the DMI issue for two hours, but there was no mention of John Linwood in the minutes, nor was there any instruction to discipline him. But Mr Coles and and Zarin Patel met afterwards and "took stock", deciding that the Executive Board had "lost confidence in Mr Linwood's ability to act as the BBC's CTO".  Mr Coles then approached Richard Burdon of HR (£144k), who agreed they should meet Linwood the next day and tell him a disciplinary process was starting against him. By 10.41pm that same evening, Coles emailed Burdon thus "Have you got that script for me yet ? Need to rehearse".

On 14 May, the duo met Mr Linwood, and as Mr Burdon told the Tribunal "We hit him cold". The Tribunal said that, "in line with the [BBC's] common cultural expectation", they thought he would resign. In reviewing the evidence of that meeting, the Tribunal concludes that Mr Linwood's version of events was "more credible". Later the same day, Mr Coles wrote to Mr Linwood, formally accusing him of "serious negligence and/or gross dereliction of duty...[which] may result in dismissal, including summary dismissal, if I judge the above to constitute gross misconduct."

The Tribunal also then notes a "gathering of potentially negative material about the Claimant" and opines "Mr Younge was conducting the trawl through material, whilst Mr Coles appeared to be the orchestrator and co-ordinator of the process...intended to unearth as much dirt on the Claimant as could be found, although in the event surprisingly little was found, and nothing of any real substance, considering that the Claimant had been in a senior management position across many projects across the organisation for a period of over 4 years".

On 17th May, Mr Burdon called in Mr Linwood for a meeting to "outline the process". He was given a letter signed by Mr Coles saying he was suspended with immediate effect, taken off the email system, and would have to request documents via Mr Burdon. The disciplinary hearing was set for 23 May, to be heard by Mr Coles - Linwood's lawyers protested, saying Coles and Alice Webb had taken the decision to stop DMI, and his mind was already made up.

Mr Linwood's team began requesting documents; the Tribunal found that Mr Burdon only sent selected documents back, finding his evidence "both evasive and less than credible, given his 20 year career in HR".

On 31 May, Mr Linwood was informed that Clare Dyer of HR (£189k pa) would conduct the disciplinary process. She was supported by Nick Pascazio, who was then line-managed by Richard Burdon and "privy to his thinking". (Nick is now billed as Head of HR for Finance and Operations). The first hearing was on June 3rd.

The next hearing came on 25th June, after rows about the release of emails and minutes to Mr Linwood. Mr Linwood said Ms Dyer needed to interview more people.

They reconvened on 17th July, for three hours, and the following day, for six hours. On 25th July, Clare Dyer wrote to Mr Linwood, summarily dismissing him - but notifying him of his right to appeal. On 7th August, he duly appealed.

Philip Almond, Director of Marketing and Audiences, (£210k) was appointed to run the appeal - Linwood objected because he reported to James Purnell "who's view on the Claimant's accountabilities were known", but that was rejected.

It was Mr Almond's first such hearing; he was briefed by Nick Pascazio, who sent a bundle of 65 documents, with 20 marked "Read" on the index in his handwriting.  Mr Almond told the Tribunal he had read them all before making his decision; The Tribunal found his evidence "evasive, hesitant, inconsistent and
not credible".

The appeal meeting came on 22 October and lasted just 32 minutes. Mr Almond then went on to interview, amongst others, Dominic Coles, Alice Webb, Clare Dyer, Nick Pascazio and Richard Burdon, before rejecting Mr Linwood's appeal at the end of January 2014.

And finally, a selection of conclusions by The Tribunal.

Although Mr Coles paid lip service to the necessity of "process" in his internal emails concerning the Claimant's disciplinary - a word which, in one email, he tellingly placed in inverted commas - the Tribunal formed the view, on the basis of all the evidence before it, that Mr Coles was the designated, or self-designated continuity 'fixer' charged with getting rid of the Claimant, one way or another, timed to coincide with the announcement of the closure of DMI and the substantial write-down, and that Mr Burdon was complicit in this intention. 

On Clare Dyer - The Tribunal formed the view that she was out of her depth in the situation as it unfolded and was at times overwhelmed

The Tribunal was unanimously astonished by the terms of the letters sent by Mr Pascazio to the Claimant on the 21 and 24 June 2013 in their apparently cavalier disregard for any of the accepted norms of a fair disciplinary process, particularly on the part of a large and well-resourced organisation.... 

The most credible explanation for his actions...that the HR department was so imbued with the general organisational culture regarding accountability for catastrophic events 'on your watch', together with 'comms' timing considerations regarding how such matters should be presented both internally and externally, as to eclipse entirely the requirements of reasonable compliance with the fundamental principles of  a fair hearing, namely that a person facing serious allegations is entitled to know the specific allegations against him and to have sufficient time to consider all of the evidence and prepare his defence.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Other people who read this.......