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Reed Smith has been appointed to advise the independent inquiries set up by the BBC in the wake of allegations that the corporation ignored evidence relating to claims that Jimmy Savile was a predatory sex offender.
The broadcaster has established two independent inquiries into the allegations. The first is led by former Sky News head Nick Pollard and will look at why a Newsnight investigation into Savile was shelved. The second, led by former High Court judge Dame Janet Smith, will examine the culture at the BBC during the years that Savile worked there.
On Tuesday, culture secretary Maria Miller welcomed the appointment of “independent” Reed Smith, which, she said, would “help ensure that they are able to conduct their reviews free from any conflicts of interest and with both a keen independent eye and expert legal support”.
Yesterday, however, the Conservative MP for Reading East, Bob Wilson, wrote to the chair of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, raising concerns over the independence of the appointment given that Reed Smith is go-to advisor for the broadcaster.
“In the case of the Pollard review in particular, the role of the independent secretariat in gathering and interpreting evidence will be particularly important given that Mr Pollard appears to be conducting his review alone, without the support of any other panelists,” he said. “He can therefore be expected to be reliant, to some extent, on the work of the secretariat provided by Reed Smith,”
He continued that the “BBC appears to be an important client of Reed Smith and there is evidence of an ongoing relationship between the BBC and the firm”.
In a statement this afternoon Pollard defended the use of Reed Smith. It read: “I was aware from the outset that Reed Smith are one of the BBC’s legal advisers on unrelated matters. The decision to appoint Reed Smith was taken by me, after consideration of the needs of the review.
“Together we are engaged fully in the Review. I am satisfied with the progress made and support given and I am confident in the independence and professionalism of the Reed Smith team.
“The ‘Pollard Review’ will report on the basis of its terms of reference, as a matter of urgency.”
The trust has turned to its long-standing advisers Baker & McKenzie in the wake of the scandal. It is understood that the firm will be meeting with the broadcaster today to discuss its future on the matter.
Last year News International turned away from its traditional advisers at Farrer & Co in favour of Olswang when it set up an independent inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal (5 July 2011). Prior to that Olswang had been the go-to advisor to The Guardian, the newspaper that, among others, had revealed the extent of phone hacking at the tabloid.