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BBC Northern Ireland Pays £464k Legal Bill in Employee Disputes

The BBC has paid a legal bill of more than £450,000 in high-profile disputes with two former employees.

The corporation disclosed the figures following a freedom of information request from the Belfast Telegraph.

Both cases, involving Donna Traynor and Lena Ferguson, were settled without any admission of liability.

BBC NI said that the legal expenditure was “only incurred to the extent that is necessary and after careful consideration”.

The employment tribunal case between Ms Traynor and the BBC in Northern Ireland and its director Adam Smyth was settled in June with no admission of liability.

Ms Traynor, a former BBC Newsline presenter, had claimed she was discriminated against on the basis of age, sex and disability.

In an agreed joint statement following the settlement, Ms Traynor acknowledged “the BBC and Adam Smyth continue to refute strongly all the allegations made against them”.

Later in June, Ms Ferguson, who had sued the BBC over alleged bullying, also settled her case.

Ms Ferguson was an experienced journalist who had worked on the Spotlight programme for BBC Northern Ireland.

The BBC paid Ms Ferguson’s legal costs as part of agreed terms, which involved no admission of liability.

The financial terms of the settlements in both cases were undisclosed.

The Belfast Telegraph subsequently submitted a freedom of information (FoI) request to BBC Northern Ireland asking for the BBC’s legal costs in both cases.

In response, the BBC provided “the fees incurred on legal advice and counsel fees which have been invoiced to and paid by the BBC to date” for both Ms Traynor’s and Ms Ferguson’s cases.

The figures also included “amounts which have been invoiced but not yet verified and paid,” according to the BBC response, and do not include VAT.

In Ms Traynor’s case, the BBC said the total legal costs it incurred in respect of claims in both the Industrial Tribunal and High Court were £256,231.

Those costs were incurred between April 2020 and the date of the Belfast Telegraph’s FoI request on 16 June 2023.

In Ms Ferguson’s case, the BBC said that the legal costs it had incurred since April 2020 to the date of the FoI request were £207,884.

That meant the BBC’s total legal bill to date for the two cases came to £464,115.

In a statement, a BBC spokesperson said that the corporation was “committed to resolving employee relations issues without external legal support, whenever that is possible”.

“When legal actions are initiated by others against the BBC or important considerations of law are engaged, we may decide to draw on external legal advice and representation to ensure that the BBC’s position is properly protected,” they added.

“Such expenditure is only incurred to the extent that is necessary and after careful consideration.

“It may also, in a local context, reflect the requirements of Northern Irish law and the absence of in-house legal expertise in this area.”

Source: BBC News