Verdict in: Sacked BBC CTO John Linwood was unfairly dismissed over DMI

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez August 7, 2014
A damning 67 page tribunal document calls into question the BBC's disciplinary process and paints senior executives in a bad light, following Linwood's unfair dismissal from the broadcasting giant

It's a good day for John Linwood. The BBC, not so much.

The BBC's former CTO, John Linwood, has emerged victorious from a landmark employment tribunal, in which he claimed that the broadcasting giant ignored proper HR protocols and that he was used as a “scapegoat” for the high-profile failure of the BBC's Digital Media Initiative (DMI).

When it was announced that the £100 million DMI project was to be scrapped, Linwood was brought to the fore by the BBC as the main reason for its failure and he was sacked over the project in July last year. Linwood has always maintained that large parts of the technology were in use by BBC employees and that the reason the project wasn't entirely successful was because BBC executives – i.e. the business, rather than the technology function - kept changing their minds about what they actually wanted.

The BBC claimed during the tribunal that Linwood was responsible for a “massive waste of public funds” and showed a “quite shameful flight from responsibility”. The tribunal disagreed.

DMI was set up in 2008 as a complex business transformation programme aimed at changing the way that the BBC makes content for its audiences. It intended to improve production efficiency by enabling staff to develop, create, share and manage video and audio content and programming on their desktop, moving away from using video tape. The project took many different shapes over the years, initially being outsourced to Siemens, and then brought in-house and headed up by Linwood.

However, a Public Accounts Committee later found that it was a “complete failure” and tens of millions of pounds were written off, at a cost to the taxpayer.

Following his high-profile sacking and shaming, Linwood took legal action against the BBC and has said that the year since leaving the organisation has been “horrendous”. However, today the tribunal found in a unanimous verdict that Mr. Linwood contributed only 15% to his own dismissal and that the BBC showed a “cavalier disregard” for its own disciplinary process.

The tribunal found that the BBC should not have charged Linwood with gross misconduct and should not have held disciplinary proceedings against him. However, they rejected the two other claims Linwood brought against the BBC.

Mr Linwood said today:

Serious allegations of misconduct were made against me out of the blue and without any foundation or prior investigation. I was told to resign or be put through a disciplinary process and face dismissal. I refused to resign because I had not committed any act of misconduct.

The Employment Tribunal has now found that the allegations made against me were ‘general, vague, broad in nature and non-specific’ and ‘virtually impossible to address in any practical way’ and that my summary dismissal was profoundly procedurally and substantively unfair. The Tribunal found that the entire BBC Executive was well aware of the problems of DMI throughout and that I was reporting factually through the appropriate channels.

I believe I was made a scapegoat by the BBC. I am profoundly grateful to the Employment Tribunal for getting to the heart of this whole sorry episode.

Anyone who has been following this should skim through the 67 page tribunal document, as the findings truly are an embarrassing read for the BBC and its HR processes. For example, it states that the BBC's disciplinary investigation was “wholly inadequate” and “not the actions of a reasonable employer”.

The document goes through the failure of the DMI and the sacking of Linwood in excessive detail, but the general outcome was that the BBC appeared to be particularly sensitive at the time to high profile scandals (thanks to the revelations surrounding Jimmy Savile) and criticism regarding executive pay-offs, leaving Linwood with a raw deal.

At one point the tribunal were shown an email exchange in which the BBC's then chief creative officer, Pat Younge, said that “Linwood can just spin in the wind”. It said that the email was indicative of the BBC's culture of “steering the spotlight of blame in other directions on the part of those who felt themselves to be in danger of association with a sinking ship”.

It was also discovered that the BBC's executive board had decided that Linwood's dismissal was a foregone conclusion and that interviews for his replacement began before the disciplinary procedure had even began. The BBC also sent Linwood “thousands of emails” in June last year in order to prepare for a meeting a few days later – when Linwood asked for the meeting to be delayed in order to read through the documents, the BBC reacted by decided to bring the meeting forward.

The BBC has made the following statement:

We had a major failure of a significant project, and we had lost confidence - as the tribunal acknowledges - in John Linwood.

At the time we believed we acted appropriately. The tribunal has taken a different view.

We are disappointed with the outcome, but nevertheless we will learn lessons from the judgment and we're grateful to staff who were involved in dealing with a very difficult case.


I always maintained, having read through the various reports on DMI and listened to most of the hearings that took place during and after the project, that

Linwood could not be solely to blame for the failure of DMI. Most of the evidence suggested that the problem with DMI was not Linwood's persistence in making sure it went ahead, but a lack of governance across the BBC that left it inconsistent and in a position where no-one was entirely sure what they wanted.

How do you deliver on something when your brief is constantly changing?

Of course, someone's head was always going to roll, and this was probably always going to be Linwood's, given that he headed up the technology function during this time. However, what's shocking about this outcome is the way in which the BBC, an organisation that is decades old and prides itself on being impartial and fair, handled Linwood's dismissal.

The BBC has learnt some big lessons here and is walking away with its tail between its legs.

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