by Edward Qualtrough

BBC governance failure blamed – CTO John Linwood wins unfair dismissal case

Aug 07, 20143 mins
CareersMedia and Entertainment IndustryMobile Apps

Former BBC chief technology officer John Linwood was unfairly dismissed over the failed £100 million Digital Media Initiative, an employment tribunal has found.

Linwood, who was fired from his role in July 2013 over the canned project, issued proceedings against the broadcaster at the start of the year, maintaining a line that he had been made a scapegoat by the BBC over the failed project which – already off-track when he started his role – was further derailed by changing specifications by the DMI Steering Group, and unclear vision and leadership at board and executive level.

The tribunal’s findings say he was told he was the victim of a “stitch-up”, but Judge Ms A Stewart ruled that while Linwood was unfairly dismissed, he “contributed by his own conduct to the extent of 15% to his own dismissal”.

[Next – BBC execs hunted for dirt on Linwood as COO orchestrated campaign to blame CTO]

In her ruling, Judge Stewart explained: “In terms of general governance responsibility, the Tribunal accepted that the Claimant, among other members of the Steering Group, both finance and business, could have called for an in-depth re-appraisal of DMI, at any stage, in spite of the messages from on high to ‘keep pressing on’, although whomever did so might well have felt themselves to be in the shoes of the young child who cried out that ‘the Emperor has no clothes on’.”

This accounted for 10% of Linwood’s contribution to his own dismissal.

“The Claimant’s complete denial of all responsibility for anything other than the technology aspect of the project was not realistic, in the Tribunal’s view, in the light of the broader terms of his Job Description and his accountability under the Revised Business Plan of April 2010,” Judge Stewart said, accounting for the remaining 5% to Linwood’s contributory conduct to his own dismissal.

The BBC said: “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.”

In April, Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge branded the DMI a “catastrophic failure”, but found that “no single individual had overall responsibility or accountability for delivering the DMI and achieving the benefits, or took ownership of problems when they arose”, offering some respite to the fired Linwood.

Linwood had appeared in front of the PAC at the start of the year, where he said some of the DMI was in use or capable of being used, and described the BBC’s change in direction over the vision of the project as “the equivalent of removing the first half of a production line in a factory and still expecting the factory to deliver the original products”.

The BBC announced Matthew Postgate, previously the broadcaster’s Controller of R&D, as its new CTO on July 1.

[Editor’s blog – BBC execs must accept blame in Digital Archive disaster]