BBC cancels Ashcroft tax documentary

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The Independent Culture

The BBC cancelled a Panorama documentary on the business and tax affairs of Lord Ashcroft the outgoing deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, just hours before it was scheduled for broadcast last night.

The corporation cited “legal developments”, and replaced the programme it with a documentary on alleged war crimes by British soldiers. It also pulled news stories related t the Panorama’s investigation of Lord Ashcroft from its website.

A BBC spokesperson said last night: “We put a number of questions to Lord Ashcroft two weeks ago, including one relating to a share interest transfer.

“We asked for a response by Friday 24 September. In a response received this afternoon we have been given information that sheds new light on that issue and we will therefore review the programme.”

A section of the programme dealt with a transfer of shares in Impellam Group, a UK-listed company associated with the peer, a day before the end of the tax year in April. Lord Ashcroft’s lawyers told Panorama its journalists had misunderstood the nature of his interest in the shares and, therefore, the tax implications of the transfer.

A company announcement in April referred to Lord Ashcroft’s interest in 25.7 million Impellam shares as an “indirect interest”. The interest in the shares was transferred to a trust for the benefit of Lord Ashcroft’s children. A Panorama programme on the billionaire Tory donor was originally had been scheduled to air before the general election, when Lord Ashcroft was in charge of the party’s campaign in marginal constituencies, but the corporation delayed broadcast amidst wrangling with the peer’s lawyers.