The BBC was criticised last night for making an abject apology to the Queen after one of its senior journalists claimed the monarch intervened in the case of the radical Islamist cleric Abu Hamza.
BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner claimed that the Queen had lobbied a Home Secretary about what she saw as the unduly lenient treatment of Hamza, questioning why he had not already been arrested.
Within four hours, the BBC – nine days into the stewardship of new director-general George Entwistle – apologised to Buckingham Palace, saying that Mr Gardner, one of the most respected journalists of his generation, had betrayed the Queen's confidence. The corporation "deeply regretted" his "wholly inappropriate" revelation, it said. Republicans and some journalists criticised the BBC apology, insisting it was right that the public learnt of such interventions.
Mr Gardner's disclosure is troublesome for Buckingham Palace because the Queen traditionally does not intervene in public policy. The 86-year-old is supposed to maintain political neutrality. She holds a private weekly audience with the prime minister of the day – she is on her twelfth – and so the public rarely ever learns her opinion on any matter of consequence, unlike with her eldest son, Charles, who has been lambasted for persistently lobbying ministers.
Mr Gardner did not specify which Home Secretary the Queen had lobbied, although David Blunkett, who held the post from 2001 to 2004, at the peak of Abu Hamza's infamy before he was arrested, soon after denied it was him: "I can categorically state that the Queen never raised the issue of Abu Hamza with me. Not surprisingly because my views and attitude in relation to this individual were very well known."