Mr Burnside, a caustic and highly influential Ulsterman who has been the public voice of BA since 1984, is expected to part company with the airline shortly, following an internal review by non-executive directors. He will be seen today by the chairman, Lord King, and Sir Colin Marshall, the chief executive.
Friends of Mr Burnside expressed shock and outrage last night that he was to be the prime casualty of the Virgin affair despite the fact that the board of BA has accepted collective responsibility for the activities directed against Virgin and its chairman, Richard Branson.
Lord King, his designated successor, Sir Colin and the remaining executive board directors were last night cleared of blame or involvement in the dirty tricks affair, which covered tapping into computers, poaching of Virgin passengers, document shredding and smear stories in the press.
BA said a code of conduct was being introduced to ensure there was no repeat of the episode. Among other changes, BA is expected to strengthen its complement of independent directors with the appointment of another UK-based non-executive and to promote Robert Ayling, director of marketing and operations, to managing director when Sir Colin becomes chairman in June.
Following an all-day board meeting to consider the results of the review, carried out by BA's solicitors, Linklaters & Paines, BA said there had not been any 'wide-ranging conspiracy' to undermine Virgin.
The BA board said it was 'important to make it clear that the regrettable conduct revealed by the investigation was confined to a relatively small number of unconnected incidents involving a very small number of employees'.
The board, it went on, had received assurances from each member that he did not 'implement or authorise any of the disreputable business activities'.
The affair may be far from over, however. Virgin made it plain last night that the BA statement fell far short of what it expected and is almost certain to take further action unless it is compensated for what it described as the 'serious commercial damage' done by the dirty tricks campaign.
'We will be talking to BA at their request over the next week and will be looking for more concrete proposals than those that emerged today,' he added.
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