Some of the best-known figures in the BBC, including Andrew Marr and Helen Boaden, have participated in the corporation's post-Hutton internal disciplinary inquiry in an extraordinary show of support for colleagues who face questioning.
The inquiry - described as a "kangaroo court" and "enormously frightening" by individuals involved - has been established under the terms of the BBC's internal disciplinary policy and, therefore, those summoned are not permitted to bring lawyers to hearings. But the disciplinary procedure allows them to be accompanied by a colleague, being referred to within the BBC as a "prisoner's friend".
Mr Marr, the BBC's political editor, has accompanied Mark Damazer, the BBC's deputy director of news; one of the corporation's executives undergoing the hearings. Ms Boaden, the controller of Radio Four, has appeared in support of Kevin Marsh, the editor of the Today programme, which broadcast the report by Andrew Gilligan, its defence correspondent, that was at the heart of the Hutton inquiry. The willingness of such senior BBC figures to lend support to those under investigation for alleged editorial lapses in the handling of Mr Gilligan's broadcast shows the intensity of feeling at the corporation over the disciplinary process.
Richard Sambrook, the director of BBC news, has been accompanied at the disciplinary hearings by Philip Harding, who is one of the most senior executives in BBC World Service. Stephen Mitchell, the head of radio news, is being accompanied by Graham Ellison, the BBC's head of radio production.
The journalists under investigation have questioned whether the process is being properly conducted. BBC sources say the disciplinary rules require specific allegations to be made but the journalists involved in the hearings say that none have been levelled.
At least one of those involved - Mr Marsh - is understood to have refused to answer questions until given details of any allegations against him. At one session, Mr Marsh read a prepared statement to the inquiry but refused to answer general questions.
The inquiry is being led by Caroline Thomson, the BBC's director of public policy. She is assisted by Stephen Dando, the director of personnel. It was set up by Mark Byford, the acting director general, but BBC sources claim the real instigator was Richard Ryder, the acting chairman. A source said: "Richard Ryder is driving the process. He has been seen hanging around the offices where these interviews are taking place."
The BBC insists that the process is benign and designed only to discover what went wrong, not to damage careers.
Ms Boaden, Mr Marr and Mr Harding appeared in the "prisoner's friend" role at the first round of disciplinary hearings. A second round of interviews will take place at this week.
Leading article, page 30Reuse content