The Queen isn't dead: BBC apologises after rogue tweet sends everyone in spin

The rogue tweet sent during an 'obituary rehearsal' led international news organisations to believe Queen Elizabeth was being treated in hospital

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The Independent Online

A day of W1A-style confusion at the BBC resulted in the corporation delivering an embarrassing apology to Buckingham Palace after a rogue tweet sent by a reporter wrongly announced the death of the Queen, prompting a global news alert.

The BBC had planned a “low-key rehearsal” for the announcement of a “category one” death, a classification reserved for the Queen and other senior royals.

Discretion was of the essence, BBC staff were told. But Ahmen Khawaja, a BBC Urdu reporter, had other ideas. During the exercise, her Twitter account sent a tweet which read: “Queen Elizabrth [sic] has died.”

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Khawaja, a 31-year old presenter and multimedia producer who has worked at the BBC for a year and was previously a researcher at Al-Jazeera, also issued a “breaking news” tweet which claimed that “#Queen Elizabeth is being treated at King Edward 7th Hospital in #London. Statement due shortly.”

Within minutes, the shocking “news” had crossed the world. The CNN Newssource Twitter feed reported the Queen’s hospitalisation. The erroneous report was also picked up by the German newspaper Bild and the editor of India’s Hindustan Times.

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CNN deleted its tweet claiming the Queen had been admitted to hospital

Alerted to the social media storm, Buckingham Palace issued a statement confirming that the Queen was in good health. But it emerged that, entirely coincidentally, the Queen had made a private medical visit to the King Edward VII Hospital in London for a routine check-up.

Alerted to the meltdown her tweets had caused, Khawaja sought to clear up her mess. She deleted her original tweet describing it as a “false alarm”. Then she suggested that her phone had been “left unattended at home”. She wrote: “Silly prank, Apologies for upsetting anyone!”

The BBC, sensitive to causing royal offence since the “Queengate” affair, which cost the BBC1 controller Peter Fincham his job after an investigation into footage that misrepresented the Queen, swung into crisis management mode.

Khawaja was not present during the royal obituary rehearsal, which tested technical preparations for a death announcement and featured presenters announcing the sombre news, but she would have been aware of it. Tweeting was certainly not part of the exercise.

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Khawaja would be “investigated under BBC disciplinary procedures,” a source said. The corporation has contacted the Palace to express its regret over the incident. (Getty)

The BBC said in a statement: “During a technical rehearsal for an obituary, tweets were mistakenly sent from the account of a BBC journalist saying that a member of the Royal Family had been taken ill. The tweets were swiftly deleted and we apologise for any offence.”

Khawaja would be “investigated under BBC disciplinary procedures,” a source said. The corporation has contacted the Palace to express its regret over the incident.

Jonathan Munro, head of BBC newsgathering, had confirmed details of the “low-key” rehearsal in an email to staff. He wrote: “It’s essential that we can rehearse these sensitive scenarios privately. BBC tours have been suspended, and the blinds from public areas including reception and the media café will remain dropped. I’d also ask for your help in refraining from any external conversations and all social media activity about this exercise. Your continued discretion will be greatly appreciated.”

A Palace spokesman said: “I can confirm that the Queen this morning attended her annual medical check-up at the King Edward VII Hospital in London. This was a routine, pre-scheduled appointment.”

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