Former BBC1 controller: I don't hate women

One of the most senior female television executives in Britain yesterday launched an emotional rebuttal of "utterly offensive" claims that she "hates" women.

Jay Hunt, the former BBC1 controller, insisted that during her tenure at the channel, she had promoted a number of women in their forties and older into prime-time television slots. She denied claims that four women in their forties and fifties had been dropped from the Countryfile programme because she "hated women".

She said: "It is entirely and categorically untrue, also profoundly distressing and utterly offensive on every level. I am a 43-year-old woman, I have had my own difficulties surviving this industry. For that reason, the last thing I would ever do is ever discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender or age. Nothing could be further from my mind.

"The only small comfort I have taken from such a distressing thing as this is the number of women both behind the camera and in front of the camera who have got in touch with me, sympathetic and outraged that I have had to sit there and listen to such a hateful thing."

Ms Hunt was speaking at the tribunal hearing brought by former Countryfile presenter Miriam O'Reilly, 53, who was dropped by the programme before it moved to a prime-time Sunday evening slot in April 2009.

The BBC has denied a claim of sex and age discrimination by Ms O'Reilly and has said she was dropped from the show because she lacked the necessary prime-time television experience.