Undercover reporter takes legal action after police criticise BBC documentary

A television reporter who made his name in undercover investigations has launched a libel action against the police over allegations that one of his programmes was misleading.

A television reporter who made his name in undercover investigations has launched a libel action against the police over allegations that one of his programmes was misleading.

Donal MacIntyre claims comments made by Kent County Constabulary about a television programme, in which he said he was exposing abuse at a care home, damage his reputation as a journalist. In the BBC MacIntyre Undercover series Mr MacIntyre maintained he had unearthed a culture of neglect at the Brompton Care Home in Gillingham.

The home was shut by Medway Social Services within 24 hours of the show going on air, leaving more than 80 people without jobs and forcing the move of 50 residents to other places of care.

Kent police launched a criminal investigation into the Brompton. But a few weeks later they declared their findings "painted a very different picture to the one we expected to find". Only two people were cautioned for minor assaults and the force said it was considering suing to recover £50,000 for the cost of the investigation. It criticised the documentary for "misleading" editing of the 41 hours of footage from hidden cameras.

Yesterday morning, outside Broadcasting House, Mr MacIntyre said the Chief Constable of Kent has been served with a writ. He said it was "a matter of personal regret" that he had found it necessary to issue legal proceedings.

Mr MacIntyre continued: "The programme prompted an independent investigation into standards at the home by Medway council which led to the closure of the establishment. But Kent police have declined to retract their allegations despite being given every opportunity to do so.

"They have both damaged my personal reputation as a journalist and brought the reputation of the BBC's journalism into question. What is really important here is the level of neglect and abuse that we uncovered at the Brompton care home - a culture of neglect which experts in the field, as well as BBC viewers, found shocking and unacceptable.

"It is a fundamental purpose of journalism to give voice to those who, because of their circumstances, are unable to speak for themselves. It would not serve the public interest if our findings were diminished by totally unfounded and defamatory comments made by Kent police."

Mark Thompson, the director of television at the BBC, said: "The BBC fully supports this action by Donal MacIntyre. We share Donal's regret that it has been necessary to issue proceedings against the police.

"We believe we have a duty to defend the reputation and integrity of our journalists and programme-makers. We are also determined to ensure that public confidence in the findings of the programme is not undermined."

Kent police confirmed the force had received a writ naming Chief Constable Sir David Phillips, Detective Sergeant Michael Costello and the force's media services manager, Mark Pugash.

A Kent police spokesman said: "We will be contesting this vigorously." He added that the force still had the optionof mounting a legal action torecover the cost of the investigation "depending on the outcome of the legal advice we have already sought".

The Brompton's co-owner, Ronald Neal, says he is consulting lawyers about the possibility of suing the BBC.

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