BBC and victim apologise to Lord McAlpine after admitting abuse claims were a case of mistaken identity

Another crisis for Newsnight as allegations emerge that victim who named Tory MP never saw a recent picture of ‘attacker’

BBC's Newsnight was facing a fresh crisis last night after a victim of the North Wales care home scandal admitted he had misidentified Tory peer Lord McAlpine as taking part in abuse.

The programme apologised "unreservedly" last night for broadcasting the report, and announced the cancellation of all current Newsnight investigations.

It is claimed that reporters from the programme, which is already the subject of an internal investigation over its decision to drop a previous investigation into Sir Jimmy Savile, failed to show Steve Messham a recent photograph of the former Tory party treasurer. Furthermore, Newsnight did not put the allegations to Lord McAlpine before broadcasting them.

In an apology broadcast on last night's programme, Newsnight said: "We broadcast Mr Messham's claim but did not identify the individual concerned. Mr Messham has tonight made a statement that makes clear he wrongly identified his abuser and has apologised. We also apologise unreservedly for having broadcast this report."

As well as suspending all Newsnight investigations for editorial "robustness" to be assessed, the BBC's Director General, George Entwhistle, sent a senior news executive to supervise last night's show, ordered an urgent report on the care home investigation and suspended all co-productions with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism across the BBC.

The apparent journalistic failings came in advance of a report on the programme last Friday that carried the allegation that a senior unnamed Tory from the Thatcher era had been involved in abusing children at the home. The segment did not name the Tory for legal reasons, but Lord McAlpine's name was subsequently circulated on the internet. The BBC had defended its investigation as in the public interest.

But in what could be a devastating blow to the credibility of the programme, Mr Messham last night offered his "sincere and humble apologies to him [Lord McAlpine] and his family". He said: "After seeing a picture in the past hour of the individual concerned, this [is] not the person I identified by photograph presented to me by the police in the early 1990s, who told me the man in the photograph was Lord McAlpine."

Tory grandee Lord McAlpine warned he was preparing legal action after issuing a statement denying internet claims and media innuendo that he had sexually abused young people in Bryn Estyn care home in Wrexham. Lord McAlpine, 70, who is in ill health and lives in Italy, volunteered to return to Britain to answer police questions on the allegations, which he described as "wholly false and defamatory".

Speculation has raged on the internet for days following the Newsnight broadcast last Friday. A number of high-profile figures, including Sally Bercow, the wife of Commons Speaker John Bercow, had referred to him on Twitter. Environmentalist George Monbiot also yesterday apologised for posts that "contributed to [the] febrile atmosphere".

Lord McAlpine said in a statement: "I must publicly tackle these slurs and set the record straight. It is obvious that there must be a substantial number of people who saw that I had been identified in the internet publications as this guilty man and who subsequently saw or heard the broadcasts or read the newspapers in question and reasonably inferred that the allegation of guilt in those broadcasts and newspapers attached to me."

Lord McAlpine said that he had sympathy for his accuser: "I wish to make it clear that I do not suggest that Mr Messham is malicious in making the allegations of sexual abuse about me. He is referring to a terrible period of his life in the 1970s or 1980s and what happened to him will have affected him ever since." Lord McAlpine said he had been to Wrexham only once when he visited the local constituency Conservative Association whilst deputy chairman, and that at all times he was accompanied by Conservative Central Office agent Stuart Newman, who has since died.

He also denied ever visiting the children's home or any other similar institution.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map