An employment tribunal case provides a rare insight into how the BBC handles serious sexual assault claims after the catastrophic Jimmy Savile scandal.
The BBC offered a permanent contract to TV producer David Roden — who has worked on "Casualty" and "Doctor Who" — but walked away after being alerted to unproven allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour made by five male students against him.
Roden, asserting his innocence, took the BBC to an employment tribunal in 2013 but lost a claim of unfair dismissal — and later his right to anonymity.
Sources say the BBC has made strides in tackling bullying and harassment, but the broadcaster is yet to totally convince staff it deals with complaints fairly.
Editorial note: This story contains graphic sexual references.
LONDON — In March 2013, the BBC's head of production talent, Jacqui Taunton Fenton, thought she was about to recruit a rising star in scriptwriting and make him into a permanent TV drama producer inside the BBC. The candidate she had in mind had worked as a script editor on the flagship BBC1 drama "Casualty," directed episodes of the daytime soap opera "Doctors," and had written a special episode of "Doctor Who," one of the BBC's biggest international properties.
In an email to her colleagues, the recruiter said "the decision had been taken" and the writer was "delighted to be staying on with the department, although responsibilities, a job title and a job description still had to be finalised," according to BBC evidence presented at an employment tribunal, the ruling from which has been obtained by Business Insider. The deal was days away from being done, a small but happy hiring coup for the public broadcasting service. But the contract was never signed.
A month earlier, an external TV executive told the BBC about allegations that the producer had sexually abused a young man while he was teaching a scriptwriting course in Glasgow, according to the BBC's case at the tribunal. The broadcaster passed the information to a police investigator within Operation Yewtree, the sprawling probe into celebrity sexual abuse that came out of the Jimmy Savile scandal, the BBC's evidence said. The police then told the BBC there were other allegations, stemming from a college theatre in Cornwall, the ruling discloses.
Now the BBC's human resources staff faced a difficult confrontation with the producer. On July 23, 2013, the man met with the BBC. Just four months earlier, he thought he was going to be hired permanently. Instead, he was told the BBC would not be giving him a job.
The man protested his innocence throughout the entire process. The police had investigated and did not bring proceedings against him. He proved to the BBC he has no criminal convictions. Three of the five young men who initially accused him ultimately did not put their names to any type of complaint against him, the tribunal ruling said. That placed the producer in an awful catch-22: He was losing his job because of the allegations even though the law had made no determination against him. He decided to fight his corner.
180 bullying and harassment claims
This is the Kafkaesque world that existed inside the BBC after the Jimmy Savile scandal brought the corporation to its knees. Revelations about the dead television presenter's 47-year reign of sexual abuse crushed audience trust and sent management into a devastating spin in 2012. Former director general George Entwistle resigned in the wake of the scandal, after just 54 days in the job. It was only last year that the full horror of Savile's actions at the BBC were exposed. A major inquiry by former High Court judge Dame Janet Smith found 72 people were sexually abused by the presenter in connection with his work at the BBC. This included eight rape victims, the youngest of whom was 10 years old.
The BBC has spent £10 million ($12.7 million) trying to clean up the mess left by Savile. The broadcaster published a progress report last month, detailing how it has strengthened safeguards for vulnerable people on its premises, including banning children from attending studio recordings alone. It has also beefed-up contracts for powerful TV presenters and producers to stamp out intimidation and predatory sexual behaviour.
The BBC has investigated 180 bullying and harassment claims made by staff over the past three years, according to figures published alongside its annual report in July 2016. This encompasses everything from verbal abuse to sexual assault. It is very rare for the outcome of any of these cases to be leaked or made public.
Business Insider has discovered one case which took place not long after the Savile scandal erupted. It is not one of the 180 because it was raised by an external whistleblower, but it casts light on how the broadcaster now handles serious allegations of sexual assault against its staff.
We obtained employment tribunal judgments revealing that the BBC declined to permanently employ a prominent TV drama producer and instead reported him to the police in 2013 over a series of allegations — three of which are almost identical in nature — that he preyed on young male students, some of whom were aspiring TV writers.
The producer challenged the BBC's decision in a 2014 employment tribunal. His case failed but employment judge Andrew Glennie granted him anonymity, and the man was simply named as "G" in the judgment. The anonymity ruling was then overturned after an appeal by the BBC in 2015. The appeal judge ruled that there was a "strong public interest in full publication" of the judgment and the names of the parties involved. Ultimately, he was named as "D Roden" in the final judgment. His full name is David Roden.
Roden is still working in the industry. Since the BBC declined to renew his contract, he has been a script editor on ITV's iconic soap "Coronation Street" and remained in contact with aspiring young writers through tutoring work.
Roden has consistently denied all allegations of sexual assault and has not been charged by the police. According to evidence presented at the tribunal, Roden was briefly arrested and bailed in Cornwall but no charges have ever been brought. In the employment case, Roden's lawyers argued that the BBC's effort to strip him of his anonymity in court was "maliciously done in order to unlawfully victimise" him.
Roden has not responded to Business Insider's repeated requests for comment over email. It was a similar story when we contacted companies at which Roden has recently secured employment. The Professional Writing Academy did not return our messages and representatives for production company Angel Station declined to comment. The firm of barristers that represented Roden in his anonymity case, Littleton Chambers, also declined to comment. Asked if he would provide a statement or forward messages to Roden, John Bowers QC said: "Sorry, no." Roden's solicitor Penningtons Manches did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The BBC told us that it acted "as soon as the allegations were brought to our attention," leading to Roden's dismissal. A spokeswoman added that the broadcaster contacted the police and has been able to pass on "relevant information" to future employers and other relevant bodies.
A lewd photo surfaces
David Roden's story begins in Cornwall. After spending the early part of this career doing casual TV work — most notably writing the "Doctor Who" special, "Dimensions in Time," for the BBC charity appeal "Children in Need" in 1993 — he moved into theatre. It was in this world that the first allegations of sexual assault emerged.
The judgment we have obtained from Roden's employment tribunal proceedings with the BBC show that he was working in Devon and Cornwall in 2005. The papers stop short of naming his employer, but a source tells Business Insider that Roden managed The Keay, a newly opened theatre that was part of Cornwall College St Austell. He was even interviewed at the time by the BBC's local news website.
But just months into his tenure as manager, Roden was sacked, according to a summary of documents disclosed to the employment tribunal by Cornwall County Council and Devon and Cornwall Police.
An inappropriate photo of Roden was distributed around the college in July 2005, the police and council evidence said. It allegedly featured Roden simulating oral sex on a student who was dressed as the character "Sweep" from the classic BBC children's programme "The Sooty Show." The picture features a second student, dressed as "Sooty," according to the disclosure at the tribunal. The judgment contains no record of Roden denying the photo.
The two students, aged 17 and 19, also complained to the police about Roden, according to documents summarised in the ruling. In separate allegations, they both claimed that they had gone to Roden's home and consumed a large amount of alcohol. They later allegedly discovered Roden penetrating and performing oral sex on them. The police investigated, arrested, and bailed Roden but no charges were brought against him.
A Devon and Cornwall Police spokesman refused to discuss the case and declined to comment. But two sources confirmed the investigation, one of whom told Business Insider that a 2005 police case summary on Roden and a draft charge sheet were among the documents disclosed to the tribunal. The investigation was led by Stephen Panter, a detective specialising in child protection cases.
The ruling says that Roden did not object to the disclosure of these documents for the purposes of the tribunal hearing. He denied the allegations made to the police in 2005 and continued to deny them during the tribunal nearly a decade later. Roden told the BBC that the accusations were only made when the students were thrown off the course over suspicions that some money was stolen.
Roden was fired by Cornwall College St Austell on July 13, 2005, for gross misconduct following the distribution of the "Sooty" photo, according to the judgment's summary of evidence. Later that year, he took up a 12-month practical filmmaking course at the Met Film School, according to an interview on the private school's YouTube channel.
Big break at the BBC
Unaware of the Cornwall accusations, the BBC then offered Roden a huge step up in his career after graduating.
Roden joined in April 2007 as a development assistant at BBC Wales, one of the broadcaster's major drama production hubs. Evidence presented to the employment tribunal in 2014 noted that in his BBC application form Roden incorrectly stated his employment at Cornwall College St Austell ended in December 2005, rather than July 2005. The BBC was apparently unaware of the circumstances of his departure, the case ruling states.
Roden worked for the BBC on a series of fixed-term contracts. He was a trainee script editor on "Doctor Who" and "Torchwood" before becoming a full-time script editor on "Casualty" in Bristol, according to the Met Film School interview. He even created an online-only episode of "Casualty," which was published on October 31, 2009.
Roden later helped run the BBC Writers Room, which develops new writing talent, and directed episodes of BBC1 drama "Doctors." By 2013, he was a development producer in Glasgow, which is where further serious allegations emerged about his behaviour.
The producer of "Footballers' Wives" writes to the BBC
Roden was still employed on rolling contracts at the BBC, but was on the brink of being offered a permanent deal when a whistleblower approached the broadcaster in February 2013, according to the broadcaster's case in the employment tribunal.
Brian Park, the high-profile British drama producer behind hits including BBC1's "Waterloo Road" and ITV's "Footballers Wives," notified the BBC about allegations of sexual harassment made by three students Roden was tutoring on a writing course in Glasgow.
A source told Business Insider that the course was run by Park's company, Shed Productions (now Warner Bros Television Production UK), in association with Glasgow Caledonian University. Roden worked on the course for around a year in his spare time.
In March 2013, Park detailed the allegations in an email to the BBC. The male students were not identified in the court proceedings and were simply known as Person A, B, and C. Here's a summary of Park's allegations (all denied by Roden), one of which is strikingly similar to those in Cornwall:
Person A: This 19-year-old said he stayed the night at Roden's after consuming a "considerable amount of wine." The student was woken twice by Roden, the first time he was allegedly being kissed by the drama producer. On the second occasion, Roden was allegedly performing oral sex on the student and penetrating him with his fingers.
Person B: Park reported that this student was uncomfortable with "unwanted attention" from Roden on "several occasions."
Person C: The third student complained that Roden made "inappropriate sexual innuendos" at a graduation ceremony.
Separately, Park told the BBC he himself had witnessed other "inappropriate behaviour." The judgment does not expand on this, but does say that Park told the corporation that he would not engage Roden again as a lecturer because of the allegations. Park declined to comment for this story when reached by Business Insider.
Later in March 2013, the BBC invited Roden to go on annual leave.
"Hand on heart, I’m not predatory"
The BBC's HR staff were persuaded that they should confront Roden with the Glasgow students' accusations in "general terms." They decided that doing nothing was not an option in light of the Savile scandal just months earlier, according to BBC evidence submitted to the tribunal. Roden met BBC HR executives on May 1 and was presented with the allegations raised by Persons B and C. He was not confronted with Person A's more serious allegations because the BBC believed it would reveal to Roden the identity of the student involved.
A BBC HR executive took notes of the meeting, some of which were reproduced in the tribunal judgment. Roden denied Person B and C's claims, adding that he had never been warned about inappropriate behaviour. The BBC asked if his behaviour could have been misunderstood by those making the allegations. According to the notes, Roden replied: "I flirt with everyone and I am very open and friendly, give ladies hugs in the office. That's how I conduct myself, it may be inappropriate, I don't know, no one has ever said anything."
According to the BBC minutes, captured in the judgment, Roden said he is "the same with boys." He added that he would drink and socialise with lecturers and students out of course hours, but it was purely professional and he was always "on duty."
"I've never had anyone say my behaviour is inappropriate. At no point have I ever made or had inappropriate sexual contact — I've had a partner for four years — or made sexual advances at work," the BBC notes quote Roden as saying. He added: "Hand on heart, I’m not predatory."
Roden was also given the opportunity to make the BBC aware of any other relevant information. The BBC investigation team hoped this would prompt him into talking about the Cornwall claims, according to the judgement, but he did not.
No charges are brought
In April 2013, Kit Kitson, the ex-head of the BBC’s investigatory service, reported the allegations to Operation Yewtree — the Metropolitan Police's Jimmy Savile task force, which has secured sexual assault convictions against the likes of TV star Rolf Harris and PR guru Max Clifford. Kitson told the police, however, that Person A would not give evidence against Roden for fear it would impact his TV career. No charges were brought against Roden.
During the course of a number of conversations between Kitson and a Yewtree officer, the police alluded to some of the historic allegations made against Roden in Cornwall, but details given to the BBC were scarce, the corporation said at the tribunal.
In an email to BBC HR executive Anna Shackleton on April 24, 2013, Kitson said:
"Evidence suggests that G [David Roden] has shown a clear pattern of predatory behaviour, indicating that he is a danger to males. It appears to be the case that he is using his association with the BBC and perceived position of influence, alongside the opportunities available through lecturing and training events."
"Such opportunity could continue to present during any further engagement with the BBC. G's [David Roden’s] private life is exactly that, private, but his overt behaviour observed while being a representative of the BBC is unacceptable."
"You could argue that I misled the BBC over the Cornwall allegations."
The BBC told Roden in May 2013 that no internal disciplinary action would be taken in relation to the allegations raised by Park. In evidence at the tribunal, BBC HR officer Sally Bendston said this was because the Glasgow students were not prepared to give evidence. Bendston declined to comment when reached by Business Insider.
But the BBC kept the inquiry into Roden open, telling him in July that it was investigating other historic claims. These related to the Cornwall incident, but Roden was not told this at the time. Days later, the BBC received the results of a Criminal Records Bureau check on Roden. It came back clean, much to the surprise of the Yewtree officer, who expressed "disbelief" to Kitson at the news, according to the tribunal ruling.
Later in July, Roden met with the BBC and he gave his version of what happened in Cornwall, according to BBC minutes from the meeting reproduced in the tribunal judgement. A BBC HR executive summarised Roden's account as follows:
"Every year the theatre took on two students for work experience. One year he became convinced that one of them was taking money but he could not prove which one. He asked the college to remove them from the placement. The college did so but subsequently received allegations from both the students (males) that G [David Roden] had touched them inappropriately and an inference that this was why he was asking for them to be removed from the placement. An investigation took place during which G [David Roden] was suspended.
"He was cleared by the internal process but one of the parents went to the police and was then contacted by the police. He heard nothing for a long time after which he got a phone call from the police to say no further proceedings would be taken. He went back to work soon after. He described it as one of the worst and most stressful episodes of his life."
The BBC had heard enough. HR executive Shackleton told Roden that his employment would not be continued. A flag was placed by Roden's name on the HR system warning managers: "Do not re-employ."
It was not until the 2014 employment tribunal, brought by Roden for wrongful dismissal, that the BBC learned the full extent of the Cornwall allegations, including "The Sooty Show" photo and the fact he was arrested and then released during an investigation of the incident.
Roden admitted during the tribunal that he had not been upfront about the circumstances of his departure from Cornwall College St Austell. "Ultimately in the grand scheme of things you could argue that I misled the BBC over the Cornwall allegations," he said under cross-examination.
Judge Andrew Glennie ruled in the BBC's favour, concluding that the action taken by the corporation was "reasonable." He said the BBC's combined information from Glasgow and Cornwall "suggested that the claimant [Roden] presented a risk to young men." Glennie added: "They could not in my reasonable judgement be expected to do nothing."
Glennie did, however, offer Roden a degree of protection in shielding his identity. He said this was because the tribunal was not designed to pass judgement on whether the sexual assault allegations levelled at Roden were true. "This would mean that if the allegations were to be reported outside this tribunal, that report would not be followed by another stating that the allegations had been upheld or not upheld," Glennie added.
The BBC was unhappy with the part of the ruling that granted Roden anonymity. In a mark of how seriously it took Roden's case, the broadcaster appealed the ruling it had just won in a separate hearing in March 2015 with a view to undoing the anonymity of "G." Two months later, Justice Ingrid Simler found in the BBC's favour. She said the "strong public interest" in the judgment and the names of the parties involved outweighed Roden's right to anonymity under the Human Rights Act.
"The public has accordingly become accustomed to the early identification of such persons (even before charge in many cases) and is trusted to distinguish between an allegation and a finding of guilt," Simler said. She added that it was also strongly in the public interest that other "relevant bodies" and employers know that Roden "might pose a risk to young men" and that he had been "dishonest and had misled" the BBC during his disciplinary process.
"The default position in the public interest is that judgments of tribunals should be published in full, including the names of parties. The reporting of court proceedings in full without restriction is a particularly important aspect of the principle and withholding a party’s name is an obvious derogation from it, requiring cogent justification for its restriction," Simler said. "The mere publication of embarrassing or damaging material is not a good reason for restricting the reporting of a judgment."
A BBC spokeswoman told Business Insider: "As soon as the allegations were brought to our attention we worked with the police to gather information resulting in Mr Roden leaving the BBC and bringing an unsuccessful claim for unfair dismissal. In addition, we successfully sought to overturn Mr Roden’s anonymity order in his employment tribunal case so that we are able to pass on relevant information in relation to this case to any potential future employers and other relevant bodies."
Roden moves on to "Coronation Street"
Roden's case has gone unreported, however. He has also gone on to secure high-profile work since leaving the BBC. Roden was employed on ITV's flagship soap opera "Coronation Street" as a script editor for 52 episodes between 2013 and 2014, according to IMDB. ITV declined to comment.
He continued to tutor aspiring young writers at the Professional Writing Academy (PWA), a Cornwall-based education company that specialises in online courses in storytelling. Specifically, Roden was the lead tutor on the Storytelling for Screen course for the PWA, according to a biography on its website. However, since Business Insider put the allegations about Roden to the PWA last month, he has been removed from the "who we are" section of the website. It is not clear if he continues to tutor for the company.
Roden also worked as a producer and story producer on Irish police drama "Red Rock" in 2o15 and 2016, according to IMDB. "Red Rock" is produced by Angel Station. The drama airs on TV3 in Ireland, but was acquired by the BBC and shown on BBC1 earlier this year, meaning Roden has a credit on a show airing on the BBC years after he left.
There is no evidence that Roden's employers knew of the allegations against him at the time they employed him. The PWA did not respond to Business Insider's requests for comment; representatives of Angel Station declined to comment.
Despite the BBC's "zero tolerance" on Roden, staff don't have full confidence in its ability to deal with harassment
Roden's departure is a rare insight into how the BBC has dealt with sexual abuse and harassment claims since the Savile saga. Director general Tony Hall promised a "zero tolerance" approach to such behaviour months after taking charge of the broadcaster. Roden's case seems to support this.
But the BBC's war is far from over. Despite sweeping updates to bullying and harassment procedures, not all staff are confident their complaints will be handled fairly. What's more, sources inside the BBC tell Business Insider that the BBC is planning to remove an independent element of its investigation processes.
As we saw with the Roden case, often the victims of abuse are reticent to speak out against powerful executives who can make or break their career.
The issue was highlighted by Dame Janet Smith's inquiry into the Savile scandal. Smith said she was "particularly disturbed" by evidence that BBC staff and freelancers were reluctant to complain about their superiors for fear of losing their jobs. A separate inquiry, published last month by workplace standards firm Good Corporation, echoed this point. It said there are some BBC employees who "continue to express doubt" about the "desire or ability" of management to tackle abuse.
Recent BBC staff surveys only support these findings. The corporation's 2015 employee questionnaire found just 49% of those questioned are "confident that policies and procedures would be applied fairly and effectively" should they encounter abuse. The figure was a marginal improvement on 2014, but proportionately still represents less than half of the BBC's 19,000 employees.
The broadcaster has investigated 180 bullying and harassment cases since 2013, according to data released alongside the BBC's annual report. These are internal complaints, unlike the Roden case where an external source alerted the BBC.
The figures show a substantial decline in cases in that three-year period, halving from 88 in 2013/14 to 43 in the 12 months to March this year. This puts the BBC in the "mid-range of other large organisations in the UK," according to the Good Corporation.
What the BBC won't say, however, is how many of these 180 cases have resulted in those accused being let go like Roden. Business Insider asked this question in a Freedom of Information Act request, but it was denied. The disclosure could contravene data protection laws, the corporation said. "As the request relates to a small number of staff, this could lead to individuals being identified," the BBC said.
Broadcasting industry unions BECTU and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) fear that confidence in BBC procedures will only be undermined by the removal of external experts from bullying and harassment investigations.
Representatives from Hill Dickinson currently provide impartial assistance to BBC managers during hearings, but the BBC is not renewing the law firm's 12-month contract. The BBC told unions last month that Hill Dickinson has agreed with all decisions made by its managers, showing that they are consistently coming to the right conclusions. For this reason, the BBC believes the external support is no longer necessary.
BECTU supervisory official Helen Ryan said: "People have become more aware of the fact that bullying and harassment is unacceptable at the BBC. But do I think that people have any trust and confidence in the process? I doubt it."
NUJ broadcasting organiser Sue Harris said she has not seen a fresh rash of cases since the Savile scandal, but echoed Ryan's comments around staff confidence in procedures. She added that the BBC's task to save £800 million a year from 2017 could exacerbate matters.
A review of BBC bullying and harassment in 2013 found that cost-cutting was "frequently cited as a cause of strain on teams and individuals." Dinah Rose, the human rights barrister who wrote the report, added: "The current environment of cost-cutting and multiple rounds of redundancies is described as increasing individual reluctance to challenge those in power as people live in fear of redundancy."
A BBC spokeswoman said: "While our scores around bullying and harassment have improved compared to 2014, we are not complacent and work is continuing to further improve.
"That includes training for all new managers, a large amount of staff support including counselling, a dedicated bullying and harassment support line, and mediation. We also recently conducted a 'Speak Up' campaign to raise awareness for employees and freelancers."
Roden's case suggests that the lessons of Savile have been learned, but as the BBC spokeswoman acknowledges, the BBC's work is not done yet.
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