- Caroline Thomson is no stranger to being at the vortex of a major scandal
- In previous role at the BBC, she was dragged into the Jimmy Savile controversy
- There was widespread criticism of Ms Thomson when she left the BBC
- She left with a £670,000 pay-off — more than twice her £330,000 salary
Beleaguered Oxfam trustee Caroline Thomson, who made a ‘full and unqualified apology’ to Britain and Haiti, is no stranger to being at the vortex of a major corporate scandal.
In a previous role at the BBC, she was dragged into the controversy over the cover-up of paedophile DJ Jimmy Savile’s activities, as well as a row over excessive pay-offs for BBC executives.
There was widespread criticism of Ms Thomson — who uses her maiden name rather than her title by marriage, Lady Liddle — when, before she became chairman of Oxfam’s trustees, she left the BBC (where she was chief operating officer) with a £670,000 pay-off — more than twice her £330,000 salary.
Astonishingly, she got this eye-watering sum even though she wanted to quit.
Indeed, she was one of several BBC bigwigs who left with huge pay-offs — totalling £4 million in one year — after the Savile scandal.
As a result, Margaret Hodge, then chairwoman of the Commons spending watchdog, said there was ‘gross incompetence’ in the way the BBC handled the golden handshakes.
The MP had questioned senior BBC executives and said it was an ‘unedifying experience’ watching them ‘try to avoid responsibility’.
During questioning, former BBC director general Mark Thompson defended the severance payments, denying that the Corporation had ‘lost the plot’.
In reference to Ms Thomson, Ms Hodge said her redundancy pay-off was effectively paid to ‘compensate’ her for missing out on the job of director-general during the fallout from Savile.
To compound matters, when one shamed BBC executive repaid part of his £300,000 settlement, Ms Thomson was asked if she would do the same.
With haughty disdain, she replied: ‘No. I’m not.’ Insisting that the licence-fee-payers’ funded money was her contractual entitlement, she said: ‘I would have earned a lot more when I was working for ITV.’
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This debacle followed the Jimmy Savile scandal when it was alleged that the BBC had pulled a BBC2 Newsnight investigation into allegations that the DJ had indulged in under-age sex and that Ms Thomson, along with other executives, failed to heed warnings that Savile was a serious paedophile.
‘In retrospect,’ she said after Savile died, ‘no one thought of it as a story about the BBC. I look back now and say: ‘Why didn’t I think it was a problem?’ But I didn’t.’
After quitting the BBC with her pay-off (including £14,000 for lawyers to negotiate the deal) and a £1.9 million pension pot, she became executive director of the English National Ballet.
Asked why she didn’t take a job in commercial TV (where she’d said she’d have earned much more), she responded: ‘I felt bruised by the manner of my departure and the speed of it. I wanted to do something different.’
Caroline Agnes Morgan Thomson, 63, has strong political links. Her father was Labour MP for Dundee before defecting to the SDP, became head of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and was ennobled as Baron Thomson of Monifieth.
After studying at York University, Ms Thomson joined the BBC as a trainee journalist. There, she met her future husband Roger Liddle, an early SDP activist who was a very close friend of Peter Mandelson, with whom he co-authored The Blair Revolution, which championed an EU ‘of deeper economic integration among nation-states bound together by common rules and united by a clear social purpose’.
They also said: ‘The single currency is the natural complement to a single market’.
Liddle then became a policy adviser to Blair on Europe, in 1997, and joined him as an aide in No 10 for seven years.
But ‘Mandelson’s bagman’ became embroiled in a sleazy cash-for-access scandal.
Another Mandelson crony, Derek ‘Dolly’ Draper, was caught telling an undercover reporter posing as a businessman that he could provide early sight of confidential government reports and that in exchange for money he would open government doors to him — one being that of Liddle’s office.
Draper duly pressed Liddle into service and the latter was quoted telling the undercover reporter: ‘There is a circle and Derek is part of the circle . . . Whenever you are ready, tell me what you want, who you want to meet, and Derek and I will make the call for you.’
Blair rejected demands to dismiss Liddle who denied the allegations — the consensus being that he was saved solely because his reported remark was not tape-recorded.
After Downing Street, Liddle was an adviser to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and having been ennobled for long service as a Blairite ultra is a key figure in the Lords in the battle against Brexit.
During a debate about leaving the EU, he declared his intention to fight Brexit as long as he lived.
As for his wife, she continues to amass well-paid public jobs: chairman of Digital UK (which is responsible for digital terrestrial TV); a director of UKGI (a government quango responsible for corporate governance); as well as two in the private sector, a director of Vitec Group (which provides services for broadcasters) and on the board of CN multi-media group.
Thomson once said women in business ‘must have the self-belief to say you don’t understand some-thing in meetings . . . Men always say when they don’t get things.’
Yet by her own admission, she did not ask the right questions about Jimmy Savile. Might she now be asking similar questions of herself about Oxfam?
… AND LABOUR MONEY MAN WHO BECAME CHARITY’S TREASURER
A former adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, David Pitt-Watson, 58 — Oxfam’s honorary treasurer since 2011 — was finance director of the Labour Party from 1997-99.
He was offered the post of Labour general secretary in 2008 but decided not to take it — to the disappointment of Brown, then PM.
The City fund manager’s influence at Oxfam — along with his links to the Labour Party — may partly explain why the charity has become highly politicised and veered dramatically to the Left.
In 2014, Oxfam was criticised for a faux film poster, showing a broiling sea under clouds titled: The Perfect Storm. Added were the words ‘starring zero hours contracts, high prices, benefit cuts, unemployment, childcare costs’.
A message above read: ‘Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm — and it’s forcing more and more people into poverty.’ Meanwhile, on Twitter Oxfam invited people to hear how ‘we investigate the reasons why so many people are turning to food banks in Britain 2014’.
Pitt-Watson (pictured), also an executive fellow at London Business School, was chairman of the United Nations environment programme’s finance initiative in the run-up to the Paris Climate summit.
The son of a cleric his grandfather was moderator of the Church of Scotland in the Fifties. He has written a number of books and pamphlets but denies he’s a member of an ivory-towered elite.
‘I have never understood the notion that there is a divorce between the real world and the academic world,’ he says.
‘I don’t get it. The academic world is there reflecting, explaining, understanding the real world.’