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Last Updated: Friday, 4 March, 2005, 21:37 GMT
BBC burglar payment 'disgusting'
Brendan Fearon
Brendan Fearon was wounded at the Norfolk farm
The Lord Chancellor said the BBC's decision to pay a convicted criminal to take part in a drama-documentary about the Tony Martin case was "disgusting".

Brendan Fearon, whose accomplice was killed when the pair tried to rob Mr Martin, was paid almost 5,000 to appear in the one-off programme.

The BBC said the move was justified under its internal guidelines because of "exceptional interest" in the case.

But the man who wrote those guidelines said he was "not convinced".

It might make good programming, but it's a disgusting warping of values
Lord Falconer
Martin was freed from jail in 2003 after serving two-thirds of a five-year sentence for the manslaughter of 16-year-old Fred Barras.

The farmer shot the teenager and fellow burglar Fearon, 33, after confronting them in his home at Emneth Hungate, Norfolk, in August 1999.

Richard Klein, the programme's producer, told BBC Radio 4's World At One that Mr Fearon had been paid "less than 5,000", and refused to take part unless paid.

Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, told Radio 4's Any Questions: "It might make good programming, but it's a disgusting warping of values."

He said it was not an exceptional case and accused the BBC of making a "weak decision".

Guidelines

Speaking on Radio 4's PM, Richard Ayres, the man who wrote the BBC's Producer Guidelines, said the payment appeared "extraordinarily large".

He said: "I tried to write a guideline which would mean (payments to criminals) would almost never happen, but would leave open the door for that real, genuine public-interest occasion. I am not convinced that today's is one such.

"It seems to me an extraordinarily large sum of money to pay a man who committed not just one crime but was apparently a lifestyle burglar."

He said there was a potential public interest in asking Mr Fearon why he changed his story about where Mr Martin was at the time of the break-in.

Tony Martin
Martin was released from prison in 2003
"Fearon was never cross-examined about why he changed a vital part of his evidence. It may be the programme intends to do that. I'm still doubtful it's worth 4,000."

A BBC spokesman said: "The BBC's guidelines are very clear that payments to convicted criminals are only justifiable when there is exceptional public interest in what a contributor has to say and where there is no other way of obtaining such a contribution.

"Given that Mr Fearon is the only person apart from Tony Martin who is alive and a witness to what happened ... it is extremely important that the public hear the fullest possible account of the event."

Martin said: "I suspect a lot of people will object to taxpayers' money being used in this way."

The Conservatives branded the decision "quite indecent", while the Lib Dems said it could not be justified.


Your comments

There is no "public interest" to be gained from giving money to a serial convicted criminal, apart from giving the BBC's critics more ammunition. This clear waste of public money shows that the BBC producers in question are not only clearly out of touch with public opinion but also without basic PR handling skills, judgement, or - as the surprised and haughty reaction from them evidences - any sense of shame whatsoever. P45s all round.
Alex, Norwich, Norfolk, England

Any payment under such circumstances is totally indefensible
Ged, UK
I consider that any payment under such circumstances is totally indefensible by the BBC, it is an insult to all law abiding licence fee payers
Ged, UK

The sooner the legalised extortion that is the tv licence is abolished the better. How are people supposed to understand the difference between right and wrong when the BBC throws our money at criminals?
Kevin Luxon, Westcliff on Sea, Essex

One day we are asked our opinion on the licence fee, the next we learn the BBC pay a convicted criminal 4000 of our money for an interview. And we are asked if the BBC represents value for money?! In this case it must be a resounding "no"! How dare the BBC use my money in this way, no doubt in order to produce yet another TV documentary! At the end of the day, it will serve no purpose whatsoever but to give this guy his 15 minutes of infamy. In a couple of weeks time, when the next sensational story takes over, this guy will be forgotten about, he will be 4000 richer, and the rest of us will be 4000 worse off. Thanks very much BBC!
Kevin Nelson, c/o Liverpool

Just days after its licence fee was renewed for another 10 years the BBC demonstrates why it does not deserve public money. To pay 4000 of public money to a criminal convicted of a string of crimes is an absolute disgrace.
David Wyatt, Sevenoaks, UK

What a shameful disgrace. Pay Tony Martin not that free-loader!
David Turnbull, Alnwick UK/Dubai

I am absolutely enraged that the BBC has paid 4000 to Mr Fearon. How can we judge the accuracy of this programme knowing that one of the main witnesses has been paid for his testimony. Shame on you.
Crawford Batchelor, Bushmills, Northern Ireland

Clearly Tony Martin can afford to do as he wishes and accept free publicity (an appearance for which I'm sure he has been well coached) without accepting payment. Equally clearly, Brendan Fearon has had a less comfortable financial life. (Otherwise he wouldn't have become a burglar). Personally I wouldn't listen to Tony Martin even if you paid me!
Ted O'Neill, Milan, Italy

I think if a person like that is to appear on a programme as yours, or any other programme to tell his side of the story he should be paid. I see absolutely no problem with you paying the fellow. If that was the only way to obtain the information, I don't see why people have a problem with it.
Fabian Lewis, St Elizabeth, Jamaica

Hmm, the guy is obviously a career criminal, he didn't steal this money from anyone so may not re-offend quite as soon and if that's what it costs to get balanced and informative reporting, well, that's what it costs. Not that I'm at all comfortable about the payment, but I can't shout quite as loud at the BBC as most of the other people commenting here. I do hope he gets mugged on the way home from the bank though.
Ewen, Leicester, UK

What a complete waste of money. Congratulations, TV really is dumbing down.
Laura, Huddersfield

I am appalled at the news that a man who has been convicted of so many crimes before and after the shooting by Tony Martin has been paid to 'give his account' of what happened. We are told that it is in the public's interest to hear his side of the story, well I am part of that public and I don't give a fiddler's cuss what he has to say, never mind being paid to do it! I hope to hear the BBC have so many complaints about this that they change their minds. Remember, it is our BBC.
VW, Highworth, Swindon

Shame on you BBC. How dare you use our money in this offensive way. It also seems that you are breaking the Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice that says you should not be paying criminals, except where it is in the publics' interest. How is it in the publics' interest to hear the lies of Mr Fearon, and for him to be paid. And for Mr Martin to tell his side, and not be paid. You have no shame, no honour, and no principles.
Geoff, Middlesbrough

I find the comments made to justify the payment unbelievable. It is not your money, it is the licence payers' money ie public money. The individuals who made this decision should be disciplined. If this person had not been attempting to commit a crime none of the following events would have happened. I am fed up with paying a tax for something I cannot exercise control over by voting for someone to represent my interests.
Ron Walters, England

I do hope that Mr Fearon will be paying tax on the money he received for his interview for the show. The rest of us have to pay so why shouldn't he.
Jayne, Reading

Having just paid my licence fee, I am disgusted that monies are being paid to a convicted criminal in order to obtain "parity" in the debate on this matter. Wasn't this the same man that threatened to sue Mr Martin for his injuries. This is surely the start of a financial goldmine for career felons. The BBC Governors should reprimand the person who has authorised this payment for bringing BBC journalism into disrepute.
David Burgess

If Mr Fearon had wanted the truth to be told on what happened on the night he broke into Mr Martin's farm, then surely he would not have needed payment. This will just encourage other criminals to approach the BBC to gain payment for talking about how they have destroyed other people's lives. The sooner the BBC loses the licence fee and is obliged to take public opinion into account the better.
Tim, Birmingham, UK

I think it's very wrong to pay either of these men an appearance fee, but if one is getting 4,000 then the BBC is morally obliged to pay the same to the other. It is not being even handed in this matter. Anyway, I thought that these days people were not supposed to benefit from their crime.
Valerie Edgington, Worthing, England

Absolutely not. Appalled at the foolish lack of judgement by the BBC. I don't pay my TV licence to fund criminals. The BBC have fallen well short of what is commonly acceptable behaviour.
Elaine Woods, Preston, Lancashire

This is another indication of the politically correct madness sweeping the BBC. You have consistently persecuted Tony Martin even though public opinion was on his side. How would BBC employees like it if a someone like Fearon broke into their house and then was getting money for it?
J Miller, Watford

I find it frankly offensive to think that TV licence payers' money is being given to criminals. If Mr Fearon wanted to give his account of the incident he should have done so free of charge, as Mr Martin did. If he was unwilling to do so that would have been his choice and the viewers could have been told Mr Fearon was approached but was unwilling to co-operate. Please do not waste our money like this again.
Brenda, Newcastle

Absolutely not, and a disgraceful waste of our money. The BBC has a duty not to pay out to these sorts of people. If Fearon would only appear on the documentary for cash, then leave him out and don't let him tell his side of the story. Once again it is us law abiding license payers who get the raw deal.
Ian, UK

So demanding money for simply owning a TV is not enough, you have also taken to throwing it at building up a BBC art collection and despicable, convicted criminals. No wonder so many want an end to the BBC's state-backed racket. Would you pay this money to those accused of murdering Stephen Lawrence? Of course not. Hang your heads.
Pete, London, UK

I'm absolutely disgusted that the BBC has wasted license payers' money paying a convicted criminal for his comments. How was the figure of 4000 arrived at? Couldn't the BBC have simply stated that Mr Fearon refused to comment, unless he was paid and left the public to assess his credibility from that. Proceedings should be started against Mr Fearon to confiscate the 4000 as 'proceeds of crime'.
Brian Crow, St Albans, England

I feel disappointed and let down that the BBC has chosen to reward him. I agree with Brian Crow, that it should be up to the burglar whether or not he wishes to make a point. Although 4,000 is probably insignificant compared with the amounts of money the BBC deals with, to Mr Fearon, it's a couple of month's bills and socialising paid for, which he does not deserve.
Katharine Friedmann, Leicester, UK




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why the BBC decided to pay Brendan Fearon



SEE ALSO:
Martin not to face theft charges
25 Feb 04 |  Norfolk
Martin quiz over car plate theft
13 Feb 04 |  Norfolk


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