Reed Smith's BBC ties face scrutiny as firm appointed to Savile probe

The BBC has appointed longstanding adviser Reed Smith to a lead role on the broadcaster’s inquiries into the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal.

The law firm is set to act as secretariat to both the independent review led by former Sky News head Nick Pollard into why a Newsnight report on Savile was dropped, as well as a separate investigation – led by former Appeal Court judge Dame Janet Smith – into whether culture and practices at the BBC enabled Savile to carry out the sexual abuse of children.

Former BBC star Savile, who died last October, has been the subject of a string of sex abuse allegations in recent weeks.

Reed Smith’s high-profile appointment has been questioned given the firm’s longstanding relationship with the BBC, with Rob Wilson, the Conservative MP for Reading East, yesterday (24 October) writing to BBC Trust chair Lord Patten to stress that the Savile and Newsnight inquries must “be seen to be independent”.

Wilson’s letter states: “The role of the independent secretariat in gathering an interpreting evidence will be particularly important given that Mr Pollard appears to be conducting his review alone, without the support of any panellists. He can therefore be expected to be reliant, to some extent, on the work of the secretariat provided by Reed Smith.”

Reed Smith’s website states the firm has represented the BBC in “substantial international litigations involving several jurisdictions”, with the relationship dating back to work carried out by Reed Smith’s legacy UK firm Richards Butler, with which it merged in 2007.

Wilson’s letter continues: “I seek in no way to impugn the integrity or competence of Reed Smith. I do however note that the BBC appears to be an important client of Reed Smith and there is evidence of an ongoing relationship between the BBC and the firm.

Wilson notes that Reed Smith’s website indicates that “six of its currently employed lawyers have completed secondments working at the BBC”, while he has also submitted a Freedom of Information Act requesting the “total amount of money paid by the BBC and any of its subsidiaries to (i) Reed Smith and (ii) Richards Butler in respect of services provided in each year since the year 2000.”

In a statement released today (25 October), Pollard said: “I was aware from the outset that Reed Smith are one of the BBC’s legal advisers on unrelated matters. The decision to appoint Reed Smith was taken by me, after consideration of the needs of the review.

“Together we are engaged fully in the review. I am satisfied with the progress made and support given and I am confident in the independence and professionalism of the Reed Smith team.”

The news comes after the BBC this week confirmed that it is also working with Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC on the Savile inquiries.

The BBC Trust is working with its regular advisers at Baker & McKenzie on the matter.

For more, see Savile: Can a lawyer help an independent investigation into their client?