Two British Broadcasting Corp. investigative reporters who exposed miscarriages of justice in a widely acclaimed television series have been suspended by the BBC for using "unjustifiable threats" to obtain an interview.
Reporter-producer Peter Hill, 46, and reporter Martin Young, 39, of the corporation's celebrated "Rough Justice" series, were suspended from their jobs for three months and barred from all investigative reporting for two years. Bill Cotton, BBC's managing director for television, announced the disciplinary action Thursday.
The two were found to have placed "undue and improper pressure" on Anne Fitzpatrick, 31, to obtain a dramatic filmed interview in July during which she confessed that she had faked a 1983 burglary of her Manchester, England, apartment and given evidence that led to the conviction of an innocent man.
Hill and Young had traced the woman to Southern California, where she was employed as a nannie, to obtain the interview.
She returned to Britain for an Appeal Court hearing of the case last month, during which she claimed that she had been blackmailed into the confession by the reporters. She charged they had threatened to embarrass her by exposing a lesbian relationship and getting U.S. immigration authorities to deport her if she did not cooperate.
"By their action, they have brought the BBC into disrepute and in particular, BBC journalism," Cotton said in announcing the suspensions.
A BBC spokesman said that mitigating factors, including the sustained high standard of the "Rough Justice" program, had kept the two men from being fired. The spokesman said the incident also raised questions of editorial accountability and responsibility that BBC has not fully addressed.
The disciplinary action places a cloud over the program's future, which the corporation said was under review.
Ironically, the interview in question was pivotal in overturning the conviction of the man Fitzpatrick had accused. Antony Mycock, 31, who had no previous criminal record, was released last month after serving two years in prison for burglary when the Appeal Court judge ruled that Fitzpatrick was an unreliable witness. No legal action is pending against Fitzpatrick.
However, the judge said the methods used by Young and Hill to obtain their interview were "outrageous," adding that if police employed such tactics they would be instantly condemned by the courts.
The intensity of the judicial criticism caused the BBC to cancel a special "Rough Justice" program scheduled for the evening of Mycock's release from prison and sparked the BBC's own internal investigation that led to the disciplinary action.
The two journalists were not available for comment.
From his home near Manchester, Mycock criticized the disiplinary action: "They proved what they set out to prove. I am out of prison becaus of what they have done."