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Arron Banks.

Has the BBC taken its claim to impartially serve up both sides of news stories a few steps too far?

That’s how it seems in the case of Arron Banks, who is apparently being investigated by the National Crime Agency after the Electoral Commission found that his campaign group in the EU referendum – Leave.EU – had broken electoral law.

After it was announced that the NCA is investigating, the BBC decided to invite him onto The Andrew Marr Show to discuss the matter. The show was to be broadcast live at 9am today (Sunday, November 4). Here’s the Corporation’s statement about it:

“There is strong public interest in an interview with Arron Banks about allegations of funding irregularities in relation to Leave.EU and the 2016 EU Referendum. The Electoral Commission has laid out concerns about this in public and it is legitimate and editorially justified for Andrew Marr to question Mr Banks robustly about them, which he will do on Sunday morning.”

No it isn’t. In fact, it may pervert the course of justice.

We already know Leave.EU is guilty of breaking electoral law – that’s what the Electoral Commission found. Now it has passed the matter on to the NCA, which will investigate the possibility that serious criminal offences were committed.

Nobody from the NCA or the Electoral Commission has been invited to put forward what they know, so this is basically giving Mr Banks an opportunity to influence the nation’s thinking on the matter. This could be disastrous for justice if a jury is ever asked to decide on his innocence or guilt.

People have picked up on these facts. For instance:

It’s a perfectly legitimate question, if the BBC is interested in balance. Carole Cadwalladr is the investigative journalist who uncovered much (if not all) the evidence against Leave.EU.

More to the point is this:

This is the substantive point – presenting evidence that might go before a criminal court may prejudice the case.

Trouble is, I think we need to watch, just to check whether what’s broadcast is reasonable. This member of the public thinks it won’t be:

Again, good points. The BBC is acting hypocritically as it is affording Mr Banks a courtesy never offered to other people in the public eye, whose behaviour has been the focus of legal interest in the past. And it is the job of all reporters to ensure that they do not prejudice the outcome of criminal inquiries and court cases when reporting them.

Will the following be mentioned?

Probably – but not in anything like the exhausting detail with which Mr Banks is likely to put his side of the story.

So it should be no surprise that the BBC has received a huge number of complaints and people have been calling on other members of the public to make their views known:

And what do you think was the BBC’s measured response?

It closed down the complaints page on its website.

This is not the action of a responsible organisation.

It gets worse than that, though – information has been leaked to suggest Theresa May quashed an investigation into Mr Banks’s dealings, years ago, quoting “political sensitivity” (which is the reason the Met Police has given for failing to do anything about the matter over the last several months).

Here‘s The Guardian:

“A Labour MP has asked Theresa May whether she or any other minister had ever declined a request from the security services to conduct an investigation into the controversial Leave.EU campaign donor Arron Banks.

“Ben Bradshaw wrote to the prime minister a day after it was announced that a criminal investigation into Banks had begun, amid repeated allegations that May had blocked an investigation in 2016, when she was home secretary.

“Downing Street would not comment on Bradshaw’s suggestion that an investigation was blocked, although it is understood the claim is denied. A No 10 spokesman said: “We would never confirm or deny the detail of any conversation with security services on any topic.”

“The Daily Mail reported on Thursday that May declined a request by one of the security services to investigate Banks in 2016, repeating a claim made by Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, at his party conference in September.

“At the time Watson asked: “Did [May] ask the security services to investigate? Or did she stop them doing so? There is a suggestion that in the run-up to the referendum the prime minister – in her capacity at the time as home secretary – declined at least one application from the security services to mount a full investigation into Mr Banks and others suspected of Russian influence. We need to know if that is true.””

Again, the social media have been having a field day:

And there is a critically serious issue at the heart of this: Alleged interference in UK politics by a foreign power – Russia – with the aid of individuals like Mr Banks and, it seems, Mrs May.

The fact that lawbreaking has happened, the spectre of foreign interference, and the possibility of corruption at the highest level of government – all focused on the UK’s departure from the European Union – mean that the legitimacy of Brexit has been called into question.

Ardent ‘Leave’ voters will be infuriated at Professor Brian Cox’s suggestion…

… but in legal terms – in a nation run by people who accept the rule of law – it is the correct course of action.

We need to know the facts before Brexit happens – not when the damage has been done.

That is why it is important for the facts to be examined thoroughly – including and especially the facts about Arron Banks and Leave.EU.

And that is why the BBC should respect the rules – or does Auntie think that she’s above them?

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