Panorama receives first writ over bungs allegations

Kevin Bond, sacked as Newcastle United assistant manager at the height of last year’s furore over Panorama‘s bung allegations, is suing the BBC for libel, claiming the broadcaster had a “catastrophic effect” on his career.

Lawyers acting for Bond, now manager at Bournemouth, say he was “seriously defamed, hurt and embarrassed” by claims that he would consider receiving illegal payments from a new “super agency”. The high court action, lodged this week, alleges that last September’s programme was deliberately edited to mislead viewers and make him appear sinister and corrupt. However, BBC executives are believed to be equally determined to defend the programme.

As well as the programme and a follow-up, the writ details the blizzard of newspaper articles based on the programme, other spin-off BBC radio and TV programmes and transcripts and press releases posted on the web.

His lawyers say Bond was misrepresented by the programme’s inclusion of a straight denial when he had provided them with a longer statement pointing out he was not involved in transfer negotiations and he had not followed up the suggestions made by the undercover reporter Knut auf dem Berge. He also offered an interview, which it refused to take up.

The high court papers claim Panorama was under pressure to show that bungs were rife in the Premiership to make it “sensational and newsworthy”. They say the evidence collated by the programme in its year-long investigation was “completely unreliable” and did not prove that Bond had received a corrupt payment.

The claim by Bond’s lawyers, David Price and Associates, goes on to suggest he was a victim of BBC attempts to boost viewing figures for Panorama by “dumbing it down” and moving it from Sunday night to a midweek prime-time slot.

“The scarcity of the evidence, the lack of journalistic rigour and the sensationalist method of presentation are evident of such an approach,” it says. It complains of the use of “sinister light” to portray alleged wrongdoers, together with “editorial techniques commonly employed in criminal dramas and films”.

The writ claims that unlike others featured in the programme, including the then Bolton manager Sam Allardyce and Bond’s then boss Harry Redknapp, Bond did not have the “experience or track record in Premiership management to withstand the effect of such damaging allegations”. Ironically Allardyce, who had also threatened to sue, was yesterday confirmed as the new Newcastle manager.

Bond also complains of “regular abuse” from fans of other teams. Though accepting that some heckling goes with the territory, he says it “upsets him greatly” to be accused of bribing referees.

Several of those implicated threatened to sue but only Bond has so far lodged a claim.

Price said: “My client is bringing this claim because he has not done anything wrong and his reputation has been destroyed.” A BBC spokeswoman said: “We have received legal correspondence and will respond accordingly.” The case is not likely to reach the court for another 12 months.

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