Christa Ackroyd used to be part of the fixtures and fittings at BBC Look North in Leeds. Sitting next to Harry Gration on the Look North sofa, she must have interviewed thousands of guests - me included. Suddenly, five years ago she was abruptly ousted from her place on the sofa, never to return again.
She was accused of being a tax dodger because she was not employed by the BBC. She was instead paid through her own personal service company (PSC). Yes, her tax liability was lowered by not being employed, but the BBC also benefited because it didn't have to pay employer's national insurance contributions, holiday pay and sick pay.
Ms. Ackroyd has just been ordered by a tax tribunal to pay a £419,000 tax demand after HMRC won its case against her, but she and other presenters have alleged in a letter published in today's Daily Telegraph that the BBC effectively forced them to set-up PSCs. They say that the BBC told them that if they didn't set-up a PSC, work would only be available “on an ad hoc basis with no guaranteed commitment”.
Although Ms. Ackroyd lost her appeal, she is delighted that her name has been cleared. The Yorkshire Post reports that "the judge said she could not be criticised because she had been encouraged by the BBC to sign a freelance contract through a personal service company".
Speaking to the newspaper, Ms. Ackroyd, said:
“I’m not going to go bankrupt or go running for the hills. If there is money to be paid, it can be and will be. This has never been about money. It’s been about restoring my reputation, and that I feel has been achieved. An independent judge found that I had never been dishonest. That’s all I wanted to hear.”
As I write the corporation is denying it forced presenters to set-up PSCs even though it is highly unlikely that a group of 170 respected broadcasters would get together and collectively lie. And I don't blame them for not putting their names to the letter in today's Telegraph. Rather than being dear old Auntie, the BBC behaves like a wicked stepmother to those who have a gripe against it. I have no doubt that the BBC would make sure that they never worked for the corporation again if it knew who they were.
Once again the BBC has serious questions to answer. Once again I suspect it will obfuscate and ultimately not have to pay for its actions.