The BBC Chairman, the Prime Minister and the £800,000 Loan Guarantee

Sunday Times

That this story emerged so long after both his appointment at the BBC and Boris Johnson's time in No 10 points to a simple fact: absolutely nobody involved wanted it to come out. They probably assumed it wouldn’t. Owing to mutual self-interest, and through a series of omissions, the PM and the chairman of the corporation - two of the most powerful people in Britain - concealed their behind the scenes dealings from those who mattered: the appointments panel for the BBC role, the DCMS select committee required to sign off the successful candidate and, of course, the public. The rules said candidates had to disclose any real/perceived conflict of interest. But as we have learned, Britain's system is dependent on self-policing. Our reports illustrated how power was exercised and decisions made: a dinner party in Notting Hill; a brush by in No10; a summit with Simon Case. No one felt like challenging what was happening. Not even Case, the man responsible for upholding our system of ethics in government and who met Sharp face-to-face about the loan. When politicians refuse to divulge information, the political system protects them and rules are all but ignored, journalism is the only solution. Johnson used every trick in the book to try to undermine our reporting - calling Case to try and pressure him into telling us it was all wrong, and telling his representatives to tell us not to publish information which was wrong and would embarrass the Sunday Times. Unfortunately for Johnson, Sharp and Case, our facts were bulletproof. They were as follows: Johnson needed a loan of up to £800,000 to pay his tax bill and personal expenses. Sharp was at a dinner with Johnson's cousin, Sam Blyth. They discussed this situation and Blyth proposed to act as underwriter. Sharp introduced Blyth - himself in contention for a public job - to Case, following which the loan was put in place. The Cabinet Office told Johnson that Sharp's involvement was inappropriate and had to stop. When Sharp denied helping Johnson with his finances, we were able to produce documentary evidence showing the opposite. A memo to the PM - the type of document rarely if ever leaked - said: “given the imminent announcement of Sharp as the new BBC chair, it is important that you no longer ask his advice about your personal financial matters.” Off the back of our stories, the Commissioner for Public Standards launched an investigation into Sharp's appointment, the BBC launched a review, and the DCMS Select Committee conducted an investigation which concluded Sharp made "significant errors of judgement" and should dwell on the damage he had done to trust in the BBC and the public appointments system. The appointments watchdog’s verdict was clear: the appointment broke the rules. We hope our story can be held up as an example of public interest journalism. It informed the public. It changed perceptions. And it achieved accountability. As Johnson would no doubt not say: better late than