The report into Nelson McCausland’s actions shines new light on the multiple DUP threats to sue over last July’s BBC Spotlight programme — none of which have materialised.
Last July’s programme made public details of an email which Peter Robinson sent to the BBC saying that if it broadcast the criticisms of him contained in the programme he had instructed his lawyer to begin proceedings against Spotlight without further instructions.
The morning after the programme was broadcast,the DUP issued a statement which said that it had “instructed lawyers to initiate action against Spotlight and a number of the participants on the basis of a series of inaccurate claims and defamatory statements contained within the programme”.
The report reveals that in a letter last June, the BBC wrote to Mr McCausland asking him whether he had “repeatedly lied”. He responded to reject the “scurrilous” accusations and demanded that the “accusations” be withdrawn or he would seek legal recourse.
When the question was not withdrawn, Mr McCausland wrote to a BBC producer to remind him of his demand and added: “To date you have failed to do this and if I do not receive a letter from you to this effect by 5pm on 1 July 2013 I will then instigate legal action in this regard.” Mr McCausland copied that threat to the controller of the BBC in Northern Ireland, Peter Johnston.
The BBC replied to say that it had made no allegations but simply asked questions, something necessary in journalism. It also highlighted that as the letter was sent to the minister personally it would be legally impossible to bring defamation proceedings.