Shock as Rose Neill leaves BBC

TV presenter Rose Neill has left the BBC after more than 20 years on screen, it has been confirmed.

The anchorwoman, who was one of the most popular faces in local broadcasting, read her last bulletin on the Newsline breakfast show yesterday morning.

The BBC refused to discuss the circumstances of her departure, which was described by some colleagues as "a bolt from the blue".

There was no immediate comment from Ms Neill, who built up a reputation as a consummate broadcasting professional since joining UTV more than 30 years ago.

Fellow presenters also remained tight-lipped about the development.

Staff were called into a meeting mid-morning in the newsroom to be told that this was Ms Neill's last full day. Fellow presenter Noel Thompson paid warm tributes to his departing colleague.

A source said she made a short farewell speech, before leaving.

"She was really well liked, witty and professional."

Friends said the mother-of-two was "emotional" as she left Broadcasting House in Belfast.

Ms Neill, who broadcast through much of the Troubles, presented the prime Newsline slot in 2002.

But she remained a familiar face, presenting morning, evening and weekend bulletins.

One BBC staff member said it was a "shame" she was gone, and that they had no inkling of her plans.

In a short statement, the BBC said: "Rose has been with BBC Northern Ireland presenting across radio and television for over 20 years. She is moving on to pursue other projects and we wish her every success for the future."

Ms Neill's broadcasting career started in 1977 when she joined UTV as a children's presenter, where she later became a newsreader.

For three years, she was the youngest newscaster in the UK, and has been one of the longest-serving and best-known presenters in Britain and Ulster.

Eight years after starting with UTV, she moved to the BBC as an anchor on the evening edition of Inside Ulster – which later became Newsline.

She also co-presented Sportscast alongside pundit Jackie Fullerton.

For around five years Rose had her own daily afternoon chat show on Radio Ulster.

A keen charity worker, she has co-presented Children in Need and is a patron of the Ulster Cancer Foundation and chairwoman of Riding for the Disabled, which provides sports activities for physically impaired people.