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Paul Gambaccini: Was There a 'Shadow Gay Witch-Hunt' at the BBC?

Paul Gambaccini

"Gambaccini's allegations of a witch-hunt were denied by Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP, later deposed due to catastrophic disclosure failings)."

Paul Gambaccini has been the wise-toned voice on educated pop and rock music on BBC radio since the oft-criticised 1970s. Moving first to Oxford University then to London upon migrating from New York in those heady times, Gambaccini was clearly happier dealing with the current fascinations of the music world than studying the Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree for which he had first crossed the Atlantic.

While there were mutterings about his fellow DJs and pop types Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Dave Lee Travis and Stuart Hall, Gambo (as he is still affectionately called) had been gay, out and proud since before the term was even commonly known - let alone used with pride. While fame presumably rendered problematic temptations irresistible to his more heterosexual colleagues, Paul married his long-term partner almost as soon as it became possible to do so.

Despite legal and social progress in sexual orientations – controversial since Oscar Wilde's trial in the 1890s – homosexuality continued to be a source of suspicion in some corners of the media establishment. Were they waiting for the 'coming-forward' snitch culture of the early 21st century to enact their own algorithmic version of the Night of the Long Knives?

In the wake of untried revelations about Jimmy Savile following his death in 2011, media celebrities as diverse as Cliff Richard, Max Clifford and others who prefer to remain nameless were questioned or further investigated. Some died maintaining innocence in prison, such as Clifford (whose daughter continues to protest his innocence). Others' names were tarnished forever, at least in their own minds, as the new Gods of Tech refused to take down inaccurate reporting without insurmountable hurdles being overcome.

On 1 November 2013, it was reported that Gambaccini had been arrested on suspicion of historical sexual offences as part of an investigation by Operation Yewtree. He was released on bail and his spokesman said that he denied the allegations. It was announced on 10 October 2014, after nearly a year of tense waiting, that no charges would be brought. Giving evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on 3 March 2015, Gambaccini said he believed he had been used as human "fly paper" to encourage other people to come forward and make allegations against him.

The BBC reported that he also "said he suspected his bail was repeatedly extended until the end of high-profile cases involving other celebrities because police did not want juries to hear a former Radio 1 DJ had been cleared of sexual wrongdoing". Then-Home Secretary Theresa May had announced in December 2014 that she was consulting on such a limit in all but exceptional cases. However, Gambaccini's allegations of a witch-hunt were denied by Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP, later deposed due to catastrophic disclosure failings). The 28-day limit came into effect in April 2017. Gambo later said he would stand against the 'believe the victims' architect Keir Starmer in any general election.

He wrote an account of his experience in his book Love, Paul Gambaccini: My Year Under the Yewtree, published in 2015. Irish Supreme Court Judge Adrian Hardiman used a review of this book to criticise what he described as the radical undermining of the presumption of innocence, especially in sex cases by the methods used in Operation Yewtree, amongst other instances.

In 2013, Gambaccini claimed that he had been highlighted as a potential security risk by the BBC earlier in his career due to his sexuality, with a symbol resembling a Christmas tree on the cover of his personnel file: "It meant you were 'as camp as Christmas' and thus a potential security risk." The symbol was a general indication that the subject should not be "promoted or transferred" without reference to the department responsible for security vetting, due to left-leaning sympathies.

In February 2017, Gambaccini sued the Metropolitan Police, citing a loss of £200,000 during his time under investigation. In November 2018, he settled a claim against the Crown Prosecution Service, who agreed to pay him damages; the amount paid to Gambaccini by the CPS was not disclosed due to confidentiality clauses in the settlement agreement.

Gambaccini has said he would be 'happy to see the BBC go' - even though he still presents a show every week on Radio 2 - because he says it did not stand by him during the false allegations. Gambaccini appeared in Channel 4 documentary The Accused: National Treasures on Trial, which chronicled the police raid and his subsequent arrest.

Over at least the last ten years, the BBC has come under regular fire for allegedly political bias, from both the right and the left. What the Operation Yewtree and Midland fiascos show is that even while it is still probably the most respected broadcaster in the world, the Beeb is as susceptible to groupthink and witch-hunt mentality as any other (if not more so).

Perhaps the BBC should stand more by the principles of transparency, forgiveness and cool-headed balance than its endless hunger for younger consumers allows. Until then proxy witch-hunts of those with minority lifestyles will remain at risk of permanent damage by a bloodthirsty, neurotic, tabloid-affiliated media-scalp culture.

Sean Bw Parker

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