The future of Richard Sharp as BBC chair hung in the balance on Tuesday night after it emerged he had been shown the “grim” draft conclusions of a report into his appointment.
One person briefed on the draft findings by Adam Heppinstall KC said the criticisms made it “probable but not certain” that Sharp would have to resign as BBC chair. He has held the role since February 2021.
Heppinstall was asked in February by the office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments to oversee an investigation into the selection process by which Sharp was given the role.
A report that month by the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee found that Sharp had made “significant errors of judgment” in failing to declare his role in a personal loan for Boris Johnson, prime minister at the time, of up to £800,000.
According to several people briefed on Heppinstall’s draft report, it is close to being finished. One said the contents made “grim” reading for Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker and a friend of prime minister Rishi Sunak.
They said Sharp had been shown the allegations against him under the “Maxwellisation process”, whereby people who are about to be criticised in a public report are shown the criticism in advance to allow them to respond.
“It may be that Richard decides to jump before he is pushed,” said one person briefed on the draft report. “This is difficult for him. He is seeking ways to justify his behaviour. It seems probable but not certain that he will have to go.”
A guarantee for the loan to Johnson was provided by Sam Blyth, a Canadian businessman and distant cousin of Johnson. Sharp said he put Blyth, who had approached him with a view to assisting Johnson, in touch with Simon Case, the cabinet secretary and the UK’s most senior civil servant, but only to ensure “due process was followed”.
People familiar with the report’s timings said that it was now likely to come out next week rather than this week.
One of these people pointed out that Sharp had already stayed in his role despite criticism both from former BBC grandees and the MPs on the cross-party committee. His role is in part to uphold and protect the BBC’s independence.
The Cabinet Office’s governance code on public appointments states: “All potential conflicts of interest and how they might be managed must be discussed with an individual at interview.”
The BBC declined to comment. A spokesperson for Richard Sharp declined to comment.