Christa Ackroyd: 'I remember Googling myself, and that’s one of the times I cried'

Christa Ackroyd has spoken for the first time about her dispute with the BBC.
Christa Ackroyd has spoken for the first time about her dispute with the BBC.
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Grey hair is on trend at the moment, isn’t it? asks Christa Ackroyd as she strikes a familiar pose on the sofa: stable, solemn even, when she needs to be, yet also coquettish.

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Grey hair is on trend at the moment, isn’t it? asks Christa Ackroyd as she strikes a familiar pose on the sofa: stable, solemn even, when she needs to be, yet also coquettish.

The sofa is her own, a leather Chesterfield with a throw draped casually over the back. It has been five years since she perched on the more familiar BBC one, with Harry Gration at her side.

The hair is indeed lighter now. But she shows few other outward signs of the ordeal that has stalked her since she was abruptly, and without explanation, taken off the screen.

The air was thick with innuendo at the time. She was called a tax cheat; her integrity questioned.

“I remember Googling myself, and that’s one of the times I cried,” she says. “I could still cry now,” and for a moment it looks as if she is going to.

Last week, she had emerged from the tax tribunal at which she had insisted she would be heard, with her reputation restored.

Its ruling was in favour of HM Revenue and Customs, but the judge said she could not be criticised because she had been encouraged by the BBC to sign a freelance contract through a

“personal service company”, a practice common in the industry at the time.

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Nevertheless, it has left her with the prospect of a large bill. £419,000 was HMRC’s figure, but accounting for money she has already paid, £200,000 might be more realistic.

“I’m not going to go bankrupt or go running for the hills,” she says. “If there is money to be paid, it can be and will be. This has never been about money. It’s been about restoring my reputation, and that I feel has been achieved.

“An independent judge found that I had never been dishonest. That’s all I wanted to hear.”

But the tribunal raised questions about the BBC’s role in the affair, the most significant of which, to Ms Ackroyd, is why it terminated her contract when the tax people began conducting what she understood to be a routine enquiry – especially given that around 100 other presenters awaiting judgements in similar cases are understood to be still on air.

HMRC now considers personal service companies to be tax loopholes, though it apparently did not at the time Ms Ackroyd signed hers. That was when the BBC poached her, at the second attempt, from ITV’s rival Calendar, because her name had appeared at the top of a survey in which viewers were asked what was most likely to make them watch.

“I was never offered a staff contract. It was never discussed,” says Ms Ackroyd, in the immaculate, sprawling cottage on the moors above Huddersfield to which she moved a year ago.

“I signed the only contract I was offered, in good faith and I had no reason to think that it was anything other than a true freelance contract drawn up by the BBC’s legal department.

“Look, I don’t have an offshore company, I never invested in films – the case is as straightforward as it seems.”

The contract still had six months to run when she was taken off screen.

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“It didn’t need to end like that,” she says. “In the circumstances, the least they can do is to honour the last six months.”

But she adds: “I don’t believe in getting anything for nothing. So if it’s deemed that for those six months they’d like me to sit on the Look North sofa next to Harry, I’d be delighted to accept.”

It niggled that the BBC seemed happier to discuss the situation with the public than with her. A local radio station broadcast a phone-in on the subject, but did not invite her to take part.

“That’s when the speculation and gossip and innuendo started,” she says.

Did it hurt?

“I’m not going to sit here and say tritely that it was fine. Did I cry? Yes, I shed tears. I’m not that tough. Did it make me ill? Yes.

“But, no, it didn’t hurt. There are real reasons to get hurt in life and hurt feelings don’t come into it.

“But yes, I was upset.”

She is keen to put her troubles into context. “In 42 years as a journalist in Yorkshire, I’ve interviewed too many people who have lost everything, lost loved ones, and that’s tragedy.”