Fiona Bruce to step down as Refuge ambassador over Stanley Johnson comments
The BBC Question Time presenter Fiona Bruce has said she will step back from her role as an ambassador for the charity Refuge after claims she trivialised domestic violence during a discussion about Stanley Johnson during last week’s programme.
In a statement, Bruce said she was sorry that survivors of domestic abuse had been distressed by her comments, which she said she had been legally obliged to make, and said they had been “mischaracterised” on social media.
Bruce said: “I have been a passionate advocate and campaigner for all survivors of domestic abuse, and have used my privileged position as a woman in the public eye to bring this issue to the fore, notably in my work for over 25 years with Refuge. But following the events of last week, I have faced a social media storm, much of which mischaracterised what I said and took the form of personal abuse directed at me.
“The only people that matter in all this are the survivors, they are my priority. The last thing in the world that I would want is that this issue in any way creates a distraction from Refuge’s critical work on their behalf, and therefore I think the right thing to do is to step back from my role with Refuge.
“This has been a hard decision for me as I feel so strongly about promoting their work and advancing awareness of this issue. I will continue to be an active supporter, albeit from the sidelines for now.”
The row arose after a discussion about Johnson, the father of the former prime minister Boris Johnson, in Thursday’s programme during which the panellist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said Stanley Johnson “was a wife-beater … on record”.
She was interrupted by Bruce, who said “I’m not disputing what you’re saying” but said that while Johnson’s wife had said he had broken her nose and she had ended up in hospital as a result, “Stanley Johnson has not commented on that. Friends of his have said it did happen, it was a one-off.”
“Yes, but it did happen,” Alibhai-Brown replied.
Refuge said it had accepted Bruce’s decision, thanking her “for her considerable contribution over many years to Refuge and the wider domestic abuse agenda”.
However, it said: “Refuge’s position was, and remains, clear – domestic abuse is never a ‘one-off’, it is a pattern of behaviour that can manifest in a number of ways, including but not limited to physical abuse. Domestic abuse is never acceptable.
“Over the weekend we have been listening to, and heard, survivors of domestic abuse who have told us how devastating this has been for them. While we know the words were not Fiona’s own and were words she was legally obliged to read out, this does not lessen their impact and we cannot lose sight of that.”
The BBC referred queries to a statement issued last week, in which it said: “Domestic abuse is abhorrent, and we would never wish to suggest otherwise.
“When serious allegations are made on air against people or organisations, it is the job of BBC presenters to ensure that the context of those allegations – and any right of reply from the person or organisation – is given to the audience, and this is what Fiona Bruce was doing … She was not expressing any personal opinion about the situation.”
• None In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines may be found via www.befrienders.org