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Conservatives urge BBC to rethink Tony Martin film

LONDON - The Conservative Party is urging the BBC to re-examine screening a documentary about the Tony Martin burglary case after convicted criminal Brendan Fearon was paid £4,500 to appear in it.

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Theresa May, the shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said the BBC should not waste the licence fee on paying criminals.

"Criminals should be punished for their crimes, not paid for them. It's a very serious matter when the BBC pays a criminal to appear in a television programme and licence fee payers will rightly be angry that their money has been used in this way," she said.

Fearon was paid £4,500 for telling his side of the story when fellow burglar Fred Barras was shot dead by Norfolk farmer Tony Martin when the two broke into his home.

Martin was convicted of murder in 1999, but had his sentence reduced to manslaughter on appeal. Fearon was jailed for 20 months for his part in the robbery. 

It took BBC director-general Mark Thompson and director of television Jana Bennett five months to reach a decision to broadcast the forthcoming documentary, eventually deciding it was "in the public interest" following a court appearance by burglar Brendan Fearon.

May said the decision raised serious concerns about the editorial policy and decision-making of the BBC.

"Having considered their decision for over five months, it is disappointing that they should choose to announce it the week after parliament has broken for recess, when it can not be properly debated," May said.

The BBC has defended its decision to screen the documentary saying Fearon's testimony was needed to present the story in its fullest context. It has not schdeuled a date for the screening the documentary as yet.

"The Board of Governors should urgently re-examine this decision to ensure that the reputaion of the BBC is not tarnished," May added.

The Martin case provoked a national debate on householders' rights when the farmer was jailed for defending his property.

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