A woman, who claims she was sexually assaulted by a powerful French fashion executive while working undercover for the BBC, has accused the corporation of refusing to hand over evidence vital to her legal case.
Lisa Brinkworth was working as an undercover journalist for the Donal MacIntyre Investigates programme in 1998 when she claims she was attacked by Gerald Marie, 72, president of the European arm of the Elite Model Management agency.
The 55-year-old has launched legal action against Mr Marie in the Paris courts along with 14 other alleged victims, but is being hampered by France’s 20-year statute of limitations rules.
She believes her case would be significantly helped if she was granted access to material gathered during the filming of the exposé, but claims BBC lawyers are refusing to hand it over.
Her legal team fears that without the vital evidence her case will be thrown out by the French courts and it is urging the BBC to cooperate before it is too late.
Ms Brinkworth told The Telegraph: “The BBC must now co-operate with the victims and our lawyers and provide the materials we have repeatedly requested, including filmed and audio footage of the events immediately surrounding my assault.
“I filmed my testimony in the immediate aftermath of the assault as my own personal record. On the recording, I am visibly shocked and it is obvious I have just undergone a traumatic experience.
“This tape was never intended for broadcast but still the BBC refuses to hand it over.”
At least a dozen other women have also made sex assault allegations against Mr Marie, who used to be married to supermodel Linda Evangelista.
Too frightened to come forward
Ms Brinkworth said she is not just fighting for justice for herself but for all the other women who have been too frightened to come forward with their own allegations.
A judge is due to begin assessing the evidence in the case in the coming weeks before making a final decision on whether to set aside the 20-year statute of limitations rule.
Ms Brinkworth had been filming surreptitiously, posing as a model, when she alleges Mr Marie pinned her down on a chair and attacked her.
The BBC subsequently broadcast an exposé on the fashion industry, but Elite Models took legal action against the corporation.
As part of the settlement, agreed in 2001, the BBC agreed not to rebroadcast the programme and also not to share any of the material gathered during the research.
Barred from access to evidence
Ms Brinkworth claims as a result of the legal settlement she was barred from having access to the material she had gathered during filming and that prevented her from going to the French police with any concrete evidence at the time.
But in 2019 she discovered the BBC had shared some of the material with another journalist who was undertaking an investigation linked to the #MeToo movement and made a fresh request to obtain the material.
While the BBC has released some material, the evidence that she believes is so vital to her case remains beyond her reach.
As well as footage shot during the making of the documentary, Ms Brinkworth is also seeking her original notebooks and a recorded testimony that was filmed just after the alleged attack, but had never been intended for broadcast.
“The settlement silenced me, a sexual assault victim, for two decades and enabled a predator,” she said. “It also betrayed countless victims.
“Many women involved in our case have told me of how they reacted in shock and disbelief when they heard the BBC had settled with Elite, and Gerald Marie had apparently been vindicated. They still see it as a betrayal. They were sickened by what happened.”
She added: “This week, survivors of Gerald Marie will be writing to the BBC chairman urging him to help progress our case by releasing the requested materials to our lawyers as a matter of urgency. This is all being dealt with by the BBC legal department, now it is time for senior management to intervene.
“With a judge being appointed to look at all our evidence, it is crucial that all the evidence is ready at hand. I believe that if the BBC does not cooperate in the coming weeks, then they are using the settlement to shield a known and dangerous predator who has harmed countless lives.”
Donal MacIntyre, of the eponymous programme, said: “It is egregious and extraordinarily unsettling that the BBC is being uncooperative at this juncture. This is now a matter that should be directly referred to the board of the governors and taken out of the hands of the lawyers who come to this with too much history.
“I am quite sure that when cool and dispassionate heads are applied to this matter, with the recognition that the licence fee payer expects the best of the BBC in these instances, that the board of governors will take control and put things right.”
A spokesman for the BBC said: “We take these matters very seriously and we know this is distressing for Lisa Brinkworth. We are doing everything we can to help her pursue her complaint with the French authorities, including providing documents to the French investigators, who have assured us they have what they currently need. We will do whatever we can to help as the process progresses.”
But Ms Brinkworth’s French lawyer, Anne-Claire Le Jeune, said the BBC was still holding on to material vital to the case.
She said: “We believe that the BBC possesses objective evidence that would confirm Ms Brinkworth’s statements and prove that she was a victim of sexual assault.
“Despite its statements of intent, the BBC has not provided us with all of the evidence they have, citing the confidentiality agreement they have with Elite.”