Fiona Bruce, host of BBC’s Question Time, has stepped back from role as ambassador for charity Refuge. This comes following claims her comments about Stanley Johnson- father of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson - were trivialising domestic violence.
The comments came during last week’s episode of the popular BBC politics show. MP Kate Osbourne referred to Stanley Johnson as a ‘wife-beater’ during a discussion about how it was reported that in the 1970s Mr Johnson broke his wife’s nose. Bruce intervened to say that it was a “one off incident”, which sparked fury among some campaigners
In the discussion, which arose because of the rumours Boris Johsnon is going to award his father a knighthood, panellist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown had said: “He was a wife-beater, Stanley Johnson - on record.” Bruce stepped in to say: “Let me just intervene, I’m not disputing what they are saying but just so everyone knows what this is referring to… Stanley Johnson’s wife spoke to a journalist, Tom Bower, and she said Stanley Johnson had broken her nose and she had ended up in hospital as a result.
"Stanley Johnson has not commented publicly on that. Friends of his have said it did happen, it was a one-off.”
However, on Monday, she issued a statement saying was a ‘passionate advocate’ for survivors of domestic abuse and had been subject to a “social media storm”.
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.”
Refuge have responded to the announcement. In a statement they said: “On Friday we issued a statement in response to the comments read out by Fiona Bruce the previous evening in her role as host of BBC Question Time.
“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.
“These words minimised the seriousness of domestic abuse and this has been retraumatising for survivors. Survivors of domestic abuse are, and will always be, Refuge’s priority. Our focus must remain on them. Every two minutes someone turns to Refuge for help and our priority is the women and their children who need us.
“We have today accepted Fiona’s offer to stand down from her role as Ambassador for Refuge. We have thanked her for her considerable contribution over many years to Refuge and the wider domestic abuse agenda.”Prior to her stepping back as an ambassador, Refuge said in a statement on Friday: “Following the broadcast of BBC Question Time last night, concerns have been raised about an exchange involving the host Fiona Bruce, who is a long standing Refuge supporter and Ambassador, with a significant history of standing against domestic abuse and violence against women and girls.
“Refuge’s position is clear – domestic abuse is never a ‘one off’, it is a pattern of behaviour that can manifest in a number of ways, including physical abuse. Domestic abuse is never acceptable. We have spoken to Fiona today, and she is appalled that any of her words have been understood as her minimising domestic violence. We know she is deeply upset that this has been triggering for survivors.
“Like the host of any BBC programme, when serious on-air allegations are made about someone, Fiona is obliged to put forward a right of reply from that person or their representatives, and that was what happened last night. These are not in any way Fiona’s own views about the situation.
“Refuge has a long history of working with Fiona, who has been an active supporter of ours for some 25 years, and continually uses her profile to campaign publicly against domestic abuse, and to advocate for survivors. Fiona is deeply sorry that last night’s programme has distressed survivors of domestic abuse. Refuge stands by her and all survivors today.
“We continue to be appreciative of all the work Fiona does on behalf of Refuge and recognise the immense contribution she has made to our work to end domestic abuse and challenge violence against women and girls.”