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BBC chief seeks facts on Clarkson

BBC chief seeks facts on Clarkson

Director-general Tony Hall has refused to "speculate" on Jeremy Clarkson's future as the BBC launched an investigation into the fracas that saw the Top Gear hosts suspended.

Clarkson is alleged to have punched Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon after a row because he could not order a steak.

Mr Hall told the Guardian the internal investigation would " get the people who are impacted by this together".

He said: " There is a lot of speculation, we have got to establish the facts and I intend to do that before we come to a final decision. That is what we are about to do."

The Top Gear star has attracted high profile support with David Cameron calling him a "huge talent" and saying he hoped the situation could be resolved so his children would not be left "heartbroken".

Reports suggest the star had been unhappy at being unable to get hot food at Simonstone Hall Hotel near Hawes, North Yorkshire, where the crew were staying after filming.

The Sun and Mirror reported the hotel's chef had gone home by the time they arrived and the stars were offered cold meat platters, although the presenter requested a £21.95 steak.

The papers quoted a source who claimed Clarkson blamed Mr Tymon for not arranging hot food and described the incident as a "scuffle".

Mr Cameron, who is a friend of Clarkson and his constituency MP, told BBC Midlands Today: "I don't know exactly what happened. He is a constituent of mine, he is a friend of mine, he is a huge talent.

"I see that he said he regrets some of what happened. All I would say - because he is a talent and he does amuse and entertain so many people, including my children who'll be heartbroken if Top Gear is taken off air - I hope this can be sorted out because it is a great programme and he is a great talent."

Asked if the BBC was wrong to suspend him, Mr Cameron said:

"I don't know what happened. Every organisation has to be able to be free to manage its talent and to say to people, 'you can do this', or 'you can't do that', so I don't want to interfere in the running of the BBC."

He added: "The Prime Minister has many responsibilities, sadly securing the future of Top Gear isn't one of them."

Speaking yesterday, Mr Hall also said he was a "fan" of Clarkson, but added that allegations of a fracas were "serious".

More than 722,000 people from across the world have signed an online petition demanding that the outspoken host be reinstated.

Yesterday, the 54-year-old joked as he left his flat in Kensington amid a media scrum.

He said: "I've been suspended haven't I? I'm just off to the job centre. At least I'm going to be able to get to the Chelsea match tonight."

Asked if his suspension was over a row about food he said "no, no, no" but said "yes" when asked if he had any regrets about what had happened.

Clarkson was photographed in the crowd at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea's game against Paris St-Germain last night.

A BBC disciplinary panel has already been convened to decide his fate.

Ken MacQuarrie, the head of BBC Scotland who conducted the investigation into Newsnight's false expose of Lord McAlpine, is to chair the panel with witnesses expected to be called by the end of the week.

A formal disciplinary letter summoning the presenter to appear at the hearing is expected to be posted today.

A lawyer for Mr Tymon said his client "intends to await the outcome of the BBC investigation and will make no comment until that investigation is complete".

When questioned on whether he supported the Top Gear presenter, Clarkson's co-host James May said: "In many ways no, I have said many times before the man is a knob, but I quite like him. It's all getting a bit ridiculous."

Asked what he could remember about the row, May said: "Not very much, I was blind drunk."

Clarkson could walk away from the show when his contract runs out at the end of the month.

All three of the show's hosts were understood to be days away from signing new contracts that would have kept them at the wheel of the show for another three years when Clarkson was suspended.

The BBC owns the rights to the Top Gear brand, which is valued at £50 million, and includes the show, DVD rights and live shows, raising the prospect of Top Gear continuing on the BBC while Clarkson takes a similar show to one of its rivals.

Two episodes of this series have been postponed and the future of the third and final episode is unclear after the bust-up which took place after filming in Newcastle.

This is the latest in a long line of controversies which has seen the presenter offend foreign diplomats, viewers, MPs and his own bosses at the BBC.

Clarkson was put on what was called his final warning last year following a racism row after claims he used the N-word while reciting the nursery rhyme Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe during filming of the BBC2 programme.