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The BBC has apologised for ‘ill-judged’ remarks made by Today presenter John Humphrys during the ‘Climategate’ scandal last year.

Corporation chiefs said the host of the Radio 4 flagship programme should not have accused researchers at the University of East Anglia of ‘distorting the debate about global warming to make the threat seem even more serious than they believed it to be’.

Mr Humphrys made the remark in December after thousands of emails sent by scientists at the university’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) were leaked and put online.

The material was seen as being particularly significant because the United Nations uses CRU data in its official reports on climate change.

The stolen emails appeared to show that the unit’s head, Professor Phil Jones, and some colleagues had manipulated data and blocked Freedom of Information requests.

One message sent by Prof Jones in 1999 referred to a ‘trick’ to ‘hide’ a decline in global temperatures. He was suspended but reinstated after a six-month inquiry cleared him of wrongdoing.

Following the inquiry, a complaint was made to the BBC by the university’s Pro-Vice Chancellor, Trevor Davies.

In response, the Corporation’s Head of News Programmes, Stephen Mitchell, told Prof Davies that Mr Humphrys’s ‘misconceived assertion’ that facts had been distorted was ‘incorrect’.

Mr Mitchell added: ‘I apologise wholeheartedly on behalf of the Today programme. We were dealing with a matter that hadn’t at that stage been fully investigated and which was the subject of widespread comment and conjecture.

‘Having spoken to John Humphrys and his editor about it, I can assure you that they too regret that his script was not more precise.’

He adds the remark was ‘an isolated but significant lapse’.

Three inquiries cleared the scientists of wrongdoing, although Prof Jones was criticised for being secretive and unhelpful when dealing with critics with opposing views.

Prof Davies praised the BBC for acknowledging its mistake.

Mail on Sunday, 8 August 2010