Pubdate: Thu, 14 October 1999
Source: Daily Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: of Telegraph Group Limited 1999
Author: Tom Leonard, Media Correspondent


The BBC said yesterday that it would allow the presenter Johnnie Walker back
on Radio 2 even though he had pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine.

Walker, 54, was fined pounds 2,000 and ordered to pay pounds 200 costs when
he appeared at Horseferry Magistrates' Court in central London. He was told
by the magistrate, Rosmond Keating, that he had a duty as a star to maintain
higher standards of life than other people.

He had let down both himself and his listeners, she said. However, she noted
that he had sought help for his addiction, and said: "I hope some good will
come out of this appalling incident."

Afterwards Walker, of Leigh, Wilts, said that he was "extremely sorry" for
the embarrassment he had caused his family, friends and the BBC. He said: "I
am trying my very best to put my troubles behind me on a daily basis and I
would like to thank all the radio listeners who supported me during the last
five months. They have been a great source of support.

"I hope very much that I can rebuild my life and get back to work." BBC
Radio 2 later announced that Walker was to return to present his drivetime
programme, probably next month.

His treatment by Broadcasting House could not be more different than that
meted out to Richard Bacon, the Blue Peter presenter who was sacked last
October after he admitted taking cocaine. A newspaper accused Walker in
April of snorting cocaine and offering to supply prostitutes to undercover
reporters and he was suspended on full pay until his contract expired at the
end of September. An internal inquiry was also conducted by the BBC.

A statement issued yesterday by Radio 2 said that Walker had "stressed his
deep regrets and faced up to his need for help", undergoing a rehabilitation
programme at his own instigation and expense. Although the BBC was "adamant"
that it did not tolerate the use of illegal drugs, radio management were
"impressed by the way Johnnie has handled this crisis in his life and has
sought professional treatment", said the statement.

The corporation had also been swayed by Walker's listeners, who had
registered overwhelming support for an "exceptional broadcaster rooted in
the rock'n'roll culture". It said: "Now that the court case is over, Radio 2
has taken account of Johnnie's sincere regret for what happened, of his
ongoing resolve to tackle his problem and of the views of his Radio 2
audience and is pleased that Johnnie will be reuniting to the network at a
date to be discussed with all parties."

The BBC said accusations of hypocrisy over its treatment of Bacon were
"unjustified". A spokesman said there were no set rules on punishing staff
drug abuse and that each case was looked at according to its circumstances.

The spokesman said: "There is one major factor that is a compelling one -
Richard Bacon is a children's presenter and we know they are people who
children see as role models. That is not true of a Radio 2 presenter. While
Johnnie is very popular, he's not someone whose lifestyle a Radio 2 audience
would seek to emulate. When broadcasting to children, we will always err on
the side of caution."

In court, Walker's counsel, Antony Chinn, outlined the pressures which had
led to him turning to cocaine in recent years. He said the presenter had
been affected by the pressures of work and had lost both his parents in
close succession. His long-term girlfriend had also left him.

Mr Chinn said: "He found himself alone and working hard and he turned to the
occasional use of cocaine. But what started off as a crutch or a friend soon
turned into an enemy. It's a very addictive drug." However, he had sought
help to come off the drug and was continuing with rehabilitation treatment,
he said.

Mrs Keating criticised the work by undercover News of the World journalists,
saying it made it difficult for someone to be given a fair trial. She said
she did not approve of how the journalists had conducted themselves or the
"filth" they had written about him.

Walker was born Peter Dingley and grew up in Solihull. He was a second-hand
car salesman in Birmingham before he began to moonlight as a DJ in local
venues. He launched his radio career on the pirate station Radio Caroline in
the Sixties and was one of the first stars of Radio 1 when it was launched.

He spent seven years with the station but left in 1976 after a disagreement
over what records should be played. An unsuccessful spell in America left
Walker unemployed for a time. But he bounced back, first working on local
radio before making a return to Radio 1 in 1987. He was taken on by Radio 2
last year. 

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