Fiona Bruce has stepped down as an ambassador of domestic abuse charity Refuge, after being accused of trivialising domestic violence during a discussion about Stanley Johnson on Question Time.
The presenter of the BBC politics programme has been criticised on social media since a conversation about Boris Johnson’s father, 82, on last Thursday’s show.
Ms Bruce apologised for “distressing” survivors of domestic abuse, but said her comments has been “mischaracterised”.
What did Fiona Bruce say about Stanley Johnson?
On Thursday’s Question Time, author and i columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said Stanley Johnson’s alleged history of violence was “on record” and called him a “wife beater”.
Ms Bruce interrupted, telling Ms Alibhai-Brown and the audience: “I’m not disputing what you’re saying, but just so everyone knows what this is referring to, Stanley Johnson’s wife spoke to a journalist, Tom Bower, and she said that Stanley Johnson had broken her nose and that she’d ended up in hospital as a result.
“Stanley Johnson has not commented publicly on that. Friends of his have said it did happen but it was a one-off.”
Ms Alibhai-Brown responded: “Yes, but it did happen.”
Why has Fiona Bruce stepped back as a Refuge ambassador?
In a statement, Ms Bruce said she was “required to legally contextualise” Ms Alibhai-Brown’s comments about Mr Johnson, adding that the words were not an expression of her own opinions and she would never minimise domestic abuse.
The Antiques Roadshow host and former newsreader said: “I know survivors of domestic abuse have been distressed by what I was required to say on air. For that, I am deeply sorry.
“I cannot change what I was required to say, but I can apologise for the very real impact that I can see it has had.
“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.”
Ms Bruce said she did not want the issue to create a “distraction” for Refuge and it has been a “hard decision” to pause her work with the charity as she feels “so strongly” about tackling domestic abuse.
“I will continue to be an active supporter, albeit from the sidelines for now,” she said.
In a statement on Monday, Refuge thanked Ms Bruce for her “considerable contribution” to their work over the years and said it had “accepted” her offer to stand down.
The charity said: “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.”
Last week, the boss of domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, Farah Nazeer, said Ms Bruce’s comments were “unnecessary and irresponsible”.
She added: “Even if abuse is an isolated event, it would have still been domestic abuse, and this should never be minimised.”
In a statement on Friday, the BBC said: “Domestic abuse is abhorrent, and we would never wish to suggest otherwise.
“When serious allegations are made on air against people or organisations, it is the job of BBC presenters to ensure that the context of those allegations – and any right of reply from the person or organisation – is given to the audience, and this is what Fiona Bruce was doing last night.
“She was not expressing any personal opinion about the situation.”