The BBC Trust has rejected complaints over Top Gear's Patagonia special, in which a car number plate which appeared to refer to the 1982 Falklands war. The production team fled Argentina following protests over the use of the registration number H982 FKL.
Complainants doubted that the number plate was randomly allocated. Their concerns were rejected by the BBC but were passed to the trust on appeal. Finally it found there was no evidence of a deliberate reference to the 1982 war.
The Argentine embassy in London sent several letters, which it later made public, to the BBC and the BBC Trust complaining about the program's non compliance with the station's code, and the ill-intentions and provocations by the Top Gear team.
The initial complaints, received prior to the program's broadcast, said the connection with the Falklands War would have been clear to the producers and the plates should have been changed.
Complainants also wanted the BBC to apologize to Argentina for any offence. They said the decision to air the program as a Christmas special was particularly offensive.
A response from the BBC Complaints Management and Editorial Standards Adviser included a blog written by the executive producer of Top Gear Andy Willman, denying allegations the number plate had been deliberately chosen by the production team.
The complaints were subsequently investigated by the controller of entertainment commissioning who said: To date, there is nothing that we have seen or read since the team returned which supports the view that the number plates in question were deliberately employed, which is in-keeping with what production staff and the presenters have said.
As such, the complaints were not upheld before being escalated to the BBC Trust, which is the corporation's governing body.
Reviewing the appeals, the trust's Head of Editorial Standards said they did not have a reasonable prospect of success and proposed not to put them before trustees. This decision was rejected by the complainants, who asked for a review.
Regarding the complaint about the lack of a BBC apology, trustees said …in the absence of any evidence that the choice of number plate was deliberate it was a matter for the Executive as to whether they wished to apologize.
They agreed the BBC had been open about its investigation into the complaints and that amounted to an explanation of why the BBC would not be apologizing.
Trustees said they did not consider that it was appropriate or proportionate to take this matter on appeal because the complaint did not raise a matter of substance and therefore was not a matter in which the Trust would get involved.
The Top Gear special saw presenter Jeremy Clarkson and co-stars Richard Hammond and James May drive the famous Patagonian highway - Route 40 - to the southern city of Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego.
All three have now left the program, following Clarkson's altercation with a producer, which prompted the BBC not to renew his contract. Producer Andy Willman has also stepped down.