Argentina has reopened a row over Top Gear’s visit to the country by claiming Jeremy Clarkson’s team planned to set fire to their sports cars for “dramatic effect” after they had to abandon filming.
A police report into the violence prompted by the BBC show’s visit concluded that, after an encounter with violent demonstrators, the crew decided to leave their vehicles behind and burn them.
The claim was strongly denied by the BBC. However, Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to the UK, has written to Rona Fairhead, the chairman of the BBC Trust, to complain that the move would have been “alarming and illegal.” She believes the police report undermined Clarkson’s account of the incident and says his behaviour during filming of the episode fell “well below” the corporation’s editorial standards.
Her intervention came as Clarkson described the reaction from protesters as “barbaric” and insisted the team “hadn’t gone down there to upset anyone”. Risking accusations of further provoking Argentina, as well as claims of sexism, he added that the locals who attacked his convoy “throw like girls.”
The exchange threatens to deepen the row over the show’s visit to Argentina in September to film a two-hour Christmas special. Top Gear’s crew faced violent protests which left some members injured after locals took exception to one of their cars with the number plate H982 FLK, which was seen as a taunt over the Falklands War in 1982. Last night Clarkson described the violence as “horrible.” He said: “Even if we had done it on purpose — and we didn’t — but even if we had, it didn’t warrant the reaction we got because it was barbaric.”
In a television interview he also cited an advert produced by the Argentine government ahead of the London Olympics in 2012 which showed one of the country’s athletes training for the Games on “Argentine soil” in the Falklands. “We didn’t throw stones at them,” Clarkson said, referring to the subsequent arrival of Argentina’s athletes in Britain. “And yet some of our guys were injured, every single car had rocks thrown at it… thousands of people turned up on the streets with bricks, paving stones, pick axe handles, the whole nine yards and were intent on doing some serious damage to our crew.”
Speaking on ITV’s Jonathan Ross Show, Clarkson added that he and his team were only fearful of the objects being thrown at their convoy by angry locals because “we didn’t know at that time that they do throw like girls.” Clarkson and his co-presenters fled the country after they were spotted driving through southern Argentina in the car with the H982 number plate.
Top Gear insisted the plate was a coincidence rather than a stunt. In October Andy Wilman, the show’s executive producer, said the team “would not base a joke around soldiers in conflict.”
However the newly-disclosed Argentine police report, drawn up by the deputy head of the provincial police in Tierra del Fuego, confirms that the offending number plate was changed after it provoked locals. Argentine diplomats in London say this undermines Top Gear’s insistence that the plate was coincidental because it showed the crew had alternatives. Mr Wilman has previously said the second plate was only acquired after the trouble started. The police report said the team’s vehicles were deliberately blocked by a lorry as they attempted to exit the country for Chile. The lorry “started moving towards the road in such a way as to bring about a collision with the Top Gear crew’s first vehicle,” according to the police, while protesters “began to throw all manner of objects at the vehicles.”
At one point, the report states, the “Top Gear crew took the decision to leave the sports cars behind and set them on fire.” Police say officers impounded the cars after telling the crew they could not burn them. They then escorted them to the Chilean border.
Miss Castro has told the BBC that the report, which outlines the assistance given by police to protect the Top Gear crew, “gives the lie to Mr Clarkson’s remarks that the Top Gear teams was ‘ambushed’ by the provincial authorities and ‘sent packing’ in order to win favour in an upcoming election.” A Top Gear source dismissed the claim that the team intended to set fire to the cars as “nonsense.”
“We refute the suggestion the Top Gear team intended to set fire to the vehicles,” a BBC spokesman added.