IT HAS emerged that BBC Scotland made last-minute cuts to an award-winning documentary about the Glasgow schoolgirls who campaigned against dawn raids on asylum families because it was too critical of Jack McConnell.

Senior staff edited The Children Who Disappear, the Tales From The Edge programme by the "Glasgow Girls" from Drumchapel High School who took their fight to the Scottish parliament, fearing it could have breached the corporation's guidelines on bias.

Editors, worried that the programme in the series in which young people made films about their own lives contained "McConnell-bashing", cut out most of the savage criticism from MSPs of the former first minister's failure to win a separate Scottish agreement with the Home Office on failed asylum seekers.

The programme won best broadcast at the Refugee Week Scottish Media Awards last Friday. It has also received two Amnesty International prizes for excellence in human rights reporting and is used in some schools to teach pupils about the asylum issue.

Producer Lindsay Hill said the BBC "were getting very itchy about the content of this film and how it was going to come across and be impartial enough, so there was a lot of last-minute editing to get it past the high heid yins".

Ten minutes were cut from the 30-minute film, including attacks on McConnell by MSPs at a Holyrood debate after he failed to secure a separate protocol for asylum cases when the Home Office refused to devolve the issue.

Hill's comments at an Edinburgh public screening last week follow criticism of Kirsty Wark's Newsnight interview with Alex Salmond over the Libyan prisoner transfer row two weeks ago.

Wark, who is friends with McConnell and his family, contacted the new first minister to apologise for the "abrupt" way she ended their interview, which drew criticism from viewers for being too aggressive and rude.

Salmond had gone on air to justify his attacks on Downing Street's failure to consult the Scottish Executive before Tony Blair signed a memorandum of understanding with Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi which could have implications for the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.

Hill filmed the girls taking a petition to MSPs after the Kosovan Vucaj family were removed from their Scotstoun home by immigration officials wearing body armour. She said her film was "a bit heavy with Jack McConnell-bashing, which it hadn't meant to be".

Hill added: "That debate about Nicola Sturgeon and Jack McConnell getting stuck into each other. There were a lot of other angry people. Some Labour, some Tory ... everybody across the party debate. What I tried to do was encompass everybody. I had a Tory, SNP, Labour, Scottish Socialist Party as well. But at the end of the day that ended up on the floor.

"They the BBC just wanted to safeguard the impartiality. They just wanted me to make it a little bit more measured and give McConnell the right to reply in the film, which I think he got. They wanted me to remember that I was to be impartial. I can't fault the girls."

The BBC also feared the two-and-a-half-year project had strayed from being a children's production into politics. Hill added: "Tales From The Edge was originally very much seen as young people's own stories, and I think what the BBC was worried about was that this would come across as a political story."

Hill claimed McConnell turned a meeting with the girls into a "a pure unadulterated photo opportunity" when they visited Holyrood to discuss ending dawn raids. She said: "I got a call on my mobile while we were standing at Waverley station. Jack McConnell's right-hand man told me, ever so desperate, You have to get your girls up to McConnell's office, and would you like to come along and film that?'"

Hill added that after she filmed McConnell greeting the girls, "the door was shut in my face and I was told to go away. That's why it was a pure unadulterated photo opportunity."

One of the girls, Somalian Amal Azzudin, 17, said: "Dawn raids are a national disgrace and something that affects us all. If it wasn't for Lindsay and the BBC , we wouldn't be here today."

McConnell's spokesperson said it was made clear to Hill that the meeting with the girls was private. She added: "Mr McConnell has met with the Glasgow girls on a number of occasions. It is because of these meetings that he initiated discussions with the Home Office on the children of asylum seekers."

A BBC Scotland spokesman denied there had been any pressure from Labour. He added: "The programme was edited to ensure a long and comprehensive story was told as succinctly as possible in a 30-minute programme."