Jimmy Savile: BBC regrets dropped Newsnight investigation


The director general said the Newsnight investigation should have continued

A Newsnight investigation into sexual abuse claims against Jimmy Savile should not have been dropped, the BBC's director general has told MPs.

But George Entwistle told the Commons culture committee he did not believe management pressure had led to a report on the former presenter being shelved.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller said "very real concerns" about public trust in the BBC have been raised.

Nine claims of sexual harassment involving BBC staff are being probed.

But Mr Entwistle said there was not enough evidence to say whether sexual abuse or harassment at the corporation was "endemic".

Mrs Miller has written to the chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, to stress that the corporation's investigations into itself should be conducted "thoroughly".

In his response, Lord Patten said Mrs Miller knows "how seriously the trust takes the allegations", and added the inquiries would be "comprehensive and independent".

"Some of these cases have been passed to the police where appropriate, and we are reviewing others within our normal HR processes and procedures," it said in a statement.

In a two-hour appearance before the committee, Mr Entwistle said a "broader cultural problem" at the BBC in the past had allowed the abuse by Savile, who regularly appeared on British TV in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

A number of key issues were raised during the director general's grilling.

  • He said he had been told about the Newsnight probe while he was head of BBC Vision, but added he did not press for more details as he did not want to show "undue interest" in a news issue
  • He insisted Newsnight editor Peter Rippon had decided to drop the Savile investigation "on his own account" and there was "no external pressure"
  • Conservative MP Philip Davies told Mr Entwistle he needed to "get a grip" on his organisation, after he failed to tell them how many allegations of sexual harassment had been made against BBC employees past and present
'Gravely serious matter'

Mr Entwistle told MPs: "There is no question that what Jimmy Savile did and the way the BBC behaved in the years - the culture and practices of the BBC seems to allow Jimmy Savile to do what he did - will raise questions of trust for us and reputation for us.

"This is a gravely serious matter and one cannot look back at it with anything other than horror, frankly, that... his activities went on as long as they did undetected."

Police have launched a criminal investigation into Savile, who died last year aged 84.

They have described him as a predatory sex offender and believe he may have abused many people - including young girls - over a 40-year period.

On Monday, the BBC's Panorama programme reported on the abuse allegations against Savile as well as the decision by Newsnight last December to drop its investigations into the claims.

"I came away from Panorama firmly of the view that that investigation, even if in the judgement of the editor it wasn't ready for transmission at the point he was looking at it, should have been allowed to continue," Mr Entwistle said.

Asked whether there had been pressure from management on Newsnight to drop its Savile investigation, he said there was no evidence of this and denied any BBC cover-up of the allegations.

He said Peter Rippon had become convinced that examining whether police had failed properly to investigate Savile was crucial to airing the Newsnight report.

Director of news Helen Boaden warned Mr Entwistle about the Newsnight investigation into Savile.

BBC home editor Mark Easton said Mr Entwistle portrayed an "almost baffling" system at the BBC.

"He talks about the situation where the head of television felt unable to talk to the head of news about an investigation which might have a direct impact on his Christmas schedules.

"I think people will find it very odd that you have what he called the 'referring up' structure - you don't have a refer across - so you have to go a long way up to come back down again.

"And that can make the BBC - I think people in the corporation would agree - sometimes a bit flat-footed. Outside people might say it makes them look a bit daft."

After Mr Entwistle made his appearance, Channel 4 News said it had obtained an email written by Liz MacKean - the Newsnight reporter responsible for the investigation - claiming Mr Rippon tried to "kill" her story with "impossible editorial demands".

Ms MacKean wrote to a friend to say her editor had told her Savile's alleged victims "were teenagers, not too young... they weren't the worst kind of sexual offences."

A BBC spokesman said "it would not be appropriate to comment" on Ms MacKean's email until a review by former head of Sky News, Nick Pollard, had concluded.

In his blog earlier this month defending his decision to pull the probe, Mr Rippon said he was "guided by editorial considerations only", adding some of the team "disagreed strongly with [his] judgement" while others "agreed equally strongly".

But on Monday the BBC issued a correction to some specific elements of the blog, calling it "inaccurate or incomplete in some respects", and the director general told MPs this was a matter of "regret and embarrassment".

Mr Entwistle said he had asked Mr Rippon to step aside because of inaccuracies in the blog.

But he said that he believed, "to the best of the evidence we have been able to assemble", the explanation now being offered for the dropping of the Newsnight report was accurate.

An independent inquiry led by former Sky head of news Nick Pollard will examine whether there were any failings in the BBC's management of the Newsnight investigation.

Christmas schedule

Mr Entwistle was asked about a brief conversation with BBC director of news Helen Boaden last December about the possibility of Newsnight running their report about Savile, while Mr Entwistle, as then BBC director of Vision, was planning Christmas tribute pieces to the presenter.

Jimmy Savile Savile died in October 2011 aged 84 having previously denied allegations he was a paedophile

"The key message I took away was that it wasn't yet clear to Helen whether it was going to stand up or not," he said.

"I wouldn't have had any qualms about making any changes we needed to make to the Christmas schedule."

Asked whether he now regretted running the tribute programmes for Savile, Mr Entwistle told MPs: "In the light of what's happening, of course I do."

He added that the Panorama programme pointed to the BBC's health as a media organisation, rather than being a "symptom of chaos", because it showed the organisation's capacity to investigate itself.

He said no other news organisation in the world would do this.

Later Mr Entwistle emailed BBC staff to pledge the corporation was "determined to be open and transparent, however painful it may feel at times"

He added: "It is only by opening ourselves up that we can restore and maintain the trust of our audiences."

On Monday, former Court of Appeal judge Dame Janet Smith will begin a review into the culture and practices of the BBC during Savile's time at the corporation and will also examine if the BBC's child protection and whistleblowing policies are fit for purpose.

Savile graphic

Jimmy Savile was a man with a high profile public persona, built on decades of broadcasting and charitable work.

He was seen as a flamboyant eccentric but is now accused of years of sexual abuse.

Culture secretary Mrs Miller wrote to Lord Patten: "We have talked about the paramount importance of full public trust in the BBC's inquiries and agreed that it is essential that licence fee payers can be assured that they are being conducted thoroughly and with the full co-operation of the BBC."

Lord Patten replied: "You have recognised both the credibility and the scope of those who are leading the inquiries and the wide scope of their terms of reference."

But he issued a warning that the government should not wade into the row: "I know that you will not want to give any impression that you are questioning the independence of the BBC," he said.

The Panorama programme, Jimmy Savile - What the BBC Knew, is available on the BBC iPlayer.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Growing up in the 70's, I would have loved to have been to TOTP. But you had to be 18 to get tickets. So unless a girl specifically revealed herself to be under 18, or Savile told them, the assumption of many people would be that she was 18 or over. If she subsequently consented to sex, you'd have no idea you were breaking the law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Talk about your metaphorical Skeleton in the Cupboard...
    or should that be Savile in a cupboard?

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    I dont hold the BBC responsible for Saviles depravitiy anymore than I think the NHS is responsible. Not directly, not as an organisation. But individuals within these organisations appear to have purposefully, appallingly, looked the other way. Or worse.

    The BBC is responsible for its scheduling and editorial policy though. And it failed. They had a story to expose him. Instead he was glorified.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Though the story is going on, the greatest concern of mine has remained unchanged throughout. Due to the TV licence, I paid for this man to abuse children. But not only was it me, it was all of you too. Not only that, but if we didn't pay the wages of this monster, we are the ones who would have been arrested!

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    If it is about rumours then when are the press appearing? Everybody it seems knew the rumours - that's all they were. Those who knew for certain are the one culpable in this mess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Glad to see this left-wing organisation getting the kicking it deserves. I suppose the luvvies will delete this comment from hys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    This story is just another reason time should be called on the BBC,it was always put on a pedestal as being high and mighty whilst behind closed doors this was known about for years,as for the actual broadcasting side,i gave up on the television years ago and the radio about 12mths ago and don't see why i should be forced by law to pay for it

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    22. Stephen
    I trust that today's questioning of the DG will not miss this latest bluder or is it cover-up?
    Based on previous televised grilling by MPs (Bob Diamond, anyone?), the DG will have noting to worry about. These sessions are, to quote Denis Healey on Geoffrey Howe, like being "savaged by a dead sheep".

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    There are other things going on in the world. I know its cheap to report on things happening in your own backyard, but this is about as interesting as the average Facebook post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    No. 12 I agree. Why was JS given keys to hospital wards? Who decided to make him chair a task force within the NHS given that he had no formal qualification for the job?

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    The BBC is one of the huge organisations where Jimmy Savile managed to continue his abuse for years - we should listen and learn rather than savage the BBC as a whole- who have some excellent people reporting as in last night Panorama.
    We should examine ourselves and what it is and was in our culture that allows any abuse to happen - it is often somone you know close to a family/family member.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    @31..I doubt if there is an organisation that doesn't "enable" chlid abuse,and doesn't fight to prevent it..You had to live in the 70's to understand what people got away with and that things have changed,we had school teachers that hit you as hard as they could with a Gym Shoe when we were 10 or threw blackboard rubbers at your head or sent you for caning..It is a better society now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    How can a man who has only been in the job about 4 weeks be expected to answer questions about things that happened years ago?

    Surely people who worked for the BBC back then should be hauled over the coals. If their still alive of course.

    He wasn't even in charge when Newsnight canned their show.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    And in todays other news

    Tabloid editors launch a concerted campaign against Oswald Boateng for selling Saviille row suits, English national Opera threatened with boycott over controversial performance of 'Barber of Seville'...

    Things really are getting that ludicrous, can't we just let the police investigation and other enquiries do their work & give the hysteria a break for a few weeks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    This is a prime example of the evil that comes from the concept of the Common Purpose network, which is deeply embedded in the BBC. Cover up after cover up, protecting each other. Jimmy Savile is the latest expose, what next, phone hacking, and we have already heard (and we will hear again) about the tax evasion through single director companies which have expanded within the BBC since 1994.

  • Comment number 51.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    When will employers who ever they are learn that allegations of sexual abuse must be taken seriously and investigated properly even if they are proven to be unfounded. It takes courage for individuals male or female to admit the have been sexually abused as there is always the fear they will be punished. Unfortunatley Savile can't answer the allegations but we and the abused need the truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    See comment at 32, which I agree with. There are other people at fault here not just the BBC, so before anyone sits in judgement why not wait out the results of the police enquiry. The Director General is well aware of the BBC's part in this sorry affair but there have been a number of people in various posts within the BBC over the years who could be deemed equally at fault.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    no 31
    So what do you want then !!!! ALL media to be controlled by Murdochs?
    People like you don"t deserve anything better than X factor and dumbing down.
    We are the envy of the world for the quality of the BBC but then you probably don.t know anything about the rest of the world !!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    @19. Galaxy

    Actually, most people disliked Saville - he was a most odious creep - and put up with him because they thought he was doing good.

    He won't have any friends anywhere now.


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