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.


More on This Story

Jimmy Savile scandal

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 806.

    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 805.

    Using your 'logic', muggings aren't *ever* about money, they are allways only about power.

    No.. read and understand.
    In abuse, sex is the weapon used to get power over someone - and demean them.
    In a mugging a knife is weapon used to exact money form someone.

    Abuse is not about sex, and doesn't take it. What it takes is dignity,
    I never said mugging was about power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 804.

    What is going on here? My ID 'Brian' is being used by another poster (imposter)! Please explain (660).

  • Comment number 803.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 802.

    'Done MUCH of what we ought to have done' - not 'done ALL we ought to have done'? Says it all, doesn't it?

    To have done 'all that the BBC should have done', it should have let the Panorama programme exposing Savile run a year ago. Who spiked it? I think the editor was leaned on, but if not by the then DG, then by whom?

    Interesting that the then DG is now in the USA, far from all this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 801.

    would all this time and money be spent on investigating some non public dead pedo ?

    The taxpayers whine about people on benefits having money wasted on them, yet no mention of the cost of so called 'public enquiry' This story like most is a waste of time money and effort.

    JIMMY SAVILLE IS DEAD A less famous person would not of been investigated after their death. It would of been case closed

  • rate this

    Comment number 800.

    @238 Ted Heath "This is an engineered attack on the BBC"
    Of course BBC's rivals and critics will make the most of this but that doesn't lessen the crime or scandal.
    I'm pretty sure the police investigation isn't manufactured but based on evidence and strength of testimony.
    Also I find your choice of screen name somewhat disconcerting given the subject matter but that's just me..

  • rate this

    Comment number 799.

    How disappointing that a panel of people officiating over public standards and behaviours; all appear to have overlooked a blatantly racist remark. The phrase “One eyed Albanian” was used by a panel member with seemingly derogatory intent. With Milosevic and Genocide of 1915 in the news it adds to the feeling that it remains all too easy to be blind, and not alive and alert, to injustice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 798.

    666. nautonier
    "Left wing nutters trying to reduce the age of consent"

    The age of consent appears to be an arbitrary figure, when you consider that in the UK until 1923 it was 12 for girls and 14 for boys! This age varies right across Europe from 13 (Spain) to 17 (Ireland). It is 14 in Germany and Italy and 15 in France. Like it or not, the laws of nature are not bound by the laws of man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 797.

    The age of celebrity needs to die out.

    These people are often vacuous, self serving, egotistical and fake. Yet kids think they're great because they have tattoos and reality tv shows

    TV is the most boring pastime around right now, it requires little to no thought or concentration, and it's no wonder so many kids are thick as the proverbial

    Ditch the BBC, end licence fees, stop worshipping fools

  • rate this

    Comment number 796.

    It is not surprising that the BBC allowed the culture of celebrity to override its basic ethics as the employees of the BBC make a good living from creating oddball characters. Were any of the 'pop stars' of the 60,s good role models for a society or just a source of uncritical viewing numbers.

  • Comment number 795.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 794.

    663. Katescomment
    1 HOUR AGO
    The real danger here is to British justice. The mounting candyfloss of speculation & opinion is sticking & obscuring the need for corroborated evidence and real proof....
    Let the police do their job properly and the media shut up
    @The media were not shut up over phone hacking, and the BBC led on the story for weeks

  • Comment number 793.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 792.

    exhume JS and put him on trial....and if found guilty put him in jail to rot....

  • rate this

    Comment number 791.

    . I'm surprised none of his family seemed to know what he was really like.

    Families are often the last to know. It doesn't seem like the liked him that much; but I suppose with them he was a good, right thinking Catholic. Like all decent folk, they probably didn't want to know more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 790.

    If Savile were around today I doubt he would admit to any wrong doing as he appeared to think what he was doing was OK...I'm surprised none of his family seemed to know what he was really like.
    Oh come on, he only died last year; he knew exactly how wrong he was. I too am surprised though that none close to him seems to be aware of his tendencies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 789.

    Not defending Saville - but I am very disillusioned with the "victim menality" strangling our society. In so many walks of life there is self indulgence, excuses and blame. Abuse is a strong word - far too easily banded around. Messing around with 5 year olds is something quite different to the daft 30 yr old teacher dating a nearly 16 year old young woman - who will be able to vote in Scotland!

  • Comment number 788.

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

  • Comment number 787.

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


Page 31 of 71


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.