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 826.

    PR probably did the right thing, ie The evidence we have is not fully substianted....so if we put on air are we letting ourselves in for liable.
    Phone call to or maybe word of mouth question/answer to seniors might have swayed it to be cancelled. Either way PR will probably say nothing (yet) unless of course he is made a scapecoat..then watch out for pink flying pigs

  • rate this

    Comment number 825.

    Why can't people just remember the good things he did for charity? What's with all the negativity?

  • rate this

    Comment number 824.

    I'm like a lot of people. I was told of Jimmy Savile's behaviour after an incident in Torquay in 1969. He had a camper van for sleeping rather than staying in the hotel. Quite a lot of the hotel staff knew of his antics but thought "well, it's Jimmy Savile". People thought he was a funny oddball have a bit of fun but not knowing the real truth. Talk about pulling the wool over people's eyes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 823.

    It is simply not credible, given the scale the abuse, that it was not fully known about. Which (without belittling the statements of those who were without doubt evilly and wrongly abused) has to make you question the actual scale of it. I'm also concerned that Auntie is now investigating OTHER Employees past and present.. And so they should!! question is; which "Star" should they investigate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 822.

    The current focus is on Savile and the Beeb but I suspect this is just the tip of one huge iceberg, and the police investigation will reveal many more offenders, and also those who knew about it and did nothing.....some of both groups are probably still alive and probably very worried.
    Shame (not)

  • rate this

    Comment number 821.

    May the self-flagellation begin. The BBC from
    its Reithian origins has always been a terribly
    odd organisation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 820.

    Surely the only question for today's BBC is why the Newsnight investigation was dropped, and was there an attempted cover up. Any other questions should be put to the BBC's managers from the time the incidents occurred and whilst the incidents if true must be strongly condemned we should also perhaps avoid premature or overly sanctimonious judgement of the past through today's eyes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 819.

    Why is the BBC sorry? Answer - it got caught.

  • rate this

    Comment number 818.

    You know what,i will never pay for another bbc tv license again,i will let them take me to court i will go to the press i will fight to the very end,I want a backdate for all the money that i worked my backside off to pay and fund for abusers like saville and no doubt many more,this is a shambles and a disgrace to all human mankind,and an insult to the paying customer,im taxed for this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 817.

    @665 Pegdan "I would like to know if the public trust more the BBC or our politicians?"

    Aren't they one and the same?
    People seem to forget that the BBC is essentially government funded.
    They are to a lesser or greater degree independent of party politics but they are positively wedded to the establishment.
    Find an original BBC article that does not reflect the establishment view, can't be done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 816.

    The proceedings today were yet another cover up. None of those directly involved in the pulling of Newsnight appeared in front of the committee to answer questions, leaving their colleagues to continue to evade the truth.

    Why is the tax payer funding the BBC when it can not be trusted?

  • rate this

    Comment number 815.

    @667. Anmemi
    'Brilliant' are you for real? 'Unbiased' - again a joke? Given the complete garbage pumped out by the arts obsessed BBC both of those are just so far from reality they have to be sarcasm.
    Listen to Radio 4's today, pm and news programs, or the ghastly hour from 6:30, so much crud its unbelievable. Can't remember the last good BBC 1 program either... all soap or reality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 814.

    It apears to me that various people have jumped on the band waggon and made accusations about a person wwho is noe dead and is unableto defend his name. Guilty he may be, but as a persons who totally abhores what the accusations are, one must ask why wait for his death?

  • rate this

    Comment number 813.

    @697 I doubt his victims had any idea that they were not the only ones affected.

    It must be very difficult when you are a child to have to speak up against someone who was on tv every week and was lauded for his charitable work.

    It must have been even harder in those days, when we were told to respect our elders. Pity he didn't live long enough to face charges.

  • rate this

    Comment number 812.

    to all the people asking for evidence, it would appear that thats only required when the suspect is alive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 811.

    Those of you who feel you can speak for "licence fee payers" as though we're one monolithic entity sharing YOUR beliefs need to be wary - statistically it's highly probable that many licence fee payers are paedophiles, involved with terrorist groups, or otherwise lowlife scum.

    It's dishonest & manipulative to try and speak for others &painting either the BBC OR viewers as a single group is unwise

  • Comment number 810.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 809.

    The DG did not convince that there wasn't a cover up so we need to have a full blown public inquiry like Leveson. The BBC cannot be trusted to clean its own house.The BBC has forfeited the right to avoid opening itself up to full public scrutiny. I also think that the BBC top brass should accept full responsibility for the whole mess and resign.

  • rate this

    Comment number 808.


    It is not the BBC's leftie liberalism that's promoted environmental science, birth control, open questioning of faith doctrine, etc.

    It is society as a whole moving towards a more questioning and rational culture.

    You, I am afraid, have been left behind harkening for a distant (and non-existent) golden age.

    If you want a forum where more people share your view try the Daily Mail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 807.

    The BBC is receiving most attention but other organisations deserve as much time under the spotlight - the hospitals and homes where he was involved. And which governements chose to honour him or invite him to spend time with their leaders for high profile publicity to show their association with such a popular personality? It wasn't just a failure of the BBC.


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