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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Jimmy Savile and the NHS

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1086.

    Can't see the point of the BBC now. Its 'Entertainment' merely duplicates the pap we get for nothing elsewhere, its 'Education'; is dumbed down to the point of being infantile, and we can no longer trust it to 'Inform' us truthfully and objectively. Why are we forced to pay - and pay so much - for this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1085.

    So as I understand it I can attack raped women, abused children, unemployed, disabled and a string of other people quite freely on the HYS section of the BBC but if I point out that a MP has fiddled there expence acount and named said MP my post is removed, even though that is a fact and the others are just opinion!

    Aunty as some very mixed up morals !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1084.

    For the media, it is open season on everyone - except for the media.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1083.

    Just seeing this monster on the on every newscast is making me feel sick.I watched the Panorama programme for all of 20 minutes which was all i could muster ,but what was clear to me is that the people around him and who knew or, he was doing this are just as bad as he is in my view yo allow a young person to go through that and not to intervene is disgraceful

  • Comment number 1082.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1081.

    #1063 He was not DG at the time (Dec 2011). Yes the BBC have failed but so have Surry Police, the tabloids who knew about JS at least 10 years ago, NHS etc. The victims could not speak out or were not believed when they did due to his establishment status. Terrible of Cameron jumping on the investigations bandwagon when he tries to avoid this for his cronies –Mitchell, Coulson etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1080.

    Amusing to see the BBCs employed shills busily thumbing down any anti BBC posts.


  • rate this

    Comment number 1079.

    1035. Varahaswamy
    Is it me or does anyone else find something seriously wrong with the comments being written in defense of the BBC?
    It is you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1078.

    997.Mike from Brum
    "I am tempted to ask what the point of the witch-hunt is?"

    I think you have missed the point. This is no longer about just JS. This is about institunalised abuse of minors on a grand scale and what, if any, role the BBC played in that. It's about who else was either directly involved or turned a blind eye to what was going on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1077.

    Denisleeds. NO. Justice has to be executed and equally the victims need to be supported. WE DON'T WANT THE SAME TO HAPPEN AGAIN!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1076.

    1) Everyone detests abuse of children and I have not seen any posts that condone it.
    2) Yes there may be, or have been, individuals in the BBC who have not behaved in the way we would wish.
    3) Yes it seems probable that JS abused children


    Suggesting that the BBC as a whole is a corrupt organisation is to label thousands of staff in the same vein.

    Your post is voted down, deal with it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1075.

    If i understand the DG correctly, he needs to stay clear of investigations in case he is needed to be an impartial judge, but when he is needed as a impartial judge he appoints someone else. I would like to have that job and its pay grade.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1074.

    How I am enjoying the BBC squirming under MPs questions.

    After months of the BBC making News International the No I news item every day its time for the other side of the coin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1073.

    The real issue here is not Savile, the BBC, or all those who happily sought publicity by association with the ex "celeb", but the victims. What is best for them should be the focus!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1072.

    The DG did nothing to support his position today, his answer not to inquire may be the signal for his demise.I predict he will go. There are too many inconsistent comments. Newsnight editor will be made scapegoat. The CPS is a diversion. Newsnight had enough to run with. He may not have been leaned on, but he got the drift. No good journo/editor would have dropped this without sound legal reasons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1071.

    1048 bitofbalance "Imagine the outcry if the few allegations known at the time turned out to be false and a great TV icons name was dragged through the mud needlessly?"

    I remember the criticism of Childline and Esther R's involvement with children, not about molesting them but that kids are lying little tykes, no decent adult "mucks about with kids" and so on, so I agree with you. Different era.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1070.

    I watched the hypocritical MPs pontificating and asking about 'moral responsibility'. Pot v Kettle. How dare they assume that they can carry out an impartial enquiry when they too lack the very values they expect the BBC to have

  • rate this

    Comment number 1069.

    To those perplex with how this sort of thing goes on

    -- try googling Dunblane D notice

    Thank you

  • rate this

    Comment number 1068.

    More taxpayers money been spent on a political witch hunt whilst BBC are make redundant this week.

    Clearly this man is not up for the job give it to one of the many millions of experienced skilled unemployed aged between 45-65 in the UK.

    Stop wasting money whilst the disabled elderly and ill die due to benefit cuts!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1067.

    I no longer wish to fund the organised sexual abuse of children (aka the BBC), how do I continue to watch TV in the UK legally without funding this putrid behaviour?


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