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
    +1

    Comment number 1226.

    fatty arlbuckle

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1225.

    my heart goes out to all those that were abused by this awful man, and it truly was a time when you didn't speak out, i am 50 years old, and i never liked jimmy saville, neither did any of my friends, which is maybe just as well, we could so easily have been victims too.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1224.

    What I don't understand about this one is why Newsnight was doing an investigation rather than say - Panorama - given the potential gravity of the story. Makes me all the more baffled as to why no-one in the BBC got hold of it.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1223.

    1207. JockTheRipper
    So it turns out that the biased, left leaning, multicultural loving BBC likes to harbor paedophiles.
    //////
    You know of course that Savile was a Tory voter, don't you? Are you sure you want to start a left/right wing mudsling?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1222.

    The BBC should learn from NI's mistakes. The truth will come out about what was going on so time to come clean. Just listen to Gambo on 5 Live this morning. Incredible (in the true sense) defence of why the truth never emerged about JS's activities whilst at the Beeb. Even the presenter was gobsmacked.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1221.

    BBC is supposed to present the culture, the nature, the face of Britain to the rest of the world. What will people say when they see something like this happened? How will we explain it when they point out that the Catholic Church did more or less the same, a coverup of sexually abusing children to protect its employees, its image?

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1220.

    You're all so perfect are't you?!? ...I sick of reading about it now, I grew up with an abusive steed-dad, quite a sick man!!! But most of you posters on here no nothing about what it's really like you all just jump on the media bandwagon and suddenly become morally upstanding individuals and think you have the right to judge. Let the police do their work and stop gossiping like you know better!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1219.

    Isolated incident? Selective memory? Supposed avarice to pursue and report wrongdoing objectively.
    Any recent form?
    Almost a news blackout concerning Rochdale abuse cases on the lead up to proceedings. To protect or hide what I wonder?
    The BBC takes reputation and world view very seriously ,at what cost though?
    Say it like it is ,that's why we pay for this supposed service!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1218.

    so, if we are all sages, we can blame the BBC - but hospital nurses were saying "Please pretend you are sleeping when he comes". It is an incredibly true portrayal of the times... And we should all understand that what happened in the '50s, '70s was seen in a different light. Unacceptable, true, but girls were taught to lie down and think of England....

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1217.

    Whilst this story reaches its magnitude, please BBC do not let go of the Levason inquiry in relation to the News of the World and equally deplorable journalists from other papers who turned a blind eye to phone hacking that included that of dead victims.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1216.

    Has to be manipulation here. All posts critical of the saintly BBC quickly marked down. Simply don't believe that the BBC is so well-loved.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1215.

    1197.
    Ted Heath
    24 Minutes ago

    1154. Name Number 6
    Graham Rix resumed his job with Chelsea when he came out of prison and went on to work with Oxford, Portsmouth and Hearts.
    //////
    I doubt Savile will resume his job at the BBC.
    ==========
    Unless as a ghost writer.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1214.

    "Beggars belief that the BBC need to be told that they should not use license fee money for its pedophile activity."
    Dear ScottsWhat,
    I'm pretty sure you're not the only man who is, unwisely, trying to make this a "Licence Fee" issue (spelt with a C, as a noun, in England). This a commercial problem. Money rules since ITV, yet the BBC makes the best programmes. Savile was pure private sector.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1213.

    1207. JockTheRipper
    So it turns out that the biased, left leaning, multicultural loving BBC likes to harbor paedophiles. What a surprise! Time to close this archaic politically correct institution down for good!
    ///////
    Not before the more archaic sweeping generalisations institution has been closed down. I think you're one of it's last members.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1212.

    Esther Rantzen said in Andrew Marr's programme on Sunday that it is not enough to have one report, evidence is needed of at least 5 people.... So, if the law says you need more people reporting the same thing and you do not have it, what do you do? With hindsight, hang the BBC - not good. As far as I remember, pedophilia as we know it today did not start in the '50s.. Dirty old men did..

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1211.

    @1202.RMG3

    I take it you and your wife thoroughly investigated the "rumours" and weirdness you were aware of back then, and then took your evidence to the relevant authorities?

    No? Why not?

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1210.

    I think that criticism of the BBC in this matter, is just a symptom of the sadness we all know, that child abuse is not something we can always prevent. How many Doctors, social workers and Police perhaps suffer due to the fact that without evidence it is very hard to catch. At the end of the day evil is evil but to prosecute requires evidence.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1209.

    1194 Name Number 6
    At least it would make sense and there would be an excuse if you were a BBC employee. If not, then er ..... let's move on. Unless of course you actually are Tom Watson!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1208.

    I'm getting quite fed up with the media assuming that everybody knows what "Duncroft approved school" was. Why on earth were celebrities visiting a school? I've been doing internet searches for "Duncroft Approved School" to try to find out what on earth was so special about it but all I get is news articles about Savile. What was it?!

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 1207.

    So it turns out that the biased, left leaning, multicultural loving BBC likes to harbor paedophiles. What a surprise! Time to close this archaic politically correct institution down for good!

 

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