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 1286.

    While the (expensive ) enquiry goes on is he still just as dead. As he claimed a faith his Lords judgement will probably have kicked in by now. "Vengeance is mine" saith the Lord. "Your human enquiry is just jobs for the boys".

  • rate this

    Comment number 1285.

    a decision was made based on the evidence at the time and now someone has resigned and the new boss is called to account for events from 30+ years ago. lets not forget, at this stage the police and others are investigating allegations

  • rate this

    Comment number 1284.

    In the same time frame local large home office took inappropriate behavior very seriously to the point of behaving like the CIA with Spy's noting office interactions & sting operations catching bad behavior on tape. Unlike today they also considered who was a willing participant in said behavior.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1283.

    My last post didn't get posted. How sad are the BBC. JS was a sick man and it was allowed for 40 years. And the BBC covered it up last year. I remain disgusted. the BBC should remain ashamed

  • rate this

    Comment number 1282.

    The BBC is by far the most trusted and treasured of all British institutions. As I watched MPs questioning the DG today my uppermost thought was how much better he represented liberal democracy than them. His occasional hesitancy was not weakness or lack of detailed knowledge, but concern for accuracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1281.

    Time for an EU commission led investigation of the BBC. They like to be involved in everything as we all know. They will obviously ned some extra tax payer bucks to fund another department.

    What toffee? How can the BBC be guilty of anything? Only individuals that acted as accessories, accomplices or with knowledge of crimes being committed at the time are criminally liable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1280.

    1268.Cronkist "High time there was a shake up at the BBC. Perhaps then we'd be able to see comments other than "Editor's Choice" on this page!"

    I think these pages are a minority of a minority, there are even websites mocking the polarised & simplified opinions expressed here in fact!

    But assuming you're serious, you can always click the All Comments tab in grey then search by time or +/- votes

  • rate this

    Comment number 1279.

    1261. Think Tank
    Nice to see that after having covered up the activities of JS and not having full and frank discussions, the BBC is pre-moderating all posts to this subject.
    Still not learnt the lesson "Auntie"?
    Full and frank discussions? There's loads on the web. They're not full or frank and certainly not discussions. They sink to levels of vility that make you ashamed to be a human.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1278.

    All these right wing Mail readers and Tories in general just want to bash the BBC. Savile is the stick they're using. Let's remember he's the villain. I just can't believe that no tabloid seemed to be aware of his crimes that covered such a long span.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1277.

    1254. sarah

    What confuses me is that Mr Entwistle knew that newsnight were investigating JS and he STILL ran the tribute

    George Entwistle took up his appointment as Director-General on 17 September 2012. Wasn't DG at the time.

    1266. AndyC555
    I bet you still giggle at fart jokes and gay marriage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1276.

    This comment won't flow with what has been said, but I feel I need to say that (sometimes) the reason a sexually abused child keeps the abuse to themselves, is because they 'blame' themselves for what has happened to them. They ask themselves what THEY did to make the person sexually abuse them. So when an interviewer asks why they didn't say anything at the time, maybe this is why.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1275.

    1268 There is no editors choice on this topic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1274.

    1250 Name Number 6
    "place of work is littered with the damned things".
    Sounds like the kind of defence Sir JS might have deployed if ever cornered! Lol!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1273.

    Jimmy Saville is the criminal (allegedly) I think the focus should be on the things he did first not the BBC

  • Comment number 1272.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1271.

    I have just watched panorama and I am sickened. I have never been compelled to write or detail my views but this is just too much. For 40 years JS committed crimes; abuse against the most vulnerable among us and nothing was done. And then the BBC cover up last years Newsnight exposing his abuse. Let those involved be named, whether dead or alive. This is disgusting, the BBC should be ashamed

  • rate this

    Comment number 1270.

    Anyone might think it was a national sport, diddling kids. Sexual abuse, like rape is about personal power. It was used as a way of controlling the house staffs of many international royal and elite. It is the modern internality of Machiavellian wisdom and it has led us to the fate we are so pitifully approaching.
    Only miracles now afford us any protection from this all too frugal cynicism.

  • Comment number 1269.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1268.

    High time there was a shake up at the BBC. Perhaps then we'd be able to see comments other than "Editor's Choice" on this page!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1267.

    1252. AndyC555

    I expect he looks at Page 3 for.....er....research purposes.

    What's known as the "Pete Townsend" defence.
    I have also looked at pornography and I don't need a ''defense''.

    I'm an adult and I don't''protest too much''.


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