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 1306.

    Okay, I think we've had enough of this story now. It's clearly being used as a distraction piece and it has served that purpose very well. Let's get some proper news on. The BBC is supposed to be an impartial body and it has a duty to report news from all over the world. Give your licence payers (shareholders) some value for their money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1305.

    This pervert should be posthumously stripped of his knighthood

  • rate this

    Comment number 1304.

    There was an obvious cover up. BBC bashing or not some people might liked to devote a bit more attention to the issue of the paedophilia from the victims perspective. BBC management and political opportunitists to start with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1303.

    @1268 Er...your comment isn't an 'Editor's Choice' but we can read it! Did you think before you put your keyboard into gear?

    Some people love bashing the beeb - they even masquarade their prejudice as news in certain newspapers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1302.

    1287. creepy2
    why has my comment not been posted i did not break any rules explain

    Probably the same reason the trolls at the BBC never listened to the complaints about JS!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1301.

    1278. backin thedhss
    All these right wing Mail readers and Tories in general just want to bash the BBC.
    They also conveniently forget Savile's political alliance to the Tories. I think he started working at the BBC in '64, when he was almost 40. I wonder when he started pursuing his tendencies but I suspect it was much earlier than that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1300.

    1276-Rugbymum "(sometimes) the reason a sexually abused child keeps the abuse to themselves, is because they 'blame' themselves for what has happened to them."

    I agree, especially if they were excited about meeting someone famous, maybe their hero. It must have caused immense inner conflict for some people, with his saintly public image etc

    No internet/SMS service to share & get support either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1299.

    What a sorry state UK Plc has become.
    MPs Expenses scandal ends up with lack of trust in Politicians.
    This latest scandal could end up with lack of trust in our Media and/or anyone named as a celebrity.
    We already have no faith in our Power Supply Companies.
    And membership of most western religions is in decline.
    We could hope for the second coming.
    Or stock up on Lucky White Heather.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1298.

    This is the biggest Pedophile story yet from the BBC. It is in such a mess no one knows who to blame, so they blame other departments with in the BBC.The BBC has an INCUBUS about pedophiles. If there are no British men, they use a Belgium pedophile instead. I think they even ran a story on a Female pedophile last year,So many excuses,Kill this story is getting on my wick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1297.

    1274. Brownandsmelly
    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!

    Oh dear, Rupe himself would be proud of that crass insensitivity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1296.

    "Name Number 6
    I have also looked at pornography and I don't need a ''defense''"

    Make up your mind. One moment you say you only look at Page 3 to monitor the hypocrisy of News International, the next you say you don't need a defense. Sounded like a defence to me.

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

    I bet you do too. But only for research purposes

  • rate this

    Comment number 1295.

    I am wondering why the news programmes are continuing to show pictures of Jimmy Saville. I appreciate the story is on going but by continuing to show pictures of him involved in all his activities I feel you are continuing the adulation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1294.

    The BBC is managed by a byzantine set of systems and processes which leads to organisational chaos . Who are these people with fancy titles and huge salaries ? They are unaccountable and unresponsive to public opinion because they are isolated in their ivory towers so complacent in left /liberal sense of entitlement and smug moral superiority . Cut the budget by a minimum of 50% and privatise

  • rate this

    Comment number 1293.

    James Saville is dead. Time to move on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1292.

    If you are going to follow this "it was the 70s" argument then the solution is very clear, get rid of that culture, everyone over 60 goes, let the younger people take over ... ?

    still want to argue it was the 70s ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1291.

    This comment has been removed because the moderators found it accurate but rather damaging to the concept that the BBC is an impartial reporter of the facts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1290.

    @ justicevjustice

    What this has to do with cameron, is that this gives him the ideal opportunit to break it in to bits and sell it off, under the guise that it can be better regulated that way. every cloud and all that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1289.

    Guilty or not, trial by TV is never a good thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1288.

    The excuses offered up by the Beeb for not showing the Newsnight report are feeble - not as feeble as the fables fed to Leveson by the recently promoted tax mitigator and G4S disorganiser Papa Hunt, but nevertheless not credible.I doubt any of the Beeb staff will be getting a promotion though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1287.

    why has my comment not been posted i did not break any rules explain


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