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.


More on This Story

Jimmy Savile scandal

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1346.

    The BBC handling of Jimmy Savile, Newsnight Investigation, its serious lack of self understanding, its institutional views of the problems of the world don’t enter the walls of the BBC is its failure to report what the nation pay it to do. How can we trust the current DG & DN have the interests of the people who pay the bills when there is so much blurred truths and miss direction to miss lead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1345.

    The DG's performance was lamentable.. He's not been there long, but new Ministers sometimes have to go in front of a Select Committee when the've only been in office a few days for a policy area they may never have heard of before. The difference may be that the DG thought he could talk his way through it, and the briefing by his staff was inept. The Beeb's lived for too long in its own cosy world

  • rate this

    Comment number 1344.

    BBC, please stop (typically) over-compensating over these massive past failings and being so ego-centric. You are missing the bigger and wider story:


    You have a duty to get over yourselves and focus attention on the LIVING PAEDOPHILES who are STILL GETTING AWAY WITH IT !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1343.

    @1309. Name Number 6 :

    Oh dear, seems like the lynchmob is rounding up on you like hyena's. I wonder why topics like this always brings the worst out of people.

    Not to broadcast the Savile report was an error of judgement, but it's being blown out of proportion purely for the sake of revenge for the phone hacking scandal. Why do people give in to such low levels of decency?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1342.

    you wonder whether the government will take this opportunity as well to gain total control over media by shackling the BBC.
    Given the censoring of public demonstration earlier this year and non reporting of matters like Mr Hammond's visit to Uzbekistan you have to wonder about the extent of the Beeb's freedom already.
    Such issues may be unsavoury but they should not be covered up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1341.

    1339. Some Lingering Fog
    Eight national newspapers made libellous claims and two were fined for contempt of court - The Sun £18k and Daily Mirror £50k.

    Just mentioning one media organisation just highlights your own prejudice.
    Yes it does, doesn't it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1340.

    With plans to monitor every British citizen's internet activity, you wonder whether the government will take this opportunity as well to gain total control over media by shackling the BBC. A future Britain will make a Soviet police state look like a holiday on Hawaii. Cameron hates us because he knows we despise him. Thanks Jimmy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1339.

    @1309. Name Number 6

    Trial by News International is even worse, remember the poor Landlord that got portrayed as Joanne Keats murderer because he ''looked a bit funny''


    Eight national newspapers made libellous claims and two were fined for contempt of court - The Sun £18k and Daily Mirror £50k.

    Just mentioning one media organisation just highlights your own prejudice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1338.

    1329. indybob

    My point was previous governments seem bent on privatising anything in the public sector, not as an argument in favour

  • rate this

    Comment number 1337.

    Since the BBC is independent of government, surely the editor of "Newsnight" was free to make whatever decisions he chose with regard to the Savile programme. Why, then, is the Commons Culture Committee behaving like a latter day Spanish Inquisition? If the BBC DG suspects that crimes were committed by Savile and others at the BBC, he should inform the police and let them investigate fully.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1336.

    yet again the government find a way to distract the general population away from the criminal fraud they do against the tax payer. seems very convinent that a dead presenter suddenly has all the attention thus hiding the house rental scams and other miss deeds

  • rate this

    Comment number 1335.

    My last post didn't get posted. How sad are the BBC. JS was a sick man and it was allowed for 40 years

    =>Not "allowed". There's something sinister if it truly has taken 50 yrs for ALL these allegations to come to light. If indeed there were complaints the people who refused to act on them should be brought to book as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1334.


    Newspapers' first priority is to sell copies, be they left or right: this tempts editors to go with big splash headlines that make you grab a copy - the Evening Standard are famous for senational headlines, one I had the poster for was "Gay bondage lessons on the NHS" from the mid-90s.

    End the licence fee, and the BBC would also be chasing money constantly & appeasing advertisers

  • rate this

    Comment number 1333.

    1323. AndyC555

    And the girl was Joanna Yeates.
    Oh dear, failing to check my facts properly, now where did I learn that? Must have been the 20 years working in the print industry, still, I've managed to make your night.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1332.

    1304...however, not as obvious as the Haut de la garenne Child abuse cover-up:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/mar/14/haut-de-la-garenne / http://www.whale.to/c/jersey7.html

    In 2011, they declared it all over and down to low-profile perpetrators. However: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/jimmy-savile/9620223/Jimmy-Savile-He-was-the-tip-of-the-iceberg.html

  • rate this

    Comment number 1331.

    Very very bored with the BBC droning on about Saville. He's dead, cannot defend himself nor can anything be done to him for these alleged crimes.
    If he is guilty, well he got away with it. If not, let it be.
    It seems it was not just the BBC that turned a blind eye, but society in general as he was famous, popular and a massive charity fund-raiser.
    Although sorry for the victims, let's move on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1330.

    The BBC is trapped here in an impossible situation: the nation seems you expect some sort of moral perfection and absolution from you, but you are simply and superbly a group of highly-motivated, well-trained and committed professional individuals who have decided to work for the BBC instead of getting paid more elsewhere because you believe in something we out here believe in too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1329.

    1181. Name Number 6 - Utilities and railways not exactly an argument in favor of privatizing the BBC.

    My point was previous governments seem bent on privatising anything in the public sector, not as an argument in favour

  • rate this

    Comment number 1328.

    1294.Bill Savage
    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

    =>Absolute nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1327.

    right or wrong , we all bury our heads and dont do anything about so many things.
    those who heard rumour could not be expected to do anything ,
    those who really knew facts (and outside of perp and victim,who would really know for sure) should lose theirjobs at the very least.
    i dont think there was a catholic type cover up , just people who didnt really know for sure..until the victims spoke out


Page 4 of 71


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.