Jimmy Savile scandal: BBC email trail

Email exchanges between BBC staff show how concerns were raised about Newsnight's investigation into Jimmy Savile abuse allegations and the decision not to broadcast the programme.

25 November 2011

Newsnight Editor Peter Rippon emails Newsnight staff when told police had investigated child abuse allegations involving Jimmy Savile in 2007:

"Excellent, we can then pull together the tx plan." (Tx means transmission or broadcast).

29 November

BBC in-house publicity team (The Impact Team) emails Peter Rippon about the potential interest in the Savile story. The team said there would be "a huge amount of interest" and "all domestic outlets would want to run it."

30 November

Peter Rippon emails Newsnight producer Meirion Jones, who is leading the programme's investigation:

"Having pondered this overnight I think the key is whether we can establish the CPS did drop the case for the reasons the women say. That makes it a better story - our sources so far are just the women and a second-hand briefing."

1 December

Peter Rippon emails Meirion Jones:

"I think we should stop working on the other elements… because we don't really have a strong enough story without it. I'll pull editing now."

2 December

BBC Director of news Helen Boaden is reported to have told George Entwistle, the then director of Vision, which oversees commissioning and programming, that if the Newsnight programme goes ahead he might have to change the Christmas schedules, which include Savile tribute programmes. The conversation is said to have taken "less than 10 seconds".

7 December

Meirion Jones emails Peter Rippon. He insists "the story is strong enough" and the danger of not running it is "substantial damage to BBC reputation".

9 December

The Crown Prosecution Service tells Newsnight the reason it did not prosecute Savile was because of lack of evidence, not because he was too old and frail. Panorama says that in light of this, Peter Rippon decides not to continue with the investigation.

2 October 2012

Peter Rippon explains his decision on his BBC News website blog.

The CPS statement "specifically denied the allegation that the investigation was dropped because of his age. I felt it was significant the guidance was included and we had not established any institutional failure and I judged it weakened the story from a Newsnight perspective. I took the decision not to publish."

He adds that the team was confident "that all the women we spoke to had contacted the police independently already. We also had no new evidence against any other person that would have helped the police."

He also denies being pressured to pull the programme. "It has been suggested I was ordered to do it by my bosses as part of a BBC cover-up. It has also been suggested that we deliberately withheld information from the police. Both these allegations are totally untrue..."

5 October

BBC Director General George Entwistle to all BBC staff:

"As is now well known, the BBC Newsnight programme investigated Surrey Police's enquiry into Jimmy Savile towards the end of 2011 but decided not to go ahead with the broadcast. The decision was made honestly and honourably. I have seen no evidence to suggest that any pressure at all was placed on the Editor to reach it."

5 October

Meirion Jones emails George Entwistle:

"George - one note - the investigation was into whether Jimmy Savile was a paedophile - I know because it was my investigation. We didn't know that Surrey police had investigated Jimmy Savile - no one did - that was what we found when we investigated and interviewed his victims."

6 October

BBC's Head of Editorial Policy David Jordan, tells the Newswatch programme:

"They [Newsnight] were investigating the Surrey Police investigation into Jimmy Savile and they discovered that Surrey Police had done a perfectly decent investigation into Jimmy Savile, had made recommendations to the CPS and then subsequently it had been dropped because of lack of evidence."

8 October

Lucy Adams, Director of Human Resources, emails BBC staff to say that "if any staff past or present know of anything they think might help the police investigation into allegations against Jimmy Savile, they should come forward and talk to the BBC Investigations team or go direct to the police".

10 October

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's The Media Show, Lord Patten said the BBC had acted properly since the allegations surfaced. But he said it was clear that "not only should the BBC have done more but everybody should have done more" about the claims.

"The fact that they were so far in the past doesn't mean we have any less responsibility and we've got to first of all make sure that nothing like that would ever be possible again, and secondly to get to the bottom of what actually happened," he said.

He also defended the BBC over claims Newsnight programme shelved its investigation.

"The suggestion that editorial judgement was exercised because of pressure from above, in the broader interests of the BBC as a corporation - that is of course malarkey. That's complete nonsense - that's not how the BBC operates," he said

12 October

BBC Director-General George Entwistle announces the setting up of two independent reviews:

"Despite our efforts to make clear our belief that the decision to drop the Newsnight investigation was taken properly for sound editorial reasons, people have continued to speculate... The BBC Executive Board and I have, therefore, ordered an immediate independent enquiry led by an external expert into whether there were any failings in the BBC management of the Newsnight investigation."

The second enquiry will look at the culture and practices of the BBC during the years that Jimmy Savile worked there, and afterwards.

"It will examine whether that culture and those practices allowed him or others to carry out the sexual abuse of children. It will also examine whether the BBC's child protection, whistleblowing, and bullying and harassment policies and practices are now fit for purpose; and whether there are any lessons from the illegal activities of Jimmy Savile or others for the BBC today in its operation of these policies and practices."

22 October

The BBC executive issues a statement saying Peter Rippon's blog entry explaining his decision to drop the programme's investigation "is inaccurate or incomplete in some respects". The statement includes corrections and clarifications on three points:

  1. That there was no evidence that anyone from the Duncroft home could or should have known about the allegations
  2. That Newsnight had no evidence against the BBC.
  3. That all the women spoken to by the programme had contacted the police independently already and that Newsnight had no new evidence against any other person that would have helped the police.

22 October

The BBC Trust responds to the blog correction saying the Trust chairman, Lord Patten, has asked Nick Pollard's independent inquiry to fully investigate how the inaccuracies came about and the handling of them once they became apparent.

23 October

After George Entwistle's appearance before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Culture Secretary Maria Miller wrote to Lord Patten to express concerns about how public confidence in the BBC could be affected.

"Following today's Select Committee hearing and the revelations that have emerged about the factual inaccuracies in the BBC's explanation about why the Savile item in Newsnight was pulled, very real concerns are being raised about public trust and confidence in the BBC...

"It is the Trust's role as the sovereign body of the BBC to be accountable to licence fee payers and ensure public confidence in the BBC."

Lord Patten responded saying the inquiries would be "comprehensive and independent".

"You know how seriously the Trust takes the allegations surrounding Jimmy Savile and the need to maintain public trust in the BBC..."

"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."

Lord Patten has also been accused of delivering a thinly-veiled warning to the government by adding:

"I know that you will not want to give any impression that you are questioning the independence of the BBC," he wrote.