Savile inquiry: Paxman said DJ rumours 'common gossip'

Media caption,
The acting Director General of the BBC, Tim Davie, said "this is a tough report to read"

Jeremy Paxman told a BBC inquiry into Newsnight's axed Jimmy Savile investigation that it was "common gossip" the DJ liked "young" people.

The Newsnight presenter said it was assumed they were girls, but he did not know "whether it was girls or boys".

But news executive Helen Boaden said she "had never heard any dark rumours".

The BBC has published transcripts from an inquiry that found Newsnight's decision to drop its probe into sexual abuse by Savile had been "flawed".

About 3,000 pages of emails, interviews and submissions from BBC executives and journalists have been published online by the corporation.

However, the BBC says it has blacked out about 3% of details for legal reasons.

Since Savile's death in 2011 aged 84, allegations have emerged that lead police to believe the late Radio 1 DJ and Jim'll Fix It presenter sexually abused hundreds of children and young people over five decades.

Information which has come to light in the transcripts includes:

  • Details of comments left on a BBC online tribute page to Savile that were removed by moderators. A transcript of the interview with ex-BBC director general George Entwistle includes reference to comments saying: "One of my best friends in 1972 was molested by this creep Savile. He was never the same again. Killed himself in 1985. How's About That Then?"
  • Meanwhile, a review has been ordered into the way Surrey Police handled historical child sex investigations, including some involving Savile
  • Ms Boaden, director of BBC News, told the inquiry there was never any indication Mr Entwistle knew of Savile's predilections when she discussed Newsnight's investigation with Mr Entwistle at an awards dinner: "Absolutely not... he just said: 'Thank you, keep me posted.' I mean he was quite poker faced, really"
Media caption,
The BBC's David Sillito says there are no dramatic revelations in the documents
  • Mr Entwistle, on the decision to run a tribute programme about Savile in December 2011, said: " I had not heard any specific rumours about Savile, by that I mean, 'On such and such an occasion he did such and such a thing.' I don't believe I had heard any rumours of that kind"
  • Asked why he felt "lukewarm" about the Savile report, then-Newsnight editor Peter Rippon said: "It was a combination of a feeling in my stomach that these stories... can be very difficult to pull off... and doing it so soon after his death was going to compound that"
  • Former director general Mark Thompson said in his evidence that "like many other people who have devoted their lives to this institution, I feel both sad and angry that such terrible crimes and suffering occurred within the BBC"
  • BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten told the inquiry: "With the next director general - or his senior colleagues - I won't begin every conversation on the assumption that they or she may not be telling me the whole truth, but I will want to be more convinced that there is a structure in place which ensures that the truth is being told"

During his interview for the Pollard Review, Mr Paxman said: "It was, I would say, common gossip that Jimmy Savile liked, you know, young - it was always assumed to be girls.

"I don't know whether it was girls or boys. But I had no evidence of it, and I never saw anything that made me take it more seriously than it was common gossip."

But, describing why he felt the shelving of the Newsnight investigation had been wrong, he said: "These people prey upon children in vulnerable situations and when the children complain they are not believed.

"I thought that we had behaved just like many other authorities and I didn't like it."

'Lessons learned'

Meanwhile, Mr Paxman's fellow Newsnight presenter, Kirsty Wark, said there "was definitely a communications problem" between Mr Rippon and the journalists working on the Savile investigation.

Media caption,
Liz Dux, Savile victims' lawyer: "We're told that it's for legal reasons... but because it's redacted we can't see"

Acting director general Tim Davie said that by releasing the transcripts, the BBC was being "open and transparent in its handling of this unhappy chapter in our history".

But he said details had been removed for reasons of defamation, data privacy, protection of confidential sources, anonymity for victims of sexual assault, potential prejudice to or interference with police investigations or ongoing criminal proceedings, legal professional privilege and confidentiality - where a genuine and identifiable interest of the BBC is at stake.

He added: "It has not been an entirely comfortable process for us to go through but it is right that we did it this way.

"It is important that the BBC now moves forward with the lessons learned and continues to regain the public's trust."

Speaking after the documents' publication, Lord Patten said: "These documents paint a very unhappy picture, but the BBC needs to be open - more open than others would be - in confronting the facts that lie behind Nick Pollard's report.

"A limited amount of text has been blacked out for legal reasons, but no-one could say that the effect has been to sanitise this material, which again puts a spotlight on some of our failings. We need to acknowledge these shortcomings and learn from them."

Conservative peer and former party treasurer Lord McAlpine has accused the BBC of behaving like the "secret service" by using redactions of the inquiry transcripts to censor criticism of senior executives.

The peer was falsely accused of child abuse after a BBC Newsnight broadcast. He was not named on the programme but was wrongly identified on social media outlets and by some blogs that incorrectly speculated about the person's identity.

In a report on that broadcast, BBC Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie found Newsnight staff had failed to complete "basic journalistic checks".

The Pollard Review was set up by the BBC to decide if there were management failings over the six-week Savile investigation, which was dropped by Newsnight in December 2011.

The report, headed by former head of Sky News Nick Pollard and published in December, concluded the decision to shelve the investigation was "seriously flawed" but "done in good faith".

It dismissed claims it was dropped to protect tribute shows to Savile, and found no evidence of a cover-up, but was highly critical of BBC bosses in describing "chaos and confusion" and "leadership in short supply".

The BBC accepted the findings in full and the corporation announced a series of staff changes after it was published.

Another review led by Dame Janet Smith, looking at the culture and practices of the BBC during the years in which Savile worked there, is expected next year.

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