Panorama documentary shows how BBC bosses were aware of Jimmy Savile sex abuse claims

08:05 22 October 2012

The BBC has come under increasing pressure over the Savile allegations. File picture: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

The BBC has come under increasing pressure over the Savile allegations. File picture: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

A Panorama documentary has failed to find evidence of a BBC “cover-up” over the decision not to air a Newsnight investigation into the Jimmy Savile sex abuse claims.

The hour-long documentary lifts the lid on the extent to which the higher echelons of the corporation were aware of the claims against the late DJ.

BBC foreign editor John Simpson describes the scandal as “the worst crisis that I can remember in my nearly 50 years at the BBC”.

Newsnight editor Peter Rippon maintains the piece - which was due to run last December - was pulled for editorial reasons, and not because the potentially damaging revelations coincided with a planned tribute to the star.

But tomorrow night, the hour-long documentary will hear from Newsnight producer Meirion Jones and reporter Liz MacKean, who both claim they had interviewed at least four alleged victims of Savile - and confirmed with Surrey Police that they had investigated sex abuse complaints against the Jim’ll Fix It star in 2007.

They say that when they told bosses the Crown Prosecution Service did not charge Savile because of insufficient evidence, they were told to end the investigation - and the show was withdrawn.

The horror stories about Savile only fully emerged after ITV broadcast a documentary at the start of this month - sparking mayhem at the BBC over losing its scoop and leading to the allegations of a cover-up.

Tonight a Panorama statement said: “Peter Rippon has always maintained the story was pulled for ‘editorial reasons’ and not because of a potentially embarrassing clash with planned BBC tributes to Savile over Christmas.

“Panorama has found no evidence to contradict that view.”

Observers had questioned whether one BBC flagship programme investigating another would lead to a smoking-gun.

John Simpson said of the fallout: “This is the worst crisis that I can remember in my nearly 50 years at the BBC.

“I don’t think the BBC has handled it terribly well.

“I mean I think it’s better to just come out right at the start and say we’re going to open everything up and then we’re going to show everybody everything.

“All we have as an organisation is the trust of the people the people that watch us and listen to us and if we don’t have that, if we start to lose that, that’s very dangerous I think for the BBC.”

anorama, which airs at 10.35pm on BBC1, also probes why BBC chiefs gave different explanations why the programme was dropped and what it was about.

In the aftermath Director General George Entwistle wrote to all staff saying the Newsnight investigation was into “Surrey Police’s enquiry into Jimmy Savile towards the end of 2011”.

Mr Jones immediately emailed Mr Entwistle countering that, writing: “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.”

Then in an interview David Jordan, the BBC’s Head of Editorial Policy, said: “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.”

Mr Jones and Ms MacKean tell the programme makers their bosses wanted them to stand up a suggestion that Savile was not prosecuted because the Crown Prosecution Service thought he was too old and frail.

When it emerged that was not true and he was not prosecuted because of insufficient evidence the pair were told to abandon the investigation rather than get more proof, Panorama reports.

Ms MacKean said: “Ever since the decision was taken to shelve our story I’ve not been happy with public statements made by the BBC.

“I think they’re very misleading about the nature of the investigation we were doing.”

The Newsnight journalists had filmed Karin Ward, a key witness, in mid-November saying Savile abused her during her time at Duncroft approved school.

She also alleged she saw Gary Glitter having sex with another under-age girl from Duncroft on BBC premises.

Ms Ward has agreed that Panorama can broadcast clips from the interview for the first time in the programme Jimmy Savile: What the BBC Knew.

Newsnight quoted three other unnamed former Duncroft pupils who said they were also sexually abused by Savile. The script also included a report of sexual abuse of a teenager at Stoke Mandeville hospital.

Ms MacKean said Mr Rippon suddenly went cold on the story: “All I can say is that it was an abrupt change in tone from, you know, one day ‘excellent, let’s prepare to get this thing on air’ to ‘hold on’.”

Arguments resulted about how to proceed and Ms MacKean was left with the clear impression that her editor was feeling under pressure.

She wrote to a friend documenting a conversation she had with him: “PR (Peter Rippon) says if the bosses aren’t happy... (he) can’t go to the wall on this one.”

Ms MacKean told Panorama: “I was very unhappy the story didn’t run because I felt we’d spoken to people who collectively deserved to be heard and they weren’t heard and I thought that was a failing...I felt very much that I’d let them down.”

The programme also reveals that BBC Director of News Helen Boaden told Mr Entwistle - at that time Director of Vision - during an awards lunch on December 2 about the Newsnight investigation and its possible impact on planned tributes to Savile.

She told him that, if the Newsnight investigation went ahead, he might have to change the Christmas schedules, Panorama reports.

Mr Jones e-mailed Mr Rippon five days later to warn him about what would happen if the investigation was dropped.

“I was sure the story would come out one way or another and that, if it did, the BBC would be accused of a cover-up,” Mr Jones tells Panorama.

“In fact I wrote an email to Peter saying ‘the story is strong enough’ and the danger of not running it is ‘substantial damage to BBC reputation’.”

Two days later upon receiving confirmation from the CPS it did not prosecute the paedophile because of insufficient evidence, Mr Rippon decided to kill the investigation, Panorama reports.

Despite being asked for an interview Mr Entwistle, Ms Boaden, Stephen Mitchell deputy director of news, Mr Rippon and Mr Jordan did not respond to Panorama’s questions.

The Panorama investigation also hears new evidence of suspicions within the BBC about Savile’s activities as far back as the early 1970s.

Former Nationwide reporter, Bob Langley, was sent to cover one of Savile’s many charity runs for the programme.

On two occasions he spotted young girls coming out of Savile’s caravan. Langley tells Panorama: “They would be..I would say 12 or 13, they could have been 14, they certainly were not 15.

“After they had gone he indicated to me in a nudge, nudge wink wink sort of way that he had just had sex with them.

“I said something like - thinking it was a joke - ‘I think they’re a little bit on the young side for you Jimmy, eh’ to which he replied - and I can’t remember the exact words but it was something along the lines of ‘When you think that way you’re finished’.”

Langley has since questioned whether he should have said something at the time. He tells the programme: “Supposing I had gone to the police or to the BBC what would have happened?

“The answer is nothing would have happened, he would have said it was a joke, can’t you take a joke? And that would have been it.”

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