BBC chief to be grilled over Savile scandalBy Danny Kemp
LONDON—The BBC’s chief faces a grilling from legislators Tuesday, a day after one of his editors—who had dropped an investigation into sex abuse claims against a top BBC star—stepped aside.
Director General George Entwhistle will appear before a parliamentary committee to answer questions about the growing scandal surrounding the late Jimmy Savile, once one of the corporation’s biggest names.
Prime Minister David Cameron expressed concern Monday over the BBC’s handling of sex abuse claims against Savile.
And Peter Rippon, editor of the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Newsnight, became the first senior figure inside the corporation to be toppled by the unfolding scandal.
Late last year, he dropped a Newsnight investigation into sex abuse claims against Savile.
A few hours after Rippon stepped aside, another BBC television programme, its flagship investigative unit Panorama, revealed more compromising details of the affair.
In particular, it carried claims from a lawyer for some of Savile’s victims that there was evidence of a paedophile ring within the corporation during the star’s heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.
Earlier Monday, the BBC conceded that a blog posting by Rippon, in which he had said a show about Savile was dropped last December for editorial reasons, was “inaccurate or incomplete in some respects” and had been corrected.
Cameron gave his response to reporters soon after.
“The nation is appalled, we’re all appalled by the allegations of what Jimmy Savile did and they seem to get worse by the day,” Cameron told reporters.
“The developments today are concerning because the BBC has effectively changed its story about why it dropped the Newsnight programme about Jimmy Savile.”
British police have launched a separate criminal investigation.
Savile, who with his jangling jewellery and shiny tracksuits was one of British television’s best-known stars, died last November aged 84.
The BBC’s Panorama programme asked why the broadcaster had pulled the Newsnight feature at a time when it was preparing to broadcast a tribute to the presenter over Christmas in 2011.
It did not produce hard evidence that the piece had been shelved under pressure from senior managers.
But it did interview Karin Ward, who had told Newsnight she had been a victim of Savile’s abuse.
Ward told Newsnight how upset she had been at the decision to pull the item, saying she felt it was “…because someone at the top didn’t believe me”.
And Liz Dux, a lawyer for Savile’s alleged victims, told the show that “there are serious allegations a paedophile ring was operating” at the BBC during Savile’s tenure.
BBC ‘regrets’ errors
In the corrections posted by the BBC on Monday, the broadcaster said Rippon had incorrectly said in his blog that the corporation had no evidence that anyone from a children’s home linked to the scandal knew about the abuse.
And while Rippon had said there was no evidence that the corporation knew of Savile’s activities at the time, there were in fact allegations of abuse on BBC premises, it added.
The BBC also conceded that some of those who had reported abuse by Savile in interviews with Newsnight had not spoken to police: Rippon had initially insisted that all of them had.
“The BBC has announced that Peter Rippon is stepping aside with immediate effect from his post,” the statement said. “The BBC regrets these errors…,” it added.
Entwhistle was only appointed to the top BBC job this summer. Some legislators are calling for his predecessor, Mark Thompson, to be summoned to face questions in parliament about how much he knew of the scandal.
He is due to start as CEO of the New York Times in November.
Panorama has kept up the pressure on the broadcaster from the inside.
The Savile scandal has snowballed since a programme by the BBC’s commercial rival ITV aired allegations about the entertainer by a handful of women two weeks ago.
Scotland Yard says it now believes there may be 200 victims. It has also said it is investigating suspects who are still alive.