BBC boss denies cover-up over Savile sexual abuse claims

City A.M. Reporter
THE head of the BBC yesterday denied helping to cover up sexual abuse by one of its former stars but accepted the broadcaster had been damaged by a scandal that has shaken public trust in a national institution.

George Entwistle, who was announced as the 90-year-old media organisation’s new boss in August, told MPs that failures at the BBC had allowed Jimmy Savile, once one of the channel’s top TV presenters, to prey on young girls for years.

He added he could not rule out suggestions that a paedophile ring might have existed at the state-funded BBC during the height of Savile’s fame in the 1970s and 80s.

But Entwistle rejected claims that BBC bosses had tried to hide allegations against Savile, who died last year, or suppressed an inquiry by one of their own news programs.

“This is a gravely serious matter and one cannot look back at it with anything other than horror,” Entwistle told parliament’s culture and media select committee.

“There is no question that ... the culture and practices of the BBC seemed to allow Jimmy Savile to do what he did, [which] will raise questions of trust for us and reputation for us.”

Police are investigating allegations that the eccentric, cigar-chomping Savile, who hosted prime-time children’s shows on the BBC, abused girls as young as 12 over six decades, with some of the attacks taking place on BBC premises.

The most damaging aspect for Entwistle and senior staff was the accusation that a similar probe by the BBC’s Newsnight show was pulled a couple of months after Savile’s death in October 2011 because it would clash with planned Christmas programs celebrating his life and charity work.

Entwistle’s predecessor as the BBC’s director general, Mark Thompson, who is the New York Times’s incoming chief executive, said the Newsnight investigation was mentioned to him by a journalist at a drinks party last year, but he was later told it was not going ahead for journalistic reasons.

“I was never formally notified about the Newsnight investigation and was not briefed about the allegations they were examining and to what extent, if at all, those allegations related to Savile’s work at the BBC,” he said.