Review slams BBC over Savile report but says no cover-up

Agence France-Presse
An official report on Wednesday, December 19, strongly criticized the BBC's handling of allegations of child sex abuse against late presenter Jimmy Savile, but cleared the world's biggest broadcaster of a cover-up

CRITICAL REPORT. Former Sky News executive Nick Pollard (R), speaks during a press conference at BBC Broadcasting House in London on December 19, 2012 alongside (L-R) ) Alison Hastings Chair of the BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee, acting director-general Tim Davie, BBC Senior Independent Director Fiona Reynolds and BBC Trust Chairman Chris Patten, on the release of the Pollard Report into the BBC's handling of the child-sex abuse claims against late presenter Jimmy Savile. AFP PHOTO / POOL / CHRIS RADBURN

LONDON, United Kingdom – An official report on Wednesday, December 19, strongly criticized the BBC’s handling of allegations of child sex abuse against late presenter Jimmy Savile, but cleared the world’s biggest broadcaster of a cover-up.

The findings by an independent inquiry sparked the resignation of the BBC’s deputy director of news, and led to the editor and deputy editor of the program at the centre of the scandal being replaced.

The report exposed the “chaos and confusion” at the BBC although it dismissed claims that its flagship current affairs program Newsnight dropped an investigation into Savile so as not to jeopardize Christmas tribute shows to him.

The BBC commissioned the inquiry by former Sky News executive Nick Pollard in October during a major crisis at the corporation that cost then-director-general George Entwistle his job.

Savile, who died last year at the age of 84, was one of the BBC’s top TV and radio presenters.

The child abuse claims were first made public by rival broadcaster ITV two months ago and since then police have identified 199 crimes in which Savile is a suspect, including 31 alleged rapes.

Newsnight first had evidence of the allegations a year ago, shortly after Savile’s death, but it dropped the story after just a few weeks.

The Pollard report found no evidence to support claims that this was to avoid an embarrassing clash with planned Christmas tributes to the late star.

But it criticized the decision to drop the probe and the BBC’s failure to deal with the ensuing crisis at the broadcaster, which it said was plagued by infighting and a “critical lack of leadership and coordination”.

“The decision to drop the original investigation was flawed and the way it was taken was wrong but I believe it was done in good faith. It was not done to protect the Savile tribute programs or for any improper reason,” Pollard said.

“In my view, the most worrying aspect of the Jimmy Savile story for the BBC was not the decision to drop the story itself. It was the complete inability to deal with the events that followed.”

BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong, said the BBC accepted the review in its “entirety” and looked at the failings of the corporation with “pretty searing honesty”.

‘Clear failings’

In an email to staff, acting director-general Tim Davie welcomed the finding that there was no cover-up but acknowledged the report had exposed “clear failings” which must now be addressed.

He announced a shake-up of staff at Newsnight, saying the program’s editor, Peter Rippon, and deputy editor, Liz Gibbons, would move to other BBC jobs.

And he said Stephen Mitchell was resigning as deputy director of BBC news and would leave next year after 38 years with the corporation.

Mitchell had stood aside pending the Pollard review, and was criticized in Wednesday’s report for removing Newsnight’s Savile investigation from an internal BBC list that flagged up controversial stories.

Mitchell’s boss, director of news Helen Boaden, keeps her job despite being criticized for failing to take greater responsibility as the crisis grew.

Davie later told Newsnight that it had been a “particularly bad and sorry saga” but defended the lack of sackings.

“My job is not to just dismiss people, my job is to make a fair and balanced assessment of the facts,” he said.

“The idea that you have to sack someone to lead to cultural change I think is just flawed.”

The report also revealed that when Savile was ill a BBC executive had emailed Entwistle before he became director general to urge against preparing an obituary for the late presenter because of concerns about “the darker side” of his life.

Entwistle said he never read that email and Pollard said he found nothing to suggest anyone preparing the tribute programs was aware of the rumors or allegations about Savile.

London police on Wednesday arrested an eighth person in connection with the Savile abuse probe, who was identified by media as the star’s former producer.

The scandal over Newsnight’s dropped investigation was compounded when the program broadcast a television report last month which wrongly implicated a senior former Conservative politician, Alistair McAlpine, in child sex abuse.

The BBC was forced to apologize and pay substantial damages to McAlpine, and Entwistle resigned as director-general after only 54 days in the job.

He will be replaced by former BBC news chief and current Royal Opera House chief Tony Hall in March.

A further investigation is ongoing into what the BBC knew about Savile’s activities during his time there. – Alice Ritchie, Agence France-Presse