Published on 23 Oct 2012 Sections

Savile: BBC probing up to 10 ‘serious allegations’

BBC Director-General George Entwistle tells MPs up to 10 “serious allegations” are being investigated and that the corporation’s previous practices seemed “to allow” Jimmy Savile to abuse young girls.

Appearing in front of the culture media and sport select committee, Mr Entwistle also said a Newsnight investigation into claims that Savile sexually abused young people should have been allowed to continue. He denied Newsnight editor Peter Rippon had been ordered to pull the programme.

He revealed that past and present BBC employees were being investigated following the allegations against Savile. This included sexual harassment claims against serving employees, but Mr Entwistle said he could not say how many people were involved.

“We are looking at between five and 10 serious allegations relating to activities over the whole period in question, the Savile period,” he said.

Mr Entwistle said the BBC’s reputation had been damaged by the scandal.

‘Gravely serious matter’

“There’s no question that what Jimmy Savile did and the way the BBC behaved… the culture and practices of the BBC seems to allow Jimmy Savile to do what he did, will raise question of trust for us and reputation for us. There’s no question about that.

“It is a gravely serious matter and one cannot look back at it with anything but horror that his activities went on as long as they did undetected.”

Mr Entwistle said it had been wrong to discontinue a Newsnight investigation into Savile, the subject of a BBC Panorama programme on Monday night.

“I came away from Panorama firmly of the view that that investigation, even if, in the judgment of the editor, it wasn’t ready for transmission at the point he was looking at it, should have been allowed to continue.”

Despite the furore, Mr Entwistle said he did not accept the corporation had mishandled its response to the allegations against Savile.

“I would accept that there have been times when we have taken longer to do things than in a perfect world I would have liked.

“But I think if you looked at what we have achieved since the scale of the crisis became clear, I think you see we have done much of what we should have done and done it in the right order and with proper respect paid to the right authorities.”

‘Stepped aside’

Mr Entwistle appeared in front of MPs the day after Peter Rippon “stepped aside” as editor of Newsnight.

The BBC said on Monday that his previous explanation of why the programme had dropped its investigation into Savile was “inaccurate or incomplete”.

Earlier this month, Mr Rippon defended his decision to axe the report in a BBC blog, which suggested the Newsnight investigation was principally into the handling of a Surrey police inquiry into Saville and implied that the programme had not unearthed significant new information.

Mr Entwistle said it was “deeply regrettable” that the blog proved to be inaccurate.

“What I relied upon is something that in my BBC career I’ve always been able to rely upon, which is the editor of a programme having a full grip and understanding of an investigation they were in charge of,” he said.

“In this case that doesn’t appear to have been the case, and that is disappointing.”

He said the decision of what material went to air on the BBC was for the editor of an individual programme, and not for him as editor-in-chief.

Mr Entwistle said a review by the former head of Sky News, Nick Pollard, would look at why the investigation was pulled.

“One of the questions it’s important for the Pollard review to ask is why was the investigation stopped rather than being allowed to continue, and then there’s the question of what should have happened corporately with the information that investigation had discovered.”