13 Oct 2012

Threats of legal action as Savile scandal spreads

As the BBC and government struggle to contain the fury surrounding Jimmy Savile, the head of child protection agency Ceop tells Channel 4 News there could be a probe into the police’s response.

The BBC has already announced two investigations into the Savile scandal and now the Department of Health is to probe how he became head of a taskforce overseeing the Broadmoor Hospital in 1988.

“In hindsight he should very obviously not have been appointed. Had anyone involved in the appointment been aware of allegations of abuse against Savile, we would not have expected him to have been appointed,” it said in a statement.

Ken Clarke, who was health secretary at the time, told Channel 4 News: “I have no recollection of ever having met Jimmy Savile and no recollection of these events. The Department of Health is rightly now investigating to establish the facts.”

Meanwhile, the University of Bedfordshire announced it had stripped the late performer of an honorary degree awarded for his charity work.

Just as we may invite other organisations to do, we might need to take a long hard look at ourselves. Ceop Chief Executive, Peter Davies

“It was given in good faith in 2009 without the knowledge of the current very serious allegations. In this light, the University of Bedfordshire has confirmed that the honorary award should be rescinded,” the university said in an e-mailed statement.

The chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) agency, which is assessing the scale of the claims against Savile, said there could be an investigation into the police response to the scandal “if that’s where the information leads us”.

Peter Davies told Channel 4 News: “Just as we may invite other organisations to do, we might need to take a long hard look at ourselves … to make sure the best possible service is provided to victims in the future.”

‘Profound apology’

BBC Director General George Entwistle last night repeated his “profound and heartfelt” apology as he announced two inquiries, the first into BBC culture and the second into the BBC’s decision to drop a Newsnight programme investigating claims of abuse by the former children’s TV presenter.

As police said they now have 340 potential lines of inquiry and 40 potential victims, there were threats of legal action by some who allege they were victims of the broadcaster, who died in 2011 at age 84.

Personal injury solicitor Liz Dux said she has been contacted by several people but declined to say who they planned to sue or when. Any damages would be uncapped and could include compensation for psychiatric injury, pain and suffering based on the impact on victim’s life and their ability to work, she said.

The BBC, the government, or even a charity could be found to have vicarious liability regardless of whether they were unaware of Mr Savile’s actions if he was acting as an employee or a volunteer, Ms Dux told Channel 4 News today.

“If someone is acting as your employee or agent in very close connection then you can be responsible for their action,” she said in a telephone interview.

BBC probe

Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, called for the BBC to immediately disclose all the evidence relating to Newsnight: “The government needs to take the inquiry out of the BBC’s hands. This is really damaging the BBC.”

BBC Director General George Entwistle said the broadcaster’s inquiries – commissioned by the BBC executive board – would be chaired by independent external experts to be announced next week. The inquiries would also relate to sexual harassment at the BBC.

“Next week I will have news about how we will deal with allegations of sexual harassment. I will give you more details of this as soon as I have them. I remain confident our existing policies are working effectively to deal with any such problems,” he said.

Independent inquiry

Sir Christopher Bland, chairman of the BBC board of governors from 1996 to 2001, told BBC radio that it was important the investigations be led by a figure with “stature”.

“It is right to order an investigation for the reasons George Entwistle has given, that there is so much speculation and it will now only be allayed by a clear and detailed and independent inquiry chaired by someone with stature that is respected by the outside world,” Sir Christopher said.

“Editorial independence at the BBC is so strong that the idea that a programme was pulled because of intervention on high is, I believe, absolutely impossible. Or I hope it’s impossible – it needs to be confirmed by an inquiry.”

“But plainly the suspicion is there and the inquiry in to Newsnight may find those suspicions to be justified or, much more likely I think, they will be found to be absolutely unfounded.”