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Wednesday 17 September 2014

BBC censors accusations about Jimmy Savile's sex crimes

Published 22/02/2013 | 09:04

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The decision by Newsnight to shelve its probe into sexual abuse claims against Jimmy Savile was 'seriously flawed', a report found

DETAILED accusations about Jimmy Savile's sex crimes were censored after viewers tried to post them on a BBC tribute web page.

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The comments, which included one person who wrote "One of my best friends in 1972 was molested by this creep Savile. He was never the same again. Killed himself in 1985. How's About That Then?", were stopped from being published by a team of moderators employed by the corporation.

The details were included in thousands of pages of evidence gathered during an inquiry by former journalist Nick Pollard into Newsnight's decision to drop its Savile investigation which were published today by the BBC.

A transcript of an interview between Mr Pollard and former director general George Entwistle refers to examples of the comments, including one person who wrote: "He was a paedophile. You may not like the truth but he was. It will all tumble out now."

Another wrote: "Sorry to rain on the parade of all the well-wishers, but he was infamous in Scarborough. I would not have been letting my son sit on his knee."

During his interview, Mr Entwistle said he thought moderators may have been affected by "anxiety" after details of a hoax, which claimed Savile had been challenged about his crimes on an episode of Have I Got News For You, were published online.

He told Mr Pollard: "I have seen an email where moderators are put on alert about not publishing stuff that is to do with this hoax, I think that might be part of the story about the pre-conditioning of their minds about how to treat critical material."

Some 3,000 pages of emails, interviews and submissions from BBC executives and journalists, including Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, were made available online in what the BBC said was a bid to be "open and transparent".

The amount of traffic to the website crashed it this morning shortly after publication.

Acting director-general Tim Davie said : "The BBC has been open and transparent in its handling of this unhappy chapter in our history. It has not been an entirely comfortable process for us to go through but it is right that we did it this way.

"It is important that the BBC now moves forward with the lessons learned and continues to regain the public's trust."

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten pledged at the time of the report's publication that all the evidence would be released, apart from some redactions for "legal reasons". Legal teams are said to have been sorting through the evidence for several weeks, deciding what should be made public.

The BBC said today that roughly 3% had been redacted.

Pollard - a former Sky News executive - was appointed to head the review late last year to look into whether management failings were behind the decision to cancel a six week investigation into abuse claims against Savile in December 2011, weeks before a Christmas tribute was broadcast.

The scandal last year claimed the scalp of Mr Entwistle little over 50 days into the job.

A separate Newsnight investigation last summer led to Lord McAlpine being wrongly accused of child abuse.

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said: "These documents paint a very unhappy picture, but the BBC needs to be open - more open than others would be - in confronting the facts that lie behind Nick Pollard's report.

"A limited amount of text has been blacked out for legal reasons, but no-one could say that the effect has been to sanitise this material, which again puts a spotlight on some of our failings.

"We need to acknowledge these shortcomings and learn from them."

In one email headed "Jimmy Savile - paedophile", producer Meirion Jones, who was involved in establishing the axed Newsnight report, flagged up the idea of an investigation just hours after the presenter's death was announced.

He proposed the suggestion, possibly for Panorama, because he said some of the girls who had been molested by Savile were ready to talk about their experiences.

He wrote: "Some of the girls are now prepared to talk about this which might make a core to a film about what Jimmy Savile really got up to - and of course he's dead so he can't sue."

His emails also contain vivid transcripts of the sexual activities in which girls at Duncroft approved school - where Savile was a regular visitor - were encouraged to take part.

In another email, which had already been made public, BBC executive Nick Vaughan-Barratt said he felt uncomfortable about preparing a BBC obituary for Savile.

He wrote: "I'd feel v queasy about obit. I saw the real truth."

Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman told the inquiry "the important question" was how Savile had been allowed to rise to prominence within the BBC.

He said: "What was the BBC doing promoting this absurd figure, this absurd and malign figure? And I think that has to do with the fact of the BBC having been aloof from popular culture for so long.

"Suddenly pirate radio comes along and all these people in metaphorical cardigans suddenly have to deal with an influx - once pirate radio, once pop radio is legalised, they suddenly have to deal with an influx of people from a very, very different culture and they never got control of them and I'm not sure even now they have."

Former director general Mark Thompson told the inquiry he had been approached about the Newsnight investigation by BBC journalist Caroline Hawley during a Christmas drinks party in 2011.

He said: "I remember seeing Caroline at the party because I had seen her in Tripoli, in Libya some period shortly before. But the phrase that stuck in my mind is, 'You must be worried about the Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile'."

Mr Thompson said the "casual remark" had not worried him because "at this point the name Jimmy Savile doesn't ring alarm bells".

He said: "The editor-in-chief role, it is a little bit like the Lord Chief Justice meeting someone at a cocktail party who says, 'You must be worried about this murder trial that is going on in Liverpool'.

"There isn't a way of engaging with it which is going to be helpful. The right thing to do is to take away the thought and to check it out, as it were, with the relevant part of the organisation, rather than sort of sailing into a 'Really do tell me more' sort of thing."

Mr Thompson said he did not regard Savile as "a kind of BBC person particularly" and said he would have been more worried if the investigation had been into a current member of staff.

He said: "I mean he was someone who, you know, had not broadcast regularly for many. many years. So there was no kind of corporate alarm bell going about, you know, this".

The emails show that at one stage a date - December 7 2011 - had been pencilled in for the screening of the Newsnight investigation, until programme editor Peter Rippon decided the report needed to focus on whether the Crown Prosecution Service had dropped a probe into Savile's activities.

A lengthy "treatment" for the item is also among the items released today, going into detail about all the elements of the report.

Meirion Jones warned just days before the planned broadcast that it should go ahead because otherwise the BBC would be accused of a "cover-up" and a scandal could blow up.

He wrote: "I think if we go ahead with TX next week there will be minor embarrassment to the BBC. If we cancel or delay till after Christmas there is a risk of another BBC scandal on the scale of the Queen or Jonathan Ross and similar damage to our core value of trust."

He urged the broadcast to go ahead because he said it would come out eventually, adding: "We know News International are all over this story.

"Some of the victims were called by Sky."

On the proposed day of transmission, editor Peter Rippon was still unsatisfied with progress on the report, saying in one email to a news publicist: "We have been looking at the story but it is far from clear that it will ever be strong enough for us even to run it. I am not satisfied that it is."

By December 9, the decision was taken to not pursue the story any further when the CPS said its investigation had been curtailed due to a lack of evidence.

In another email Mr Rippon suggested that ITV's decision to commission a documentary into Savile's abuse would make the commercial broadcaster less rigorous than the BBC.

"The danger for ITN here is that what this really shows is that the rigour and standards of proof we apply to our journalism is much higher than their own. Someone needs to make that clear to them," he wrote.

A now discredited blog posted by Mr Rippon to clarify the decisions behind the Newsnight decision-making prompted an exchange of emails with the show's presenter Jeremy Paxman, who pointed out it failed to address may of the issues.

But Mr Paxman went on to express his sympathies for the way the programme editor seemed to be carrying the can.

He wrote: "Just for the record I think it is very unfair (and sadly not at all untypical) that the BBC has dumped all this on one individual. It will pass. But I think the BBC's behaviour now is almost as contemptible as it was then."

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