Sunday 24 September 2017

Newsnight editor said: 'Savile girls were not too young'

Gordon Rayner and Christopher Hope

Peter Rippon, the editor of 'Newsnight', is said to have played down the importance of an investigation into Jimmy Savile's alleged child abuse, saying the victims were "teenagers, not too young", according to a leaked email written by one of his staff.

Liz MacKean, the reporter who put together 'Newsnight's' investigation into Savile after his death last year, told a friend that Mr Rippon allegedly said Savile's crimes "weren't the worst kind of sexual offences".

The email, obtained by 'Channel 4 News', is one of several written by Ms MacKean at the time of the investigation, which were censored by BBC lawyers overseeing last night's Panorama investigation into the fiasco.

In the email, written last December, Ms MacKean claims: "Having commissioned the story, Peter Rippon keeps saying he's lukewarm about it and is trying to kill it by making impossible editorial demands.

"When we rebut his points, he resorts to saying: 'well, it was 40 years ago . . . the girls were teenagers, not too young . . . they weren't the worst kind of sexual offences etc'.

"He hasn't warned BBC1 about the story, so they're beavering away on the special, oblivious."

The email throws Mr Rippon's future further into doubt after he stepped aside from his post, but the final sentence of the email could prove crucial in the row over whether pressure was applied on Mr Rippon from above to drop the investigation.

Senior managers are likely to seize on the fact that Ms MacKean was telling her friend her belief that Mr Rippon had gone "lukewarm" on the story while BBC1 heads preparing tribute programmes to Savile were still "oblivious" to the 'Newsnight' probe.

The BBC declined to comment on the leaked email.

Meanwhile as many as nine BBC staff, including current employees, face allegations of child sex abuse, the BBC director-general told MPs yesterday.

George Entwistle said that "between eight and 10" former and current BBC staff and contributors had been named by alleged victims.

The BBC later said the exact figure was nine, but could not specify how many of those people were still working.

Mr Entwistle also disclosed that an investigation into why 'Newsnight' axed a film exposing Savile's child abuse could take six weeks to report its conclusions.

During a testy two-hour appearance before the culture, media and sport select committee, Mr Entwistle repeatedly denied influencing the decision to drop the film.

He heaped blame on Peter Rippon and said it had been a mistake to discontinue the programme's Savile probe.

MPs accused him of a "lamentable lack of knowledge" about what was going on at the BBC.

As he left the committee room, Mr Entwistle refused to answer questions from reporters about whether he now expected to resign.

Mr Entwistle said Savile's alleged behaviour had been possible because of a "broader cultural problem" at the BBC but there was insufficient evidence yet to say whether or not abuse was "endemic".

'Concealed'

He claimed Savile "was very skilful and successfully concealed" abuse, despite a number of BBC employees telling 'Panorama' Savile's appetite for under-age girls was well known.

Mr Entwistle left no doubt that he felt Peter Rippon was solely to blame for shelving the investigation, but he did not know Mr Rippon's reasons, because he had not asked him.

Asked by Ben Bradshaw MP if he had spoken to Mr Rippon, he said: "No, I have observed the chain of command," and spoken only to Mr Rippon's boss, head of news Helen Boaden.

"Has Helen Boaden asked him that question?" Mr Bradshaw asked.

"I don't know," he replied. "Helen's only conversation (with Mr Rippon) was to remind him that just because Jimmy Savile was dead there couldn't be any skimping in journalistic standards."

"The decision was made by Peter Rippon on his own account," he said.

An independent review would establish "what was going on in his mind at the time". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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