Leaked email casts doubt of BBC’s explanation for dropping probe into disgraced DJ
The investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile while he was working at the BBC took another twist today.
A leaked internal email which cast doubt on the corporation's stated reason for cancelling a Newsnight investigation into the claims against the late DJ appeared in The Times newspaper.
Disclosure of the document would increase suspicions that the report was dropped last December because the BBC feared it would clash with planned Christmas tributes to one of its biggest stars, the newspaper said.
But a spokeswoman for the BBC dismissed the email as "simply an exchange between a junior press officer and the Newsnight producer asking for further information about the Jimmy Savile investigation".
The email, dated December 7, reveals that Newsnight journalists had been "focusing on allegations of abuse" and not, as subsequently claimed by the BBC, on an alleged failure by police to investigate Savile properly, it added.
The email, sent from a press officer to Newsnight editor Peter Rippon and other staff, reveals that the Newsnight investigation was so well advanced by then that the press office was preparing "lines to take" to respond to questions after its planned broadcast.
And it shows that the BBC was aware of the risk that the report would raise questions about why it had failed to expose Savile as a paedophile while he was alive, the newspaper said.
The press officer wrote that "we may well need to do a bit of managing around this" and that "we should bear in mind how BBC complaints team respond".
Rippon has previously claimed that the story his journalists had been pursuing had been "weakened from a Newsnight perspective" because they had been unable to establish any "institutional failure" by the police or the Crown Prosecution Service.
Rob Wilson, the Conservative MP for Reading East, who obtained the email, said: "Newsnight editor Peter Rippon and the BBC have sought to portray that the axed Newsnight report was not an expose of Savile, but was focused on the reasons the police and the CPS dropped their investigation.
"This leaked email and the evidence from internal BBC sources casts doubt on the carefully crafted version of events posted in Peter Rippon's blog on October 2.
"We need a full explanation of why the focus of the Newsnight expose of Jimmy Savile was abruptly changed at the last minute."
Responding to the leaked email, the BBC spokeswoman said: "This ridiculous story in no way casts doubt on what the BBC has previously said on this.
"It is simply an exchange between a junior press officer and the Newsnight producer asking for further information about the Jimmy Savile investigation."
She added that the email would be passed to the inquiry into whether there were any failings in the way the Newsnight report was handled.
Ex-Sky News executive Nick Pollard is to lead the BBC's independent review into the matter while former High Court judge Dame Janet Smith will lead a second examination into the "culture and practices of the BBC" during the years Savile worked there.
The disclosures about Savile's private life were made in an ITV documentary a fortnight ago.
Around 60 people have now come forward to say they were a victim of the veteran DJ, TV presenter and charity campaigner.
Police believe the disgraced star, who died a year ago, may have been abusing victims for decades.
The BBC and other bodies could be sued by victims if it can be shown they were negligent in allowing Savile to prey on his young victims.
A Department of Health investigation will also be conducted into Savile's conduct during his charity work at three hospitals - Stoke Mandeville, Broadmoor and Leeds General Infirmary.
Labour has called for an independent inquiry as the fall-out from the revelations continues.
BBC director general George Entwistle and former corporation stalwart Esther Rantzen have become involved as questions are asked about who knew of the rumours about Savile, what and when they heard about them, and whether enough was done to stop him.