The BBC was yesterday plunged into its ‘worst crisis in 50 years’ after damning emails revealed the full extent of its cover-up over the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Newsnight editor Peter Rippon stood down from his role after it emerged that the corporation had repeatedly ‘misled’ the public over why it axed an exposé showing that the DJ was a prolific sexual predator.A bombshell Panorama investigation to be screened tonight alleges that Mr Rippon was under huge pressure from his bosses to drop the Newsnight investigation into Savile in late 2011, shortly after the star’s death.
This was despite him being warned by journalists that doing so would cause ‘substantial damage to the BBC’s reputation’ and lead to allegations of a ‘cover-up’.BBC director-general George Entwistle – at the time the head of BBC Vision – was also warned that he might have to change his Christmas TV schedule if the Newsnight investigation was broadcast, because it could undermine glowing tribute programmes to Savile that had already been planned for the festive period.
Veteran BBC journalist John Simpson tells Panorama: ‘This is the worst crisis that I can remember in my nearly 50 years at the BBC.‘I don’t think the BBC has handled it terribly well. It’s better to just come out right at the start and say we’re going to open everything up and then we’re going to show everybody everything.‘All we have as an organisation is the trust of the people that watch us and listen to us and if we don’t have that, if we start to lose that, that’s very dangerous.’Officially, the BBC will wait for the outcome of an internal inquiry into why the Savile investigation was dropped before any decisions are confirmed about Mr Rippon’s future.
But last night it emerged that he agreed yesterday to step down from his role with immediate effect, and is unlikely to return to Newsnight.At the moment he has technically ‘stepped aside’ and it is likely he will take time off for some weeks before returning to the BBC in a different role.anorama’s extraordinary revelations will be broadcast tonight, less than 24 hours before Mr Entwistle faces a grilling by MPs over the scandal.MPs are also considering calling his predecessor, Mark Thompson, to give evidence.
Panorama tells how after Savile died aged 84 in October last year, Newsnight spent six weeks investigating allegations that the Top Of The Pops presenter abused pupils from Duncroft school in Surrey at the height of his fame in the 1970s. BBC journalists spoke to women who claimed they had been abused or had knowledge of abuse at the school, which shut in 1980.The Newsnight reporters who led the investigation told Panorama that Mr Rippon had initially been enthusiastic about the programme, praising as ‘excellent’ their discovery that in 2007 the police had investigated allegations of child sex by Savile.
But Newsnight reporter Liz MacKean said Mr Rippon suddenly went cold on the story, a switch she was convinced was because of pressure from above him at the BBC.A few days later the BBC’s head of news, Helen Boaden, told Mr Entwistle – who was at that time head of BBC Vision – about the Newsnight investigation and warned that if it went ahead it might affect the Christmas TV schedules.
Newsnight producer Meirion Jones, who was leading the Savile investigation, told Mr Rippon that the BBC would be accused of a ‘cover-up’ if they dropped the story, leading to ‘substantial damage’ to the BBC’s reputation.But after the Crown Prosecution Service told Newsnight that the reason it did not prosecute Savile in 2007 was because of lack of evidence, Mr Rippon decided to pull the investigation, explaining he did not think the story was ‘strong enough’.The Newsnight journalists were furious because the story was never meant to be about the police investigation, but about Savile’s abuse.
Miss MacKean said: ‘The story we were investigating was very clear-cut. It was about Jimmy Savile being a paedophile and using his status as a charity fundraiser and television presenter to get access to places where there were vulnerable teenage girls he could abuse.’She told Panorama that she has also been extremely unhappy about subsequent repeated ‘misleading’ statements by the BBC about their reasons for dropping the programme.
Savile was labelled ‘one of the most prolific sex offenders of all time’ last week after police revealed he may have abused up to 200 victims.Detectives are preparing to arrest the star’s suspected accomplices as part of the investigation, and plan to question surviving celebrities and former BBC staff linked to him.Those who face questioning may include paedophile pop star Gary Glitter, real name Paul Gadd, who is accused of raping a girl of 13 in Savile’s BBC dressing room.
Separate and less serious allegations concern comedian Freddie Starr. Starr, 69, yesterday again angrily denied claims he groped a 14-year-old girl after a Savile TV show.The BBC has announced two inquiries, one into its culture and practices, and another probing why Newsnight dropped its film.Mr Entwistle, Miss Boaden and Mr Rippon last night declined to comment on the Panorama programme. – Dailymail