The head of the BBC was mocked by MPs over his lack of knowledge of the Jimmy Savile child-abuse scandal yesterday, as the organisation admitted that current employees and contributors are being investigated over nine fresh claims of sexual harassment, assault and inappropriate conduct.
George Entwistle, the BBC Director-General, admitted that a Newsnight investigation into sex abuse carried out by Jimmy Savile while he worked at the corporation should never have been dropped.
At a House of Commons hearing, he was accused by MPs of displaying "an extraordinary lack of curiosity" in the Savile case as he claimed he only learned of the Newsnight story while eating at an event in a London hotel. "It was a busy lunch – I didn't want to show undue interest," he told the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport.
The BBC yesterday issued a statement saying that a number of its staff were under investigation. "We are currently aware of nine allegations of sexual harassment, assault or inappropriate conduct regarding current staff or contributors," it said. "Some of these cases have been passed to the police where appropriate."
It emerged yesterday that Liz MacKean, one of two BBC journalists working on the Savile investigation, believed the story was quashed after Peter Rippon, the editor of Newsnight, questioned whether the witnesses were really victims. She claimed in an email leaked to Channel 4 News that he told her "the girls were teenagers, not too young… they weren't the worst kind of sexual offences".
Mr Rippon has been made to stand aside pending an internal BBC inquiry. Mr Entwistle was scathing of Mr Rippon's comment in an email to his journalists that the Savile story was based on evidence from "just the women". The Director-General said: "The phrase, on the face of it, is not the least defensible."
Mr Entwistle was asked about claims that a paedophile ring was in operation at the BBC, but said that while he had heard of allegations, it was a matter for the police to investigate. He recalled his brief exchange with Ms Boaden over Savile in 2011 which took place at a lunch for the equal opportunities group Women in Film and Television. He said she told him: "I wanted to tell you that Newsnight are looking at Jimmy Savile and if it comes off, if it stands up, it may have an impact on your Christmas schedule."
Two Jimmy Savile-related charities – the Jimmy Savile Charitable Trust and the Jimmy Savile Stoke Mandeville Hospital Trust – are to close.