Inquiry fallout 'could paralyse BBC news'

The Culture Secretary ramped up the pressure on the BBC's director-general yesterday, by accusing the corporation of having "inappropriately pulled" a Newsnight investigation into Sir Jimmy Savile's sexual assaults on children.

Maria Miller's comments to MPs in the Commons, which appeared to pre-judge a series of inquiries into the affair, placed further scrutiny on George Entwistle, who has insisted that BBC management did not try to shelve the investigation. He has offered to appear before MPs next week to answer questions.

Aides to Ms Miller, who has been in her post for a month, later insisted that she had muddled her words.

As the Culture Secretary outlined three separate investigations into the BBC's handling of claims against the late presenter, and wider claims of sexual harassment at the BBC, its director of news, Helen Boaden, urged her staff to continue covering the story. She acknowledged that it was the source of "a lot of soul-searching" at the organisation. Although Mr Entwistle has said that he hopes to set the inquiries in motion as soon as possible, journalists are concerned that the BBC's news coverage could suffer because leading figures will be embroiled in preparing their explanations for why Newsnight failed to broadcast an investigation into the allegations against Savile. Ms Boaden, her deputy, Stephen Mitchell, and the editor of Newsnight, Peter Rippon, will be among those questioned in a review which Ms Miller said yesterday would be headed by a "completely independent figure with editorial expertise".

The Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine warned that it would be an "absolute scandal" if the BBC had shelved the Newsnight report so as not to taint planned tribute shows for the DJ, who died last October.

The scope of claims against the former DJ and charity fund-raiser widened yesterday when a firm of solicitors in Manchester said it had been contacted by at least a dozen victims who may take civil action.

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