The BBC's Director-General, George Entwistle, was facing questions about his judgement last night after it emerged that he chose to broadcast a tribute to Jimmy Savile despite being warned by senior executives that it was compromised by a Newsnight investigation into the DJ's sex abuse.
The extent of Mr Entwistle's knowledge of the shelved investigation is revealed in an explosive BBC Panorama documentary to be aired tonight.John Simpson, the BBC foreign editor, described the scandal engulfing the Corporation as "the worst crisis that I can remember in my nearly 50 years at the BBC". The Panorama programme also reveals that reporters working on the Savile story believed that Newsnight's editor Peter Rippon, who last night denied reports that he had resigned, was under pressure from the highest echelons of the Corporation to abandon their probe. Mr Entwistle is also accused of misleading the public by claiming that the ditched investigation had focused on Surrey Police's inquiry into Savile, rather than the sex abuse allegations.
The Panorama special, which screens tonight at 10.35pm, claims Helen Boaden, the BBC director of news, warned Mr Entwistle about the investigation and its possible impact on planned tributes to Savile.
During the conversation in December 2011, when Mr Entwistle was director of vision, Ms Boaden said that if the Newsnight investigation went ahead he might have to change the Christmas schedules. But despite the conversation, the tribute programmes were still aired, without mention of the child abuse claims.
The BBC rushed tonight's Panorama special into the schedules, dropping the planned edition that was to focus on gambling, and editors were still working on it late last night.
It exposes the anger of those working on the Newsnight investigation at Mr Entwistle's public statement that it had focused on Surrey Police's inquiry. He made the claim on 5 October, while explaining why the BBC had not published the sex abuse allegations later exposed by ITV.
Meirion Jones, the Newsnight producer, immediately emailed Mr Entwistle to say: "George – one note – the investigation was into whether Jimmy Savile was a paedophile – I know because it was my investigation. "We didn't know that Surrey Police had investigated Jimmy Savile – no one did – that was what we found when we investigated and interviewed his victims."
Mr Entwistle is to face MPs tomorrow at a Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Neither he nor Ms Boaden, or senior members of the team, responded to questions from Panorama. The Newsnight journalists claim they were close to a transmission date when they were halted by Mr Rippon.
Liz MacKean, a Newsnight reporter said: "Since the decision was taken to shelve our story, I've not been happy with public statements made by the BBC. I think they're very misleading."
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