Email trail: What the BBC bosses really knew


On 29 May 2010, Nick Vaughan-Barratt sent an email to George Entwistle (then the BBC’s Controller of Knowledge Commissioning):

“George, I understand jimmy [Savile] is very ill. We have no obit and I am not sure we would want one. What do you think.

“I have a personal interest here: my first job in TV was on a JS show – I know him well and saw the complex and sometimes conflicting nature of the man at first hand – if you know what I mean! Do you have an opinion? Mine is ironic, flawed and fascinating. But all a long time ago!”

He later said: “I’d feel v queasy about an obit. I saw the real truth!!!..”

Mr Entwistle was sent another email, this time by the BBC executive Jan Younghusband, saying:

“I gather we didn’t prepare the obit because of the darker side of the story. So something celebrating a particular part of his TV career is probably better than the [life] story as there are aspects of this which are hard to tell.”

Jeremy Paxman emailed Peter Rippon after ITV ran with Newsnight ’s dropped Savile investigation:

“I have to say, I think we make a problem for ourselves by running away from this story.

1. It’s everywhere.

2. It raises questions about the way in which the claims of child abuse victims are treated.

3. It raises serious questions about journalistic ethics – different burdens of proof for the living and the dead – which are slap-bang in our terrain.

4. We have a locus on the story, which needs explaining if we’re going to lay the ‘patsy’ accusation.

5. We have our own journalism. Even though we’d be very late starting on it, can I ask you to reconsider?”

Mr Rippon replied:

“I guess I may be guilty of self-censorship. In the end I just felt what we had … Forty year old contestable claims about a dead guy was not a NN story and not worth the fuss.”

Mr Paxman claimed that dropping the investigation into Savile “must have been a corporate decision (whatever your blog says)” – an accusation Mr Pollard rejected.

23 November: The Deputy Director  of BBC News, Stephen Mitchell, referred to the tribute programmes and said that his boss, Helen Boaden, ought to alert Mr Entwistle to the Newsnight investigation as a “kindness to George to tip him off early because he would have to change the [Christmas] schedule if the investigation went ahead as we thought it would. And he could start thinking about that earlier rather than later”.

Ms Boaden regarded this as “perfectly sensible”.