'It was common gossip Jimmy Savile liked young girls'
In this series of damning interviews, the BBC inquiry reveals the full extent of managers’ paralysis in the face of the Jimmy Savile scandal
Friday 22 February 2013
Then Newsnight Editor
Asked why he had felt so “lukewarm” about running the sensational investigation into some of Jimmy Savile's sex crimes, Mr Rippon said: “It was a combination of a feeling in my stomach that these stories … can be very difficult to pull off … and doing it so soon after his death was going to compound that.
“I felt that you need to be careful in the climate immediately after somebody's death about doing these kinds of stories... There are often difficulties with the strength of testimony … They are not easy to land and Newsnight is not a programme that has a massive amount of resources, so if you are going to jump into something you need to be – to think carefully about what kind of outcome you are likely to get.”
On the notoriously inaccurate blog that appeared under his name, which misled the public about the Newsnight investigation into Savile's crimes, Rippon said:
“Since Hutton there is a very strict compliance process around anything which is published by editors in the BBC's name. So … any blog that I write has to be signed off by my line manager and agreed by the press department… I'm not allowed to publish anything written in the form of a blog without it being signed off corporately.”
Then Director of BBC News
“Since this, I think, was about three weeks after Jimmy Savile had died I thought it was one of those slightly tabloid-esque stories involving groupies.
“I took the strong impression from my conversation with Steve [Mitchell, her deputy head of news] that actually this was smoke without fire largely. And I think I was affected in this by the assumption that stuff like this comes out when celebrities die, which may be wrong on my part, but I think that had to some extent conditioned the way I saw it.”
On her conversation with the Newsnight editor about its planned exposé of Savile's sex crimes: “The thing that was always critical for me in this very short conversation was that because Jimmy Savile was dead was not a reason for lowering what I regard as BBC editorial standards.”
MacKean claims in her evidence that Newsnight deputy editor Liz Gibbons “said to Meirion [Jones], 'I don't want to piss off Danny Cohen', the controller of BBC1. So that clearly indicated that she was, you know, seeing which way the wind was blowing and realising there was going to be a big fuss.
“These were such serious claims about a public figure involving the BBC – I mean that was clearly a huge thing, not just that he had been a BBC employee but he had actually operated on BBC premises.
“It was killed. In that way it was unlike the normal approach to stories... Generally, if you are not there with a story you keep going.
“I was very unhappy about the blog, which I regarded as a completely false account of events and total misleading of the public.”
“I think it is very unfair, and frankly not at all untypical, that the BBC has dumped all this on one individual [Peter Rippon]. I think the BBC's behaviour now is almost as contemptible as it was then.
“We wouldn't even tackle a bloody story that was about our own programme. This is pathetic.
“It was, I would say, common gossip that Jimmy Savile liked, you know, young – it was always assumed to be girls. I don't know whether it was girls or boys.
“These people [paedophiles] prey upon children in vulnerable situations and when the children complain they are not believed. I thought that we [Newsnight] had behaved just like many other authorities and I didn't like it.”
Chairman of the BBC Trust
“I am pretty convinced that people knew the blog was incorrect... It does seem to me that there are reasonable grounds for assuming that people knew the blog was dodgy a lot earlier and we were left defending something which wasn't true.”
Patten, the last British Governor of Hong Kong, said: “It wasn't just a joke when I went to speak to the senior leaders group in the BBC and said they had more senior leaders than China.”
BBC Commissioning Editor
Email to George Entwistle: “I gather we didn't prepare the obit [obituary on Jimmy Savile] because of the darker side of the story.”
“The thing I had in mind was, 'I don't have time to do this, I've got a lot of other things to do, I need somebody good to find out what is going on'.
“The extent of my knowledge of questions about Savile was given to me by the Louis Theroux portrait of 2000.
“The reason I didn't talk to Meirion and Liz [Newsnight investigative reporters Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean] myself was that I already thought, 'I can see this ending up in disciplinary action here.'
“It started to be apparent to me that the relationships had broken down on the programme and what I wondered was [Peter] Rippon could be right that these two people could be making a tremendous amount of trouble for him.”
“You shouldn't put out tittle-tattle about people just because they are dead. But in this case the very fact that he had been investigated on paedophile charges by the police would have been front page in its own right.
“I thought the whole thing was going to come out ... us just going to the police with bits and bobs would be nothing compared to once it came out properly it would get huge coverage, and so on, and you'd get lots of people coming forward.”
Censored: what the viewers said
Detailed accusations about Jimmy Savile's sex crimes were censored after viewers tried to post them on a BBC tribute web page.
One person wrote: "One of my best friends in 1972 was molested by this creep Savile. He was never the same again. Killed himself in 1985. How's About That Then? Good riddance, I say. All his good works were the product of his guilty conscience."
The comments were prevented from being published by a team of moderators employed by the corporation. They did not refer the comments to anyone at the BBC for investigation.
A transcript of an interview between Mr Pollard and the former Director-General George Entwistle refers to examples of the comments, including one person who wrote: "He was a paedophile. You may not like the truth but he was." Another wrote: "Sorry to rain on the parade of all the well-wishers, but he was infamous in Scarborough. I would not have been letting my son sit on his knee."
Another website comment read: "Awful sentimental tosh for someone who should have been locked up for child molesting back in '72."
During his interview, Mr Entwistle said he thought moderators may have been affected by "anxiety" after details of a hoax, which claimed Savile had been challenged about his crimes on an episode of Have I Got News For You, were published online. But Mr Entwistle said he thought it was "unusual" that the moderators had not referred the allegations to anyone at the BBC.
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