Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, has voiced his sense of betrayal at the BBC executives who led him to put his faith in an official report that gave a false picture of the organisation’s handling of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
In verbal evidence given to the Pollard inquiry into BBC Newsnight’s investigation into Savile, due to be published on Friday, Lord Patten has spoken of his unhappiness at having been misinformed at a time when he was required to represent the organisation during a time of crisis.
The evidence reveals that Lord Patten sought reassurances that a blog written by the former Newsnight editor Peter Rippon was correct before he used it as the basis for public statements on the Savile furore, which led to the resignation of the BBC Director-General George Entwistle. The BBC admitted nearly three weeks later that the Rippon blog was “inaccurate or incomplete”.
The Pollard report, published in December, concluded that the BBC’s decision to drop its Newsnight investigation into Savile was “flawed” and that it had been “completely incapable” of handling the fallout from the affair. On Friday the BBC is due to publish the evidence of the review in full – but the broadcaster’s lawyers have intervened to black out significant portions of the testimony given by witnesses, including Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman and Peter Horrocks, director of global news, apparently in relation to concerns of defamation. The redactions have been the subject of terse exchanges this week between the BBC executive – which, with its legal department, is itself overseeing publication of the evidence – and the BBC Trust, which is seeking maximum transparency.
The BBC’s acting Director-General Tim Davie was asked by the Conservative MP Rob Wilson to provide details of the “strict” legal grounds on which each redaction was being made.
Former Labour Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, a former BBC journalist, said: “If [redactions] have been made to spare the BBC news management further embarrassment because they reveal the internal warfare and lack of confidence by the staff that would be totally unacceptable.”
He said the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, on which he sits, was frustrated by the BBC’s failure to act on the recommendations of the Pollard report.
Tony Hall, who starts as the BBC’s Director-General on 2 April, has agreed to appear before the committee in the coming weeks. Some MPs have been unimpressed that a round of executive changes, including the transfer of the BBC’s director of news, Helen Boaden, to a new role as head of radio, took place last week ahead of publication of the Pollard evidence.
Witnesses to the Pollard inquiry were invited to come to BBC offices in White City, west London, on Thursday and Friday last week to be given prior notice of the evidence that the organisation will publish on Friday. Several of the witnesses arrived at the designated reading rooms with their lawyers.
Watchdog to investigate former inspector
A former police inspector is being investigated over claims he acted on behalf of Jimmy Savile when he was being questioned about alleged sexual offences four years ago.
On Wednesday the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) revealed that it had ordered West Yorkshire police to refer the officer. The IPCC has also asked six other forces to look into whether there were any Savile-related misconduct issues amongst their staff.
The former West Yorks officer has been accused of contacting Surrey Police before they questioned Savile over alleged sexual offences in 2009. The force investigated four allegations that year but decided that no prosecution could be brought.