Bitter infighting sweeps the BBC

 

Helen Boaden was cheerful last week. Loud, bright and breezy. "She basically came waltzing through the newsroom saying: 'Hello, hello everyone! Hello,'" said a colleague. "She didn't break stride. She was almost running." Ms Boaden, the director of BBC News, was thought to be compensating under the pressure of daily crises, which started with embarrassing questions at a Commons committee and evolved into bitter infighting, as BBC journalists and management tried to cannibalise each other.

The external scrutiny and internal scuffling seemed likely to intensify last night, after it emerged that taxpayers would pick up the legal fees of Ms Boaden, 56, her deputy, Steve Mitchell, and Newsnight editor Peter Rippon, who have remained almost completely silent on what the veteran newsman John Simpson calls the corporation's "worst crisis in 50 years".

It had been widely speculated ahead of the appearance of the BBC director general, George Entwistle, before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee last Tuesday that his performance would decide whether he kept his job, but he changed the focus by expanding on why Mr Rippon was asked to "step aside" for the duration of the inquiry. He said he was "disappointed" by assertions made in Mr Rippon's blog explaining the reasons behind his decision to axe Newsnight's investigation into Jimmy Savile, and which the BBC, humiliatingly, had to correct last week. Mr Entwistle also turned the heat on Steve Mitchell, after he confirmed that he had read Mr Rippon's "inaccurate" blog.

Perhaps the biggest casualty of Mr Entwistle's testimony was Ms Boaden. When the Newsnight investigation was dropped in December 2011, Mr Entwistle was the head of BBC Vision, effectively in charge of television, and Ms Boaden reported to him. Ms Boaden had told Mr Entwistle in November 2011 that Newsnight was investigating Savile, but gave him no details.

Last Tuesday, he told the committee he had been waiting to hear from her how the Newsnight investigation progressed: "The key message I took away from the conversation was that it wasn't yet clear to Helen whether it was going to stand up."

She had told Mr Rippon, Mr Entwistle added, that "just because Jimmy Savile was dead, it didn't mean there could be any skimping in journalistic standards". Journalists on the original Newsnight investigation interpreted this as a signal to Mr Rippon to kill the story because "Boaden placed an impossibly high barrier".

The role of the former BBC director general, Mark Thompson, also came under scrutiny after he said he now recalled being told about the decision to drop the Newsnight investigation. Lord Patten of Barnes, the chairman of the BBC Trust, was criticised after admitting he failed to act on the matter sooner.

A succession of former BBC staff confessed they had heard rumours about Savile: Paul Gambaccini even went so far as to rehearse suggestions that the DJ had indulged in necrophilia. But one senior broadcasting figure responded: "I think, to all these people who say 'I suspected he was up to no good', my question is: what did they do about it? If you know somebody is doing something bad and you don't help to identify that, then you are complicit in the further harm that individual causes."

In an article for the London Review of Books, author Andrew O'Hagan claims BBC broadcaster Lionel Gamlin, who produced children's programmes and presented Top of the Form, regularly had sex with young boys in a secret Fitzrovia hideaway during the 1950s. He said Gamlin and a man behind "some of the landmark comedy shows at the BBC" shared use of the flat, where they would take young boys. Gamlin died in 1967.

Children's Hour presenter Derek McCulloch – known to children as "Uncle Mac" – is accused of similar abuse and regularly taking children "to the gents to interfere with them". O'Hagan says parents' complaints were waved away as fiction by the office of the director general whose letters said: "The nation wouldn't understand such an accusation against a much-loved figure."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project