The BBC faces calls to begin an immediate inquiry into whether staff covered up knowledge that Jimmy Savile sexually abused young girls, instead of waiting for the police investigation to conclude.
The corporation made a U-turn today and announced that it would conduct its own investigation but only once detectives have finished their own inquiries. The Metropolitan Police, with assistance from five other forces, are looking into claims that one of the BBC’s most endearing pop personalities was a sex predator who regularly assaulted and raped teenage girls between the sixties and late eighties.
The allegations have rocked the BBC and has plunged the corporation’s new director general George Entwhistle into the midst of a crisis over concerns that a macho culture which accepted day to day sexism was once pervasive at the corporation.
Multiple allegations against Savile were broadcast in an ITV investigation last week prompting a number of veteran media personalities to come forward and allege that sexual abuse and harassment of young women was frighteningly commonplace across the light entertainment industry at the time – both within the BBC and its commercial competitors.
Television comedian Sandi Toksvig, former Radio One presenter Liz Kershaw and the columnist Janet Street-Porter have all said that they were physically groped by men while working in television or knew it happened.
“There was a culture in light entertainment that made me feel uncomfortable,” said Street-Porter, who began in commcercial television in the 1980s before moving to the BBS and later newspapers. “I was in my late 20s and there wasn’t much I could do or say about it. But I was aware of it of things going on is dressing rooms. So it’s not just a BBC thing. I think you’ll find it’s across commercial television as well.”
In a clear indication that the allegations against the now-deceased DJ were causing reputational damage to the BBC, George Entwistle yesterday made a public apology to his victims and said his organisation would conduct its own investigation into the “broad question of what was going on and whether anybody around Jimmy Savile knew what was going on.”
But he stressed that such an investigation could only go ahead once the police had finished their own inquiries.
“When the police have finished everything they have to do and when they give me an assurance that there is no danger of us in any way compromising or contaminating an investigation, I will take it further and ensure that any outstanding questions are answered properly,” he said.
He also added that modern day child protection policies at the BBC would make it impossible for someone like Savile to get away with abusing teenagers now. “It's very important that people don't think the BBC of today is anything like in character managed the way it was at the time,” he said.
However others have called for the BBC to begin an immediate investigation into whether it did enough to combat sexual harassment and assault at the time of these allegations.
Rob Wilson, a Conservative MP for Reading East, has written to has written to the chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, urging him to ensure the BBC is totally transparent in all the allegations being made.
Speaking to The Independent yesterday, he said there was no reason why the BBC couldn’t proceed with a wider investigation into the culture at the corporation while the police investigation into the Savile allegations is ongoing.
“There are two different issues one criminal the other cultural or managerial,” he said. “I want the BBC to look at the second that shouldn't interfere with the first.”