The Newsnight editor who quashed the report into Sir Jimmy Savile’s criminal activities was under growing pressure today after failing to appear on his own programme to defend the decision.
Peter Rippon has not made an on-camera appearance since the Savile scandal erupted two weeks ago.
George Entwistle, the BBC Director-General, was last night forced to address calls for Mr Rippon to be suspended pending investigation of his reasons for suppressing the Savile report, saying such action would not be “appropriate”.
Thursday’s Newsnight led with a report by Liz MacKean, who spent six weeks working on an investigation which could have exposed the entertainer’s abuse of young girls, following his death last October.
Ms Mackean told viewers that the report, which contained evidence from former pupils at the Duncroft approved school in Surrey, had been shelved for “editorial reasons”. She concluded that the BBC, along with other institutions, had “hard questions” to answer over the Savile affair.
Presenter Eddie Mair said the BBC had declined to field an executive for the studio discussion which followed the report. Kevin Marsh, a former Today programme editor, defended Mr Rippon’s decision. But many viewers asked why Mr Rippon, did not simply appear in front of the camera to explain the decision that he took last year.
The BBC has called in Ken MacQuarrie, director of BBC Scotland, to conduct an informal investigation into the affair. He will talk to Newsnight journalists who have privately voiced concerns that pressure may have been applied to executives to drop the inquiry.
The BBC was due to broadcast three tribute programmes to Savile last Christmas. George Entwistle, then head of the BBC’s television channels, had been made aware that a Newsnight investigation was underway by Helen Boaden, BBC head of news. But he said he had not been told that Newsnight planned to report allegations of serious sexual assault.
The MacQuarrie inquiry will test Mr Rippon’s assertion on a blog that he dropped the initial report because it contained no new evidence which police did not already have, and “had not established any institutional failure”.
Newsnight sources believe they had uncovered new information, including a claim from one victim that Savile abused girls on BBC premises.
Mr Rippon was appointed Newsnight editor 2008. He was previously the editor of The World At One, PM, Broadcasting House and The World Tonight on BBC Radio 4.
Meirion Jones, a former senior Newsnight journalist who worked on the investigation, is understood to be heading a new Panorama programme about Savile that will broaden its investigation to look at the conduct of BBC presenters past and present, promising further embarrassment for the corporation.