More heads will roll at the BBC, says Lord Patten

No end to the bloodletting as chairman’s own job comes under pressure, while broadcaster refuses to name executive who signed off on Newsnight report

Ian Burrell
Sunday 11 November 2012 21:35
The BBC chairman Chris Patten (left) has been commenting after last night's resignation of the BBC Director General George Entwistle (right)
The BBC chairman Chris Patten (left) has been commenting after last night's resignation of the BBC Director General George Entwistle (right)

Lord Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust, has admitted the beleaguered organisation needs to "get a grip" and indicated that more heads will roll following the resignation of the Director-General, George Entwistle.

With the BBC caught in a crisis that threatens to eclipse even that which engulfed the organisation in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry eight years ago, an overhaul is expected at the top of the corporation.

A report on Newsnight's flawed investigation of care-home abuse in North Wales, which prompted internet speculation in which the former Conservative Party treasurer Lord McAlpine was falsely linked to a paedophile ring, has been submitted and will lead to sackings on the BBC2 show, which could be closed down.

In an interview before his resignation, Mr Entwistle said the story had been signed off by a member of the 12-strong BBC management board. The BBC was last night refusing to disclose the name of the board member.

Lord Patten said yesterday that he was looking into the report by Ken MacQuarrie, head of BBC Scotland, and that some BBC staff could lose their jobs as a result of its findings.

"We are looking into a report into how that Newsnight programme was made," he told Channel 4 News. "We've also got other reports as you know by the former head of Sky [Nick Pollard] and a distinguished judge [Dame Janet Smith] and they will involve us in making some tough decisions and those decisions may involve people's jobs."

The BBC Trust walked into more controversy after confirming that Mr Entwistle would receive a full 12-month's salary of £450,000 in lieu of notice. John Whittingdale, the chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said he could not see the justification for such a large pay-off.

Senior BBC sources are expecting the Director General's role to be split in two following Mr Entwistle's obvious difficulty in coping with the fallout from the Jimmy Savile scandal and editorial failings by Newsnight while trying to manage his other responsibilities.

Mr Entwistle's successor could have a narrower role, with responsibility for the BBC's journalism being passed to a deputy. The BBC previously operated such a system but Mark Byford's role as Deputy Director General on a salary of £475,000 was dispensed with last year as the organisation came under fire for having too many senior managers. Lord Patten said yesterday that the next leader of the "very large and complex organisation" would need "the right sort of support". He said that the BBC Trust "will make changes".

Following Mr Entwistle's departure, the head of BBC Worldwide Tim Davie has assumed the role of acting Director General. It has emerged that Mr Davie, a former executive with the food company PepsiCo who joined the BBC as marketing chief, was head of the editorial chain of command for the controversial Newsnight story, although it is understood that the matter was not referred to him.

It was signed off by a member of the management board and though they have been named in the MacQuarrie report, the BBC would not identify them yesterday.

As the BBC considers the report and awaits the findings of the Pollard and Smith inquiries, the futures of many of its senior executives, including director of news Helen Boaden and her deputy Stephen Mitchell remain uncertain. It is understood that the pair – as well as Mr Entwistle – had been taken off the editorial chain handling the Newsnight story due to their connections to the same programme's Savile investigation, which dealt with similar subject matter.

Lord Patten rejected the idea that he should have warned Mr Entwistle or taken other action after seeing a tweet from Iain Overton, head of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism – which worked with the BBC on the investigation, predicting a story about "a very senior political figure who is a paedophile" . Mr Overton was yesterday discussing his future with the Bureau's trust body. Lord Patten, who insisted he would not be resigning as the BBC Trust chairman, said: "When I saw that I didn't try to intervene in a programme and it is completely absurd to suggest that I should have done."

The chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee John Whittingdale said senior staff who were directly involved must also be held to account. "If George Entwistle was unaware of the programme, which he says he was, then clearly somebody below him took the decision that it was right to broadcast it," Mr Whittingdale said. "That was a terrible decision."

54 days in the spotlight: the story of George Entwistle's time as director-general

Day 1: 17 Sept George Entwistle's first day as BBC Director-General. He travels to work by Tube.

Day 9: 25 Sept BBC criticised for bowing to Buckingham Palace by apologising to the Queen for breach of confidence – after Frank Gardner revealed she had lobbied a Home Secretary about Abu Hamza.

Day 11: 27 Sept Named as September 2012's Pin-Up of the Month by the TaxPayers' Alliance, for "saving licence-fee payers' money by taking a salary that is 40 per cent less than that of his predecessor".

Day 14: 30 Sept Sunday newspaper publishes details about ITV's forthcoming Jimmy Savile investigation – including claims that the former DJ abused under-age girls on BBC property.

Day 15: 1 Oct BBC's decision to drop Newsnight Savile investigation criticised.

Day 16: 2 Oct Editor Peter Rippon writes blog defending Newsnight's decision to scrap Savile probe – insisting police were aware of all the victims' claims.

Day 17: 3 Oct ITV broadcasts its Savile documentary based on testimony of five women who claim presenter abused them in the 1970s.

Day 18: 4 Oct Tory MP Rob Wilson writes to BBC Trust boss Lord Patten demanding to know what Mr Entwistle knew about Newsnight Savile investigation and whether he was involved in its cancellation.

Day 19: Oct 5 Entwistle breaks silence in email to BBC staff, promising to work closely with police on Savile allegations but ruling out an internal inquiry.

Day 22: Oct 8 Entwistle, forced into U-turn, announces internal probe into claims Savile abused underage girls on BBC premises.

Day 26: Oct 12 Entwistle announces two inquiries into Savile scandal – one focusing on the culture of the BBC in the 1970s, and the other on the decision to shelve the Newsnight probe.

Day 36: Oct 22 Special edition of Panorama reveals Entwistle chose to broadcast Christmas tributes to Savile despite being warned by senior executives they were compromised by the Newsnight investigation.

Day 37: Oct 23 Entwistle admits to the Culture Select Committee that the Newsnight investigation should never have been dropped.

Day 47: Nov 2 Newsnight broadcasts claims from former Welsh children's home resident Steve Messham that a leading Thatcher-era Conservative politician abused him several times.

Day 54: Nov 9 Former Tory treasurer Lord McAlpine denies being the abuser, after Guardian suggests he may have been misidentified. Messham admits his error, and BBC issues unreserved apology for Newsnight report.

Day 55: Nov 10 Entwistle admits he did not see Newsnight report into Welsh care home abuse or subsequent Guardian article, in interview with John Humphrys on Today. Later he announces resignation.

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