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BBC chiefs to face harsh criticism from Savile inquiry as report over their conduct is published
00:00 GMT, 19 December 2012
BBC executives will face stinging criticism today over their handling of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
A string of bosses knew that Newsnight had uncovered damning evidence suggesting the late entertainer had systematically targeted young girls for sex.
But the planned film was shelved – and no-one at the corporation, at the time, bothered to tell police what their own staff had discovered.
The BBC discovered damning evidence that Jimmy Savile had targeted young girls for sex and then failed to tell the police what they had discovered
The report published today, written by former Sky News chief Nick Pollard, is likely to make uncomfortable reading for many executives at the corporation.
It comes on the day whent he BBC is expected to announce disciplinary action against bosses who were involved in a second controversial Newsnight report, which wrongly linked former Tory party chairman Lord McAlpine to child abuse allegations.
Criticism in the Pollard report is expected to focus on the blog which was written by Newsnight editor Peter Rippon on October 2 in which he explained his decision to drop the investigation last December.
The BBC, 20 days later, was forced to publicly correct the account, admitting it had been wrong to claim Newsnight ‘had no evidence against the BBC’.
The blog’s claim that all the women spoken to in the investigation had contacted the police ‘independently’ also had to be changed.
Newsnight bosses then compounded matters on their handling of the Savile case, by wrongly linked former Tory party chairman Lord McAlpine to child abuse allegations
Pollard’s report is also expected to criticise the way BBC bosses did not share information with other senior executives about the Savile claims.
As a result the BBC ended up broadcasting tribute shows to the Jim’ll Fix It star – even though senior news figures knew about the claims of his abuse of girls.
Director General George Entwistle, who was then head of TV, had merely had a ‘less than ten second’ conversation with news boss Helen Boaden at an awards lunch.
But the report is thought likely to find there was no undue pressure put on Rippon from senior management to drop the inquiry or any type of orchestrated cover-up of the story.
One of the corporation’s most senior news bosses, Stephen Mitchell, is expected to receive some of the strongest criticism from the inquiry.
The deputy director of news, who may now leave the corporation, was named by Mr Entwistle as having read the blog before it was published.
It is claimed that the Newsnight reporter Liz MacKean, who was working on the Savile story, had informed Mr Mitchell in an email on October 3 that there were errors in the blog.
Others have also suggested that Mr Rippon himself had told senior BBC staff about errors he had made when they were pointed out to him.
The blog was important because the BBC based its response to the controversy on it for nearly three weeks.
Its contents was repeated by executives and even the BBC chairman Lord Patten, when they appeared on TV and radio to defend the corporation’s position.
Pollard’s report is likely to be very critical of the BBC’s handling of the aftermath of the controversy.
It is also thought that there will be some criticism of the way the reporting team on the Savile story – producer Meirion Jones and report Liz MacKean – carried out the investigation.
But insiders have warned that should the inquiry be a ‘whitewash’ – which effectively clears senior bosses and blames the pair – there would be a ‘rebellion’ among rank and file staff.
BBC director general George Entwistle (left) was forced to resign over issues surrounding the corporation's handling of the Savile case
Many BBC journalists support the pair, pointing out that their insistence that the story should run, has been completely vindicated by subsequent revelations about the Jim’ll Fix It star.
Around 20 witnesses have been interviewed by Mr Pollard for his review, ranging from former director general Mark Thompson, his recently departed successor Mr Entwistle, Mr Mitchell, director of BBC News Helen Boaden through to more well-known figures such as Jeremy Paxman.
It is thought about a dozen of the witnesses in the inquiry have hired a lawyer, as they were entitled to legal advice worth up to 50,000 each, paid for by the BBC.
Estimates on the cost of the inquiry range from 500,000 to 2million, a bill footed by licence fee payers.
Mr Mitchell, who was expected to retire next year, was one of the witness who was recalled to give evidence for a second time, as was Mr Jones. Mr Rippon was thought to have been questioned for two-and-a-half days.
Mr Entwistle when he appeared in front of the culture, media and sport select committee, had told MPs: ‘There is no doubt that it is a matter of regret and embarrassment that the version of events recorded in Peter Rippon’s blog on October 2 did not turn out to be as accurate as it should have been.’
While the report will be published today, it is understood the testimony of individuals will not be released, because the BBC lawyers have to go through these.
The BBC is also thought unlikely to publish the email exchanges, which have been seen by Mr Pollard, which could be deeply embarassing.