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BBC Newsnight editor ‘steps aside’ over Jimmy Savile probe scandal

Jimmy Savile in Goole opening the towns first carnival in August 1965. Photo: Mirror

BBC‘s Newsnight editor responsible for dropping a report into claims Sir Jimmy Savile sexually abused people is stepping aside, the BBC has said.

Peter Rippon’s move is for the duration of an inquiry into Newsnight’s handling of the planned report last year, BBC reports.

Earlier this month, in a blog, Mr Rippon explained the editorial reasons behind his decision to axe the report.

The BBC has now issued a correction, calling the blog “inaccurate or incomplete in some respects”.

The corrections relate to:

  • Claims Newsnight had no evidence that any staff from the Duncroft approved school could or should have known about allegations of abuse involving pupils
  • An assertion Newsnight had no evidence against the BBC – the correction states there had been some allegations of abusive conduct on BBC premises
  • A statement in the blog saying all the women spoken to by the programme had contacted the police independently already and that Newsnight had no new evidence against any other person that would have helped the police

Police have launched a criminal inquiry into the allegations against Savile. They have described the former BBC presenter and DJ, who died in October 2011 aged 84, as a predatory sex offender.

They believe he may have sexually abused many people, including young girls, over a 40-year period, sometimes on BBC premises.

BBC director general George Entwistle, who will appear before MPs on Tuesday to answer questions about the BBC and Savile, has announced two inquiries regarding the sex abuse claims.

The first is looking into why the Newsnight investigation was shelved and is being led by former head of Sky News Nick Pollard. It is expected to report in December.

The second will be led by former High Court judge Dame Janet Smith and will examine the culture of the BBC during the years that Savile worked there. The results are expected in spring 2013.

‘Nation is appalled’

In a statement on Monday, the BBC issued a correction to Mr Rippon’s blog.

It said: “The BBC regrets these errors and will work with the Pollard Review to assemble all relevant evidence to enable the review to determine the full facts.

“In addition, the BBC has announced that Peter Rippon is stepping aside with immediate effect from his post while the review by Nick Pollard… into the management of Newsnight’s investigation is carried out.”

In a statement, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The nation is appalled – we’re all appalled – by the allegations of what Jimmy Savile did and they seem to get worse by the day.

“And so, every organisation that was involved with him, whether the NHS or whether the BBC, needs to get to the bottom of what happened.

“The developments today are concerning because the BBC has effectively changed its story about why it dropped the Newsnight programme about Jimmy Savile – so these are serious questions.

“They need to be answered by these independent reviews that the BBC has established and I’m sure that they will be,” he said.

BBC chief political correspondent Norman Smith said Mr Entwistle’s appearance in front of the Commons culture committee on Tuesday “could be an absolutely critical moment for the BBC”.

“If things go badly for the BBC… there is going to be huge huge pressure on the government to set up some sort of inquiry,” our correspondent said.

Lord Patten, the chairman of the BBC’s governing body, the BBC Trust, said he was “deeply concerned” about the inaccuracies in Mr Rippon’s account of the reasons for scrapping the Newsnight investigation.

‘Cover-up’ accusations

A Trust spokeswoman added: “The chairman has referred two or three times to the Peter Rippon blog, which he believed on the basis of assurances at the time to be accurate.

“He is deeply concerned that this proves not now to be the case.”

The spokeswomen confirmed the Pollard review would investigate “how these inaccuracies came to be in the blog along with everything else in the Newsnight investigation.”

Meanwhile, a BBC Panorama programme due to be aired on Monday night challenges the BBC’s explanation for the dropping of the Savile investigation.

Mr Rippon has argued he took the decision for editorial reasons because the report would have been much stronger if Newsnight could have proven some institutional failure by the police over Savile’s abuse – which the programme failed to do.

But the film’s producer and reporter say they had been investigating whether Jimmy Savile was a paedophile – and claim they had enough evidence and interviews for a transmission date to be set.

Panorama says it found no evidence to suggest that Mr Rippon was pressured from above to drop the report ahead of a Christmas tribute to Savile. It also says individuals named in the programme have not yet responded to the specific points raised.

The BBC has also pulled a planned episode of the crime drama New Tricks, which was due to be aired at 21:00 BST on Monday, as it centres on a fictional under-age sex ring in a care home.

Related articles

Newsnight Editor Peter Rippon‘s blog: Newsnight and Jimmy Savile

Newsnight journalist warned of BBC Savile scandal

BBC to probe Jimmy Savile child abuse claims

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