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Official report finds 'critical lack of leadership' in BBC over Savile

The decision to drop an investigation into sexual abuse against Jimmy Savile was “flawed”, according to an investigator.

Staff walk past television screens at the BBC's Headquarters, New Broadcasting House, in central London.
Staff walk past television screens at the BBC's Headquarters, New Broadcasting House, in central London.
Image: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

AN OFFICIAL REPORT has strongly criticised the BBC’s handling of allegations of child sex abuse against late presenter Jimmy Savile on Wednesday but cleared the corporation of a cover-up.

The report sparked the resignation of the BBC’s deputy director of news, Stephen Mitchell, and led to the editor and deputy editor of the programme at the centre of the scandal being replaced.

Savile, who died last year at the age of 84, was one of the BBC’s top television and radio presenters. The allegations against him plunged the corporation into crisis and cost its director-general George Entwistle his job.

Since a programme by rival broadcaster ITV two months ago in which several women went public with claims against Savile, police have identified 199 crimes in which he is a suspect, including 31 alleged rapes.

The BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Newsnight had begun investigating the allegations shortly after Savile’s death, but dropped the story after a few weeks.

The investigation was commissioned by the BBC but led by an outsider, former Sky News executive Nick Pollard.

Its report, published today, found no substance to accusations that Newsnight had dropped the story because it clashed with BBC tributes to Savile shown last Christmas.

But the probe found “the level of chaos and confusion [at the BBC] was even greater than was apparent at the time”. The world’s biggest broadcaster was plagued by in-fighting and a “critical lack of leadership and co-ordination”, it added.

“The decision to drop the original investigation was flawed and the way it was taken was wrong but I believe it was done in good faith. It was not done to protect the Savile tribute programmes or for any improper reason,” Pollard said.

But he added: “In my view, the most worrying aspect of the Jimmy Savile story for the BBC was not the decision to drop the story itself. It was the complete inability to deal with the events that followed.”

Acting head admits report shows ‘clear failings’

In an email to staff, acting director-general Tim Davie welcomed the finding that there was no cover-up but acknowledged it had exposed “clear failings”.

He announced a shake-up of staff at Newsnight, confirming that the programme’s editor, Peter Rippon, and deputy editor, Liz Gibbons, would move to other BBC jobs.

Meanwhile Mitchell announced he had resigned as deputy director of BBC News and would leave next year after 38 years with the corporation.

He had stood aside pending the Pollard investigation, and was criticised in the report for removing Newsnight’s Savile investigation from an internal BBC list that flagged up controversial stories.

In a statement announcing his resignation, however, he rejected the criticism.

“Given the strain over the past month since being told to stand aside from the job I loved, having endured the Pollard review process and now having read its criticisms, I have decided that it is in my interests and those of the BBC that I bring my career to a dignified end,” Mitchell said.

“Whilst I feel vindicated that the review has found that I put no undue pressure on Peter Rippon, I disagree with the remainder of Mr Pollard’s criticisms in relation to me.”

Mitchell’s boss, Director of News Helen Boaden – who also stepped aside pending the review – will return to her job tomorrow, despite being criticised in the report for failing to take greater responsibility as the crisis grew.

The scandal over Newsnight’s dropped investigation was compounded when the programme broadcast a television report last month which wrongly implicated a senior former Conservative politician, Alistair McAlpine, in child sex abuse.

The BBC was forced to apologise and pay substantial damages to McAlpine, and Entwistle resigned as director-general after only 54 days in the job.

He will be replaced by former BBC news chief and current Royal Opera House chief Tony Hall early in March.

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