Mark Thompson’s office ‘told twice’ about Savile claims

Questions raised over how much former BBC boss knew, but his new employer the New York Times has already cleared him

LAST UPDATED AT 09:24 ON Sun 28 Oct 2012

THE OFFICE of former BBC boss Mark Thompson was twice informed of claims that a spiked Newsnight investigation concerned allegations of sexual abuse against Jimmy Savile, it has been claimed.

The report comes just three days after Thompson’s new employer, the New York Times, cleared the former BBC Director-General over involvement in the cancellation of the Newsnight segment.

Thompson has previously said he was neither “notified nor briefed” on details of the Newsnight investigation, although he did tell The Guardian that a BBC journalist had told him at a drinks party: "You must be really concerned about Newsnight's investigation into Jimmy Savile." When Thompson later sought reassurances from BBC news editor Helen Boaden he was told there would be no problem and “nobody said there was an allegation of sex abuse on BBC premises".

Thompson said that the first he had heard of the seriousness of the claims against Savile was three weeks ago when it emerged ITV was to air a documentary about allegations of sexual abuse.

In comments to the New York Times, which he will join on 12 November as chief executive, Thompson said he had “never heard any allegations” about Savile during his time at the corporation.

Today, The Sunday Times claims that Mark Thompson’s office was formally alerted twice that the Newsnight investigation concerned claims of sexual abuse of children on BBC premises, once in May and again in September.

At the beginning of 2012, the BBC was asked by journalist Miles Goslett in a Freedom of Information request to reveal details of exchanges between Thompson and other senior executives regarding claims that Savile “sexually molested minors on BBC premises in the 1970s”.

The request was declined, so Goslett contacted Jessica Cecil, the head of Thompson’s office, and asked to talk to the BBC boss about the Savile allegations. Cecil told Goslett to talk to the BBC press office.

Then, in September, ITV emailed Thompson’s office with its own questions about Savile’s alleged abuses.

A spokesman for Thompson told The Sunday Times he had not been told about the allegations on either occasion. He was out of the country when Goslett spoke to Cecil and had not been notified about the ITV request for comment.

A former “very senior executive at the BBC” told the paper that there used to be a system for referring programmes likely to cause controversy to senior management, including to the Director-General.

What the New York Times will make of this is yet to be seen. As reported here earlier this week, the paper’s public editor – or ombudsman – Margaret Sullivan wrote on her blog: "[Thompson’s] integrity and decision-making are bound to affect The Times and its journalism - profoundly. It's worth considering now whether he is the right person for the job, given this turn of events."

Just 24 hours later, New York Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr appeared to clear Thompson. In an email to staff he wrote that Thompson "possesses high ethical standards and is the ideal person to lead our company", adding that he was satisfied the former BBC boss had “played no role” in the spiking of Newsnight’s investigation into Savile. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.