Savile stink returns: Pollard report omitted crucial evidence
Lord Patten under pressure: tape recording about as welcome as dog poo, says Jeremy Paxman
THE ROW over the Jimmy Savile scandal has been reopened after a Tory MP defied BBC chairman Lord Patten and released a tape recording suggesting crucial evidence was omitted from the Pollard inquiry.
This was the £3 million inquiry carried out at the BBC's behest by Nick Pollard, a former head of Sky News, into allegations of a cover-up at the corporation over a mysteriously shelved Newsnight investigation into Savile's sexual abuse of schoolgirls.
Pollard found no evidence of such a cover-up in his report published last December. But in a later conversation with a journalist, Miles Goslett, which Goslett recorded, and which was published on the Guido Fawkes blog yesterday, Pollard admitted to having left a crucial piece of evidence out of his report.
Commenting on Newsnight last night, presenter Jeremy Paxman said the BBC welcomed the release of the tape like a man who has discovered he's "stepped in dog poo on the way to being made a member of the Order of Merit at Buckingham Palace".
So, why has the poo hit the proverbial fan yet again in this long-running saga?
As we have been told ad infinitum, Mark Thompson, who was Director General of the BBC from 2004 to 2012, told the Pollard inquiry - which was conducted behind closed doors - that he had never been informed about the nature of the allegations against Savile being investigated by Newsnight. Which was how the BBC was able - on the one hand - to plan and broadcast a eulogy to the recently deceased DJ to be broadcast at Christmas 2011 while - on the other hand - Newsnight was busy investigating allegations of his sexual abuse of schoolgirls.
Thompson insisted he only found out about the Savile sex allegations after he left the BBC in September 2012 to become chief executive of the New York Times.
However, we now learn from the Goslett-Pollard tape, a transcript of which is carried by the Daily Telegraph, that five days before Pollard published his report, a lawyer for Helen Boaden, then head of BBC News, wrote to Pollard saying that Boaden had told Thompson in December 2011, before the Savile euology went out, about the nature of the Newsnight investigation.
But Pollard made no mention of the Boaden intervention in his report, writing instead that he had “no reason to doubt what Mr Thompson told us".
In the Goslett tape, Pollard admits that he had made a "mistake" by failing to refer to Boaden's evidence in his final report.
He told Goslett: "If I'd thought about it immediately before publication and I'd picked up on the significance of it I think I'd probably have put it in the report. You could say it doesn't particularly reflect well on me that I overlooked this in the report."
The release of the tape recording raises fresh questions about Pollard's findings, which some critics regarded as a whitewash. It also piles pressure on Lord Patten to - as The Guardian puts it - "get to the bottom" of the allegations that the Pollard report was incomplete.
In a letter to Rob Wilson , a Tory MP and long-time BBC critic who had got hold of the Goslett tape and was threatening to release it, Patten had urged him not to make the tape recording public on the grounds that it could be "potentially defamatory".
Wilson hit back at Patten, accusing him of "Soviet era" behaviour with his “chilling" threat. "This episode paints a worrying picture of the culture at the BBC," said Wilson. "The corporation ignored the evidence and I received a letter from Lord Patten warning me of the legal consequences.
"It appears that the BBC's instinct is still to cover up potentially embarrassing information rather than facing up to the truth about itself."
On Newsnight last night, Steve Hewlett, the media commentator, said the fresh row coincided with an annual review of BBC accountability and transparency. That was either bad luck, or it showed the leopard had not changed its spots, said Hewlett.
Paxman commented: “It doesn't show transparency - that's for sure."
The question now is whether the Commons culture and media committee will be inclined to reopen its own inquiry into the BBC. ·