In Depth

'Crisis at the BBC': what the Panorama team has found out

Tonight’s Panorama takes issue with the accounts of Newsnight Editor Peter Rippon and the BBC’s Director-General

George Entwistle

THE BBC Panorama special due to be broadcast at 10.35 tonight will suggest that the public has been misled by the BBC over the dropping of a 2011 Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile.

Although Panorama cannot prove that Newsnight editor Peter Rippon was pressured by his bosses to abandon the programme shortly before it was due for transmission, it has evidence to show that the reasons he has given publicly for dropping the investigation are disputed by members of his staff.

The BBC has said that Rippon has "stepped aside" from his post until an inquiry into Newsnight's management of the affair is completed.

Panorama also takes issue with Director-General George Entwistle's account of what happened when he was tipped off in 2011 by head of News, Helen Boaden, that Newsnight was preparing a programme about Jimmy Savile.

Veteran BBC reporter John Simpson has told Panorama: "This is the worst crisis that I can remember in my nearly 50 years at the BBC. All we have as an organisation is the trust of the people that watch us and listen to us."

  • RIPPON'S STORY

Panorama says Newsnight spent six weeks investigating allegations that Savile abused pupils from the Duncroft approved school in Surrey at the height of his fame in the 1970s. As the Daily Mail reports, Rippon was initially enthusiastic about the programme, and was delighted when the Newsnight team discovered that in 2007 Surrey Police had investigated allegations of paedophilia by Savile.

But according to Newsnight reporter Liz MacKean, Rippon suddenly went cold on the story. Rippon claimed it was after learning that the police had dropped their inquiries into Savile. But MacKean wrote an email to a friend on 30 November saying: "PR [Peter Rippon] says if the bosses aren't happy . . . can't go to the wall on this one."

Investigative journalist Meirion Jones, leading Newsnight's investigation, told Rippon that the BBC would be accused of a "cover-up" if they dropped the story. This would lead to "substantial damage" to the BBC's reputation.

  • ENTWISTLE'S STORY

George Entwistle, who was appointed Director-General only last month, was still head of BBC Vision in December 2011.

He told a press conference earlier this month that when Helen Boaden, head of News, told him before Christmas that Newsnight was making a programme about Savile, he simply replied "Thanks for letting me know". He said that because he didn't want to be seen to be interfering with BBC journalism, he didn't ask what the Newsnight programme was about - even though he was in charge of the BBC's upcoming Christmas schedule which included two tributes to Savile.

But according to Panorama, Helen Boaden told Entwistle specifically that if the Newsnight programme went ahead, Entwistle might have to change the Christmas schedules. The conversation is said to have taken "less than ten seconds".

Entwistle also claimed that the cancelled programme was not an investigation into Jimmy Savile per se, but an inquiry into Surrey Police's interest in Savile.

But Panorama has established that Meirion Jones responded to that claim with an email sent immediately to Entwistle saying: "George — one note — the investigation was into whether Jimmy Savile was a paedophile — I know because it was my investigation. We didn't know that Surrey police had investigated Jimmy Savile — no one did — that was what we found when we investigated and interviewed his victims."

As The Times reports, Meirion Jones sent his "pitch" for a Savile investigation to Rippon a few days after Savile's death in October. Jones knew about allegations that Savile had abused girls at Duncroft because his aunt, who was headmistress at the school, had informed him.

Jones's pitch made no mention of the Surrey Police investigation because at that stage, he was not aware of it, says the Times.

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