Culture Secretary Maria Miller was last night forced to deny she was prejudging a BBC inquiry into Jimmy Savile, after she inadvertently accused the corporation of “inappropriately” pulling a Newsnight film into sex abuse claims against the late DJ and broadcaster.
Aides said that Ms Miller had her words wrong as she made a statement to the House of Commons about investigations being undertaken by the BBC.
A printed version of the speech said that one of the BBC reviews would look into “allegations that an item on Savile was inappropriately pulled from Newsnight”, but the secretary of state in fact told MPs it would address “allegations with regards to the item on Savile which was inappropriately pulled from Newsnight”.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that Ms Miller had no detailed knowledge of the decision to pull the Newsnight package, which was dropped last year shortly before the broadcast of BBC tributes to the former presenter of Top of the Pops and Jim’ll Fix It.
“The secretary of state has not prejudged the outcome of the BBC’s investigation into the pulling of a Newsnight item on Savile,” a DCMS spokesman said.
“As the secretary of state made clear in the House, it is for the BBC, not ministers, to investigate these allegations.”
Ms Miller later apologised in a message on Twitter, saying: “Sorry if Savile statement unclear. Referring to ‘allegations’ that Newsnight item was pulled inappropriately. Not prejudging BBC inquiry.”
Speaking to the Commons in response to an urgent question from a Labour back-bencher, Ms Miller dismissed calls for an independent inquiry into the scandal, telling MPs she was “confident” BBC chiefs were taking the claims “very seriously”.
Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said there was widespread “revulsion” after claims that systemic assaults took place at “auntie” – the
affectionate nickname for the BBC – and claimed that the star’s “exalted” status allowed him to act with impunity.
Ms Miller said the allegations had “wide-ranging implications for a number of public institutions” but rejected calls for an outside inquiry to restore the public’s faith, warning it could hamper police investigations.
“In terms of a wider inquiry, we have a police investigation ongoing,” she said. “Everybody would agree that it is really important that those individuals who have been victims know that that investigation can go on unfettered and that that should be our priority at this stage.”
She added: “The BBC has launched three separate investigations, as the House will be aware. The first will look particularly at the allegations with regard to the item on Savile which was inappropriately pulled from Newsnight.”
Ms Harman said: “What has deepened the revulsion is that this happened at the BBC, an institution so loved and trusted it is known as auntie. This has cast a stain on the BBC.”
Commons culture committee chairman John Whittingdale said BBC director-general George Entwistle had offered to appear before the committee next week.