THE editor of the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight, has stepped aside with “immediate effect”, while the corporation reviews its response to the deepening Jimmy Savile abuse scandal.
• Newsnight editor Peter Rippon has ‘stepped aside with immediate effect’
• BBC admits initial explanation into dropping of Newsnight investigation was ‘inaccurate or incomplete in some respects’
• BBC spokesman maintains Mr Rippon has not resigned
Peter Rippon, who has been under increasing pressure over his decision to axe an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by the late presenter, was also criticised by the BBC for his “inaccurate or incomplete” account of events published in a blog earlier this month.
The organisation revealed that contrary to the 47-year-old’s claims, the Newsnight team which worked on the shelved story was told about allegations of abuse on BBC premises.
The BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body, said it was “deeply concerning that there have been inaccuracies in the BBC’s own description of what happened in relation to the Newsnight investigation”.
The fresh disclosures emerged as Monday’s Panorama highlighted the different explanations given by BBC bosses about the nature of the documentary and why it was dropped, raising questions about how George Entwistle, the BBC director-general, has handled the controversy.
The documentary heard from Newsnight journalist Liz Mac-Kean, who said that statements made by the BBC explaining its decision to shelve the report had been “misleading”.
Speaking to Panorama, she said: “Ever since the decision was taken to shelve our story, I’ve not been happy with the public statements made by the BBC. I think they’re very misleading about the nature of the investigation we were doing.”
Panorama also aired allegations from a former reporter that Savile had told him in a “nudge, nudge, wink, wink sort of way” that he had just had sex with “12- or 13-year-old girls”.
In a blog written on 2 October, Mr Rippon insisted that after Newsnight journalists spent six weeks investigating the story, there was no evidence that staff at Duncroft school in Surrey “could or should have known” about the Top of the Pops presenter abusing pupils.
However, on Monday the BBC sought to correct the remarks by the former editor of the World at One, stressing: “Some allegations were made [mostly in general terms] that some of the Duncroft staff knew or may have known about the abuse.
“The blog says that all the women spoken to by the programme had contacted the police independently already and that Newsnight had no new evidence against any other person that would have helped the police. It appears that in some cases women had not spoken to the police and that the police were not aware of all the allegations.”
The statement adds that while no allegations were made to Newsnight that BBC staff “were aware” of Savile’s behaviour, it did hear allegations of “abusive conduct on BBC premises”.
The hour-long documentary, Jimmy Savile: What The BBC Knew, saw Newsnight producer Meirion Jones and Ms MacKean explain that bosses wanted them to stand up a suggestion Savile was not prosecuted because the Crown Prosecution Service thought he was too old and frail.
When it emerged that was not true and he was not prosecuted because of insufficient evidence, the pair was told to abandon the investigation rather than get more proof, Panorama reported.
In a statement, Panorama said: “Peter Rippon has always maintained the story was pulled for ‘editorial reasons’ and not because of a potentially embarrassing clash with planned BBC tributes to Savile over Christmas. Panorama has found no evidence to contradict that view.”
The latest developments put more focus on Mr Entwistle’s appearance today before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. Its chairman, MP John Whittingdale, said that the most important question the BBC faces is why the investigation was dropped.
Meanwhile, Surrey Police found evidence of “three further potential offences” by Savile after it investigated an allegation the star had indecently assaulted a girl at a children’s home.
The CPS said the force passed a file to it in 2009 based on a complaint made by “a woman who said she had witnessed an indecent assault by Savile in the 1970s”.
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