SENIOR BBC executives denied ever having heard about Jimmy Savile’s sex crimes despite Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman’s claim they were “common gossip”, an inquiry found.
Both former director general Mark Thompson and director of news Helen Boaden told an internal BBC inquiry they had never heard any “rumours” about the DJ and presenter.
The details were included in thousands of pages of evidence for an inquiry by former Sky executive Nick Pollard, which were released yesterday.
It was set up last year to investigate whether management failings were behind Newsnight’s decision to drop its Savile investigation in December 2011, weeks before a Christmas tribute was broadcast. Savile had died, aged 84, in October 2011.
The revelations about Savile, later broadcast by ITV, sparked a major criminal investigation and focused attention on what police described as decades of predatory sexual crimes committed by the star.
Mr Paxman said the BBC’s handling of the decision to drop its investigation was “almost as contemptible” as its behaviour during the years the DJ was one of its biggest names.
He said: “It was, I would say common gossip, that Jimmy Savile liked, you know, young – it was always assumed to be girls.”
Mr Thompson, who spent 30 years at the corporation in two separate stints, said he had never worked with Savile.
He said: “I had never heard any rumours at all, if you like, of a dark side of any kind, sexual or otherwise, about Jimmy Savile.”
Ms Boaden said she “had never heard any dark rumours about Jimmy Savile” but did meet him at a lunch for veteran radio presenters.
She said: “He came to the lunch, he kissed my hand at the beginning, he kissed my hand at the end, he said not a word to me between those events”.
Mr Paxman told the inquiry “the important question” was how Savile had been allowed to rise to prominence at the BBC.
He said: “What was the BBC doing promoting this absurd figure, this absurd and malign figure? And I think that has to do with the fact of the BBC having been aloof from popular culture for so long.”
Mr Thompson told the inquiry he had been approached about the Newsnight investigation by BBC journalist Caroline Hawley during a Christmas drinks party in 2011.
He said: “The phrase that stuck in my mind is, ‘You must be worried about the Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile’.”
Mr Thompson said the “casual remark” had not worried him because “at this point the name Jimmy Savile doesn’t ring alarm bells”. He said he did not regard Savile, who hosted Top of the Pops and Jim’ll Fix It for decades, as “a kind of BBC person particularly” and said he would have been more worried if the investigation had been into a current member of staff.
E-mails show that a date – 7 December 2011 – had been chosen for screening the Newsnight investigation, until programme editor Peter Rippon decided the report needed to focus on whether the Crown Prosecution Service had dropped an investigation into Savile.
Journalist Meirion Jones, who initially proposed the investigation, flagged up the idea, hours after the presenter’s death was announced, in an e-mail headed “Jimmy Savile – paedophile”.
He wrote: “Some of the girls are now prepared to talk about this, which might make a core to a film about what Jimmy Savile really got up to.”
His e-mails also contain vivid transcripts of the sexual activities in which girls at Duncroft approved school – where Savile was a regular visitor – took part.
Mr Jones later warned that the broadcast should go ahead because otherwise the BBC could be accused of a “cover-up”.
He wrote: “I think if we go ahead with TX next week there will be minor embarrassment to the BBC. If we cancel or delay till after Christmas there is a risk of another BBC scandal on the scale of the Queen or Jonathan Ross and similar damage to our core value of trust.”
On the proposed day of transmission, editor Peter Rippon was still unsatisfied with progress on the report.
By 9 December, the decision was taken to drop the story when the CPS said its investigation had been curtailed due to a lack of evidence.
A now discredited blog posted by Mr Rippon to clarify the decision prompted an exchange of e-mails with Mr Paxman, who pointed out it failed to address many of the issues.
The evidence also shows detailed accusations about Savile’s crimes were censored after viewers tried to post them on a BBC tribute web page.
The comments, which included one person who wrote “One of my best friends in 1972 was molested by this creep Savile. He was never the same again. Killed himself in 1985. How’s About That Then?”, were stopped from being published by a team of moderators employed by the corporation.
A transcript of an interview between Mr Pollard and former director general George Entwistle refers to examples of the comments, including one person who wrote: “He was a paedophile. You may not like the truth but he was. It will all tumble out now.”
Some 3,000 pages of e-mails, interviews and submissions from BBC executives and journalists, were made available yesterday online in what the BBC said was a bid to be “open and transparent”.