by Robert Henderson
Jimmy Savile, George Entwistle and the balance of probabilities
George Entwistle gave as an abject a performance by a media experienced bigwig before the Culture, Media and Sport select committee(( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2221520/Jimmy-Savile-Panorama-documentary-reveals-BBC-suspected-DJ-sexual-abuse-40-years-ago.html ) as you will ever see. He adopted the BBC equivalent of giving nothing but his name, rank and number. (How on Earth did this timid personality with all the authority of a jellyfish become Director-General?)
Entwistle is, according to his account, a man who is immensely ignorant of what goes on in the BBC from choice, the choice being driven by a desire not to impinge on the autonomy of individual editors. Not only did he swear blind that he knew nothing specific about the Newsnight programme before ITV ran a programme on the same subject (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4563205/jimmy-savile-paedophile-itv-documentary.html), but he was left floundering by simple questions such as How many ongoing complaints of sexual harassment within the corporation is the BBC dealing with at the moment? Throughout the grisly two hours or so of the hearing, Entwistle recounted how he was setting up inquiries, tracking complaints, amassing data and doing a hundred and one other things. What he was not doing was answering questions for which he should have been prepared.
The committee’s questioning was as usual a curate’s egg, mostly rotten egg because most MPs are quite incapable of building a line of questioning on any particular subject, let alone working out a complete plan of questioning for a complex matter. Not one of the committee had the wit to lure Entwistle onto the truth quicksands by simply asking “When did you first become aware of rumours about Savile’s sexual interference with minors?” That would have put Entwistle in a very difficult position.
If Entwistle had lied to the CMS and said he had never heard the rumours, he would have been leaving himself wide open to exposure as a liar. Even if he was telling the truth or he lied and was never exposed, his denial would have seemed improbable simply because of the number of people who have worked for the BBC admitting they had heard rumours but never came across any hard evidence .
But if Entwistle had admitted to knowing of rumours he would be in even deeper and immediate trouble. He joined the BBC in 1989 and has worked for the BBC ever since. Savile’s prime show, Jim’ll Fix It, ran until 1994 and he returned intermittently to the BBC until near his death in 2011. There was ample opportunity for Entwistle to have at least heard BBC gossip about Savile’s sexual predilections.
The BBC’s Director of News, Helen Boden, warned him in the Autumn of 2011 him that Newsnight were working on a programme about Savile which might be incompatible with the Savile memorial programmes the BBC was due to air (and did air) in December 2011.
Entwistle claimed before the CMS that he did not ask Boden what the Newsnight programme was about because he did not want to be accused of interfering with editorial authority (this despite the fact that he is officially the BBC’s editor-in-chief) . If he admitted to hearing rumours about Savile before Boden warned him, his claim of respecting editorial authority and autonomy – weak as it is to begin with – would collapse because he would have had every reason to suspect that the Newsnight programme was concerned with Savile’ illicit sexual behaviour. In those circumstances Entwistle would have had to investigate what the Newsnight story was about because , apart from any moral considerations, he risked having a substantial part of his 2011 Christmas programme going west.
It might not be possible to prove beyond reasonable doubt (the criminal law evidential test) that the Entwistle is lying or at least not telling the whole truth, or that pressure from above was applied to get the Newsnight editor Peter Rippon to drop the Savile programme, but on the balance of probabilities (the civil law evidential test) it would seem probable that either or both things are true. It is human nature to be curious and both the simple circumstances of the dropping of a story when a great deal of work had been done and the programme was near broadcasting and the warnings given by Meirion Jones, the Newsnight producer, to Rippon that pulling the programme would cause that ‘substantial damage to the BBC’s reputation’ ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2221520/Jimmy-Savile-Panorama-documentary-reveals-BBC-suspected-DJ-sexual-abuse-40-years-ago.html).
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Peter Rippon’s factually incorrect blog (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2012/10/newsnight_and_jimmy_savile.html) has been amended d by, according to Entwistle before the CMS, a statement created by the Corporation’s lawyers and himself. The corrections are:
1.The blog says that Newsnight had no evidence that anyone from the Duncroft home could or should have known about the allegations. In fact some allegations were made (mostly in general terms) that some of the Duncroft staff knew or may have known about the abuse.
2. The blog says that Newsnight had no evidence against the BBC. No allegation was made to the programme that BBC staff were aware of Mr Savile’s alleged activities, but there were some allegations of abusive conduct on BBC premises.
3. 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. (RH : these women included the prime witness] (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2012/10/jimmy_savile_and_newsnight_a_c.html).
Why did Rippon make such errors? Most probably panic. The alternative would be hubris driven by the idea that the BBC could ride the storm simply because they are the BBC.
The BBC have issued a further statement:
BBC statement issued to Panorama – 22/10/12
Date: 23.10.2012Last updated: 23.10.2012 at 08.04
The following statement has been issued by the BBC to Panorama (broadcast 22/10/12).
The BBC is putting first and foremost the victims of Jimmy Savile’s abuse. That is why we have announced a Judge-led review with sweeping terms of reference to uncover exactly how this could have happened.
BBC management will, furthermore, make themselves available to a second independent review that will seek to establish what exactly happened at Newsnight. This will be led by Nick Pollard, former head of Sky News.
The Pollard Review is the right forum to resolve detailed issues relating to BBC programming and the Newsnight investigation. Panorama has every right to pursue its programme but nothing should be done to prejudge the Pollard Inquiry.
However, on the basis of information provided by the Newsnight editor and production team, BBC management has reached the view that there are inaccuracies in the Peter Rippon blog of 2nd October and has issued a corrective statement.
We should also make it clear we now accept that the Newsnight investigation did not start out as an investigation into the Surrey police’s handling of the case against Mr Savile.
BBC Press Office
There may be much more to this story than Savile. Suppose, for example, that Savile acted as a pimp for others in the BBC with a taste for minors, especially those who were senior when he was most active or are senior now? Or perhaps the Savile was not the pimp but investigation of his activities will reveal the pimp and his (or her) customers. Will it ever be properly investigated? Don’t hold your breath, especially if really powerful people are drawn into the net.