Rippon quits over Savile scandal
Newsnight editor Peter Rippon has stepped aside “with immediate effect” while the BBC reviews its response to the Jimmy Savile sex scandal, the corporation said today.
The BBC said his explanation as to why the show dropped its investigation into the late DJ and TV presenter was “inaccurate or incomplete in some respects” and has corrected his statement.
It said: “The BBC regrets these errors and will work with the Pollard Review to assemble all relevant evidence to enable the review to determine the full facts.
“In addition, the BBC has announced that Peter Rippon is stepping aside with immediate effect from his post while the review by Nick Pollard, the former head of Sky News, into the management of Newsnight’s investigation, is carried out.”
Mr Rippon’s initial explanation was published on a BBC blog and said there was no evidence that staff at the Duncroft approved school could have known about allegations that Savile abused children.
The correction now states: “In fact some allegations were made (mostly in general terms) that some of the Duncroft staff knew or may have known about the abuse.”
It adds: “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 corrected blogpost also said that while no allegations were made that BBC staff “were aware” of Savile’s behaviour, it did hear allegations of “abusive conduct 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”.
It comes after excerpts from tonight’s edition of Panorama highlighted the different explanations given by BBC bosses about the nature of the documentary and why it was dropped.
In the aftermath, BBC Director-General George Entwistle wrote to all staff saying that the Newsnight investigation was into “Surrey Police’s inquiry into Jimmy Savile towards the end of 2011”.
But producer Meirion Jones immediately emailed Mr Entwistle countering that, writing: “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.”
Tonight’s hour-long documentary, which goes out on BBC1 at 10.35pm, will hear from Mr Jones and reporter Liz MacKean, who both claim they interviewed at least four alleged victims of Savile — and confirmed with Surrey Police that they had investigated sex abuse complaints against the Jim’ll Fix It star in 2007.
They say that, when they told bosses the Crown Prosecution Service did not charge Savile because of insufficient evidence, they were told to end the investigation — and the show was withdrawn.
The horror stories about Savile emerged only after ITV broadcast a documentary at the start of this month — sparking mayhem at the BBC over losing its scoop and leading to the allegations of a cover-up.
A Panorama statement 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.” Mr Jones and Ms MacKean tell the programme-makers 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 were told to abandon the investigation rather than get more proof, Panorama reports.
Ms MacKean said: “Ever since the decision was taken to shelve our story, I’ve not been happy with public statements made by the BBC.
“I think they’re very misleading about the nature of the investigation we were doing.”
The Newsnight journalists filmed Karin Ward, a key witness, in mid-November saying that Savile abused her during her time at Duncroft.
She claims she saw pop star Gary Glitter having sex with another under-age girl from Duncroft on BBC premises.
Ms Ward has agreed Panorama can broadcast clips from the interview for the first time in the programme Jimmy Savile: What The BBC Knew.
Newsnight quoted three other unnamed former Duncroft pupils who said they were also sexually abused by Savile. The script included a report of sexual abuse of a teenager at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
Ms MacKean said Mr Rippon suddenly went cold on the story: “All I can say is that it was an abrupt change in tone from, you know, one day ‘Excellent, let’s prepare to get this thing on air’ to ‘Hold on’.”
She says she was left with the clear impression that her editor was feeling under pressure, writing to a friend: “PR (Peter Rippon) says if the bosses aren’t happy... (he) can’t go to the wall on this one.”
Ms MacKean told Panorama: “I was very unhappy the story didn’t run because I felt we’d spoken to people who collectively deserved to be heard and they weren’t heard and I thought that was a failing... I felt very much that I’d let them down.”
The programme also reveals that BBC director of news Helen Boaden told Mr Entwistle — at that time director of vision — about the Newsnight investigation and its possible impact on planned tributes to Savile during an awards lunch on December 2.
She told him that, if the Newsnight investigation went ahead, he might have to change the Christmas schedules.
Mr Jones emailed Mr Rippon five days later to warn him about what would happen if the investigation was dropped.
“I was sure the story would come out one way or another and that, if it did, the BBC would be accused of a cover-up,” Mr Jones tells Panorama.
“In fact, I wrote an email to Peter saying ‘the story is strong enough’ and the danger of not running it is ‘substantial damage to BBC reputation’.”
Two days later, Mr Rippon decided to kill the investigation, Panorama reports.
The latest development will put even more focus on Mr Entwistle’s appearance tomorrow before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.
Its chairman, MP John Whittingdale, said earlier today that the most important question the BBC faces is why the investigation was dropped.
He told Sky News: “Whilst Panorama say there is no evidence the editor was leant on from outside, the explanations originally given look very thin today.”