BBC bosses deny knowledge of ‘common gossip’ about Savile

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Top BBC executives denied ever hearing about Jimmy Savile’s sex crimes despite Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman’s claim they were “common gossip”.

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 some 3,000 pages of emails, interviews and submissions gathered during an inquiry by former Sky executive Nick Pollard which were made available yesterday.

The BBC inquiry was set up last year to investigate if management failings were behind the Newsnight decision to drop its Savile investigation in December 2011, weeks before a Christmas tribute was broadcast.

The revelations about Savile, later broadcast by ITV, sparked a major criminal investigation and focused attention on what police described as decades of predatory sex crimes committed by the star.

Paxman, who criticised the BBC’s handling of the decision to drop its investigation, said: “It was, I would say common gossip, that Jimmy Savile liked, you know, young – it was always assumed to be girls.”

He added: “I had no evidence. But it was common gossip, I think.”

Mr Thompson, who spent 30 years at the corporation in two separate stints, said he had never worked with Savile and added: “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”.

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 when she said: “You must be worried about the Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile”.

Mr Thompson said it had not worried him because “at this point the name Jimmy Savile doesn’t ring alarm bells”.

Journalist Meirion Jones had flagged up the idea for the investigation in an email 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 – and of course he’s dead so he can’t sue.”

The emails show that at one stage the date of December 7 2011 had been pencilled in for the screening of the Newsnight investigation, until programme editor Peter Rippon decided it needed to focus on whether the Crown Prosecution Service had dropped a probe into Savile’s activities.

Mr Jones warned the planned broadcast should go ahead because otherwise the BBC would run the risk of “another ... scandal on the scale of the Queen or Jonathan Ross and similar damage to our core value of trust.”

But on the proposed date of transmission editor Peter Rippon was still unsatisfied with progress saying he was unsure it “will ever be strong enough for us even to run it”, and by December 9, the decision was taken to drop the story when the CPS said its investigation had been curtailed due to a lack of evidence.

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 censored by moderators employed by the corporation.

Acting director-general Tim Davie said: “It is important that the BBC now moves forward with the lessons learned and continues to regain the public’s trust.”