‘Completely incapable’ - Verdict on BBC management over Savile as ex-producer is held

Jimmy Savile.
Jimmy Savile.
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THE BBC’s decision to drop Newsnight’s report into Jimmy Savile’s decades-long campaign of sexual abuse was “flawed” and plunged the corporation into “chaos and confusion”, according to a review carried out by former Sky News executive Nick Pollard.

One of the BBC’s top news executives resigned today in the wake of a damning report into the BBC’s decision to drop a Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuse.

Stephen Mitchell, the deputy director of news, said he was stepping down to bring his career “to a dignified end”, but said he disagreed with the report’s criticisms of him.

The report was puiblished as police investigating the Savile scandal arrested a man in his 70s.

The man, from London and reported to be a former producer of the shamed DJ, was held at 6.30am on suspicion of sexual offences and taken to a south London police station. He is the eighth person to be arrested by detectives.

Other high-profile names include former pop star Gary Glitter, comedian Freddie Starr and publicist Max Clifford.

Mr Mitchell’s exit - as well as the replacement of Newsnight’s editor and deputy editor - came as a critical report was published which revealed rivalries and factional in-fighting at the BBC.

The report - prepared by former Sky News executive Nick Pollard - said the decision to drop Newsnight’s report into Savile’s decades of abuse was “flawed” and plunged the BBC into “chaos and confusion”.

It said the BBC’s management system “proved completely incapable of dealing” with the issues raised by the axing of the story and “the level of chaos and confusion was even greater than was apparent at the time”.

The BBC had been accused of dropping the report in order to protect tribute programmes which had been prepared about the late TV host and DJ, but Mr Pollard concluded this was not the case.

The report stated: “The decision to drop the original investigation was flawed and the way it was taken was wrong, but I believe it was done in good faith. It was not done to protect the Savile tribute programmes or for any improper reason.”

The report was published at the same time as another review, by the BBC Trust, concluded that airing a Newsnight report that led to Lord McAlpine being wrongly named as a paedophile had resulted largely from a failure by members of the team to follow the BBC’s own editorial guidelines.

Mr Mitchell was criticised for removing the Savile investigation from a list of the BBC’s potentially difficult programmes - known as the “managed risk programmes list”.

The Pollard Report said the executive “could offer no convincing reason” why he had done so but if it had stayed on the list “some of the issues which have followed might well have been avoided”.

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said the BBC accepted the review in its “entirety” and evidence would be published, apart from some redactions for “legal reasons”.

Mr Pollard - whose inquiry has cost £2 million - told a press conference that “leadership and organisation seemed to be in short supply” at the BBC while it struggled to get to grips with the Savile scandal and its repercussions.

But he said the BBC was “eminently governable and will remain so”.

Acting director-general Tim Davie said he accepted Mr Mitchell’s resignation with “great sadness”.

Newsnight editor Peter Rippon and his deputy Liz Gibbons are being replaced and have not been working on the programme for a number of weeks due to the fallout.

Mr Mitchell - who had been forced to step aside during the investigation - said today that he had decided to leave “with great sadness”.

He said: “Given the strain over the past month since being told to stand aside from the job I loved, having endured the Pollard review process and now having read its criticisms, I have decided that it is in my interests and those of the BBC that I bring my career to a dignified end.

“Whilst I feel vindicated that the review has found that I put no undue pressure on Peter Rippon, I disagree with the remainder of Mr Pollard’s criticisms in relation to me.”

Culture Secretary Maria Miller said the Pollard Report raised “serious questions” about the BBC’s editorial and management issues.

She added: “It remains critical that we do not lose sight of the most important issue in this - the many victims of sexual abuse by Savile. I urge the BBC to now focus on the review into those abuses, and ensure it is swift and transparent.”

Mr Pollard said that, despite the failings, he thought BBC journalism and trust in it would recover.

“There’s no fundamental undermining of the BBC’s journalism and any fall in that is temporary.”

The BBC Executive said it would tighten up its procedures for difficult stories and there will be improved guidance and training for journalists about how and when material should be handed to police.

And in the longer term, the Executive said today that “aspects of the management and culture within BBC news must change”.

Savile report: The key players

• Helen Boaden, director, BBC News - The BBC veteran started her career in radio and rose through the ranks to become head of news at the corporation. An award-winning reporter, she is ultimately responsible for shows such as Today, Newsnight, Question Time and Panorama.

• Peter Rippon, Newsnight editor - A BBC lifer, Mr Rippon has worked on a string of high-profile shows and took over at Newsnight in 2008. He faced criticism for falling audiences and has seen some high-profile figures leave the show. He stood aside after his explanation in a blog about why the investigation into Jimmy Savile was pulled was criticised for inaccuracies and had to be corrected. He was moved to another role in the BBC.

• Stephen Mitchell, deputy director of BBC News - A newspaper reporter before he joined the BBC, Mr Mitchell has mainly worked in radio and has been deputy director since 2008. He oversaw the blog written by Peter Rippon which was subsequently corrected by the BBC, and resigned this morning.

• George Entwistle, former BBC director general - Mr Entwistle joined the BBC as a trainee in 1989 after a short career in magazine journalism and went on to hold jobs including editor of Newsnight, head of current affairs and head of television.

His stint in the top job lasted 54 days and he spent virtually his entire tenure trying to deal with the fall-out from the Jimmy Savile child abuse scandal. The final nail in his coffin was the disclosure that Newsnight wrongly implicated Lord McAlpine, a former Tory party treasurer, in a child abuse scandal in north Wales in the 1970s and 1980s.

• Adrian Van Klaveren, former controller of BBC Radio 5 Live - A former BBC trainee, Mr Van Klaveren has now left his role at 5 Live for another position in the organisation. He signed off on the decision to show the film which led to false allegations that former Tory party treasurer Lord McAlpine is a paedophile. It has now been announced that he will move to a non-news role.