Amidst claims that the new Director-General of the BBC, George Entwistle, failed to adequately respond to a warning issued by a Newsnight journalists that the BBC had been involved in a “concerted effort” to cover up an investigation into sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile, highlighted in a TV investigation, emails proving these claims have now been released.
One of the leading journalists on the original Savile exposé, Liz MacKean, has told Mr Entwistle that the account he offered to the BBC’s staff was fraught with mistakes and that the Corporation has issued “repeated misleading statements”, as a consequence, The Independent reports.
Mr Entwistle refused to speak to Ms MacKean, despite knowing her, and replied with a two-line statement, before passing the matter over to a colleague. The handling of the matter is likely to weaken Entwhistle’s position, and may make the case he is due to deliver in Parliament on Tuesday, much weaker,where it is already expected that he will face difficult questions on his handling of the scandal that emerged during his first month in his post.
Ms MacKean and her colleague Meirion Jones, both original investigative journalists working on the original Savile story for the BBC, were yesterday summoned to a meeting by Peter Horrocks, the BBC’s Director of Global News, who has been brought in to oversee the Corporation’s ongoing coverage.
It is believed that this will be the first time that both women will be called to give their version of events to senior BBC management.
In an email sent to Mr Entwistle 12 days ago, Ms MacKean said she wanted to “share with you my disquiet about the handling of the Newsnight Savile story”. She went on to deny Mr Entwistle’s previous claims that the story was “about the Surrey police investigation” and discounted an account by the Newsnight editor Peter Rippon, who posted a blog on the BBC website on 2 October, the day before ITV’s Savile documentary, explaining his decision to drop the BBC’s story.
In the email, Ms MacKean wrote: “Ever since the report was dropped [by the BBC], just ahead of it being edited, there have been repeated misleading statements from the press office about the nature of our investigation,”
She continued: “To see what began as a BBC story running large on ITV is a hard thing. For it not to be mentioned in any way on Newsnight is another, quite absurd, thing. But worst of all has been what seems like a concerted effort to make it appear that our story was about something else, something that could be dropped and forgotten ahead of fulsome tribute programmes. It is this which seems to be fuelling the damaging claims of a cover-up.”
The journalist’s claim that their investigation was near to the end of its final editing stages but had the plug pulled on it due to its controversial content and instead replaced in December 2010 by How’s About That Then?, which, in contrast, was a positive celebration of the late TV personality’s life and charitable contributions. This raises concerns that Entwhistle deliberately made this decision to cover up the, now public, paedophilic antics of Savile, which has now brought his position and actions into considerable doubt, with Mr Rippon claiming that he should have warned BBC senior management about the evidence his team had gathered.
Mr Entwistle has publicly declared that he was determined not to interfere in an independent editorial process and, although he was aware of a Newsnight investigation into Savile, “had no idea what the nature of the investigation was”.
He replied to Ms MacKean – who he knew from his time as editor of Newsnight – with a two-line note: “Thank you for this. I have asked Ken MacQuarrie from BBC Scotland to get in touch with you to discuss this.”
A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC has confirmed it has launched an independent review led by former court of appeal judge Dame Janet Smith which will cover these questions. It would not be appropriate to comment further until these have been concluded.”
The case continues…