BBC boss appears before MPs over Savile scandal

BBC Director-General George Entwistle appears at the Culture, Media and Sport select committee. Photo: ITV News

BBC Director-General George Entwistle spent almost two hours today taking questions from MPs at the Culture, Media and Sport select committee about the corporation's handling of the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal.

During his evidence, Mr Entwistle told the committee that after watching last night's Panorama, he now believes the BBC Newsnight investigation into sexual abuse allegations relating to Jimmy Savile should have been allowed to continue.

Newsnight editor Peter Rippon has 'stepped aside' from his post. Credit: ITV News

He said he had found "no evidence" that pressure was put on Newsnight editor Peter Rippon to drop its Savile investigation.

He added that decision was made by the Newsnight editor alone.

ITV Reporter Martha Fairlie reports:

The Director-General told the committee it was during a lunch - The Women in Film and Television lunch - that BBC Head of News Helen Boaden first told him that Newsnight were investigating Savile.

Mr Entwistle said he was told by Boaden that "if it stands up" it may have an impact on the BBC's Christmas schedule, referring to the planned Jimmy Savile tribute programmes.

He added that the matter was not discussed again and he had been left with "the expectation" he would be told if the programme was to go ahead. MPs said they were surprised by the Director-General's "lack of curiosity".

Damian Collins MP asked if the BBC Director-General was angry about the inaccurate blog written by Newsnight editor Peter Rippon explaining the reason's behind the reason's to drop its investigation. The BBC was forced to publish a clarification to the blog and Mr Rippon was asked to "step aside" following its publication. Mr Entwistle replied that he was "very disappointed" that the blog was wrong.

During the committee hearing, Therese Coffey MP said she was "chilled" at reports that one of the reasons Mr Rippon dropped the report into Savile was because it was based on the testimony of "just the women."

Ms Coffey said these words showed the "broader cultural problem" at the BBC had not changed.

Mr Entwistle responded: "The phrase, isn't in the least defensible at all and I do believe the culture has changed since the seventies or eighties, but it has not changed as it much as it should have."

Speaking about Savile's behaviour, Mr Entwistle told MPs: "There is no question, what Jimmy Savile did and the way the BBC behaved in the years, will raise questions of trust for the BBC. This is a gravely serious matter and one cannot look back on it with anything other than horror."

He added he is "convinced" the abuse carried out by Jimmy Savile was enabled by a wider cultural problem of sexual harassment at the BBC:

Mr Entwistle also told the committee the BBC is currently investigating between eight and ten historical sexual abuse allegations against individuals. He added that any current cases are being referred to police.

The Culture, Media and Sport committee is reserving the right to call the Newsnight editor Peter Rippon and others, saying they will wait for the conclusions of the Pollard review - a review being conducted by former Sky News boss Nick Pollard into the decision by Newsnight to drop its Savile investigation.