The cannibalism within the BBC took a further twist today with former Today editor Kevin Marsh revealing that the Savile story was pitched to Panorama on the same day as Newsnight.
Writing in his blog, Marsh said the BBC had confirmed this morning that Newsnight ‘Savile’ producer Meirion Jones had sent a short email to Panorama editor Tom Giles on 31 October 2011.
The email, sent two days after Savile’s death, stated that Jones’ aunt worked at Duncroft and he believed he could gather evidence of Savile’s abuse of girls there.
Jones had been considering the idea since June 2011, but Savile’s death prompted him to pursue it in earnest.
According to a source, Jones stated in his 4-line email to Panorama that because Savile was dead, the BBC no longer had to worry about libel – which raised alarm bells for Giles.
Jones also wrote that he did not think the investigation was necessarily a Panorama and may work better as a documentary.
At the time of pitching the idea, Jones was employed by Newsnight and gave an extensive pitch to his editor Peter Rippon, in contrast to Panorama.
Details of pitch
It is understood that the Newsnight pitch included examples of conversations taking place on Friends Reunited following Savile’s death between women who had come into contact with him. A follow-up meeting revealed more information about victim Karin Ward.
Rippon gave Jones the greenlight to pursue the story and there was no further conversation between Giles and Jones.
The pair had been in a separate and brief conversation in a BBC corridor just prior to Savile’s death about Jones potentially working on longer investigations for Panorama and they were due to meet again.
However, because of Rippon’s interest in the story, that meeting never took place and there was no further contact between the two until the pre-publicity for ITV’s Exposure documentary.
Giles is understood to have been perturbed that Jones had not come back to him when Newsnight dropped the programme and instead the story ended up with ITV. Giles had assumed that because Newsnight had dropped the programme, it meant that Jones had been unable to stand the story up.
A BBC news source added that BBC News and Current Affairs shared the assumption that there was no evidence for the Savile allegations, which is why no-one decided to pursue the story when they became aware of it in the national press in January.
The source added that they assumed that was also why deputy director of BBC News Stephen Mitchell did not commission any of the news outlets to pick up the investigation.
More questions to answer
Marsh, who is a associate of Mitchell and Rippon from their radio days, points out that former Sky News executive Nick Pollard will want to know why, when Newsnight producer Jones had an ‘open channel’ to Panorama, he and his reporter did not take their evidence to Giles in December 2011 to make a formal pitch for a half-hour slot.
It is understood that Jones told BBC news journalists that he was of the belief that the corporation did not want the piece to run which is why is he didn’t go back to pitch it to other BBC outlets.
A BBC spokesman said: “The idea was suggested by a Newsnight producer to both programmes on the same day. The Newsnight investigation was already under way before Panorama had a chance to respond.”