Tonight’s Panorama is set to heap more pressure on the BBC by calling into question George Entwistle’s handling of the Jimmy Savile crisis and revealing “the inside story” behind the shelving of the Newsnight investigation.
The hour-long programme features interviews with reporter Liz MacKean and producer Meirion Jones and reveals what it claims is dramatic change of heart over proceeding with Newsnight investigation.
MacKean said Newsnight editor Peter Rippon suddenly went cold on the story: “All I can say is that it was an abrupt change in tone from, you know, one day ‘excellent, let’s prepare to get this thing on air’ to ‘hold on’.”
Panorama will reveal emails from Rippon that move from “Excellent, we can then pull together the tx plan” on 25 Nov 2011, to on 30 November: “Having pondered this overnight I think the key is whether we can establish the CPS did drop the case [against Savile] for the reasons the women say. That makes it a better story – our sources so far are just the women and a second-hand briefing”.
Meirion Jones told Panorama he felt this emphasis on establishing why the CPS dropped the case prior to broadcasting the investigation was both new and unnecessary.
“I was very surprised by this. I argued - as did Liz MacKean - with our editor. We had meetings together. We had individual meetings with him. The argument went on for some time”.
MacKean also emailed a friend on 30 November with reference to a conversation she had had with Rippon. She wrote: “PR [Peter Rippon] says if the bosses aren’t happy… [he] can’t go to the wall on this one.”
And by 1 December 2011, Rippon’s line had hardened again. In another email to Jones, Rippon wrote:
“I think we should stop working on the other elements…because we don’t really have a strong enough story without it. I’ll pull editing now”.
This is despite Jones emailing Peter Rippon on 7 December to warn what would happen if the investigation was dropped at this late stage. Jones said: “I was sure the story would come out one way or another and that, if it did, the BBC would be accused of a cover-up. In fact I wrote an email to Peter saying ‘the story is strong enough’ and the danger of not running it is ’substantial damage to BBC reputation’.”
Panorama acknowledged however that it had found no evidence to counter the BBC’s claim that the film was dropped for editorial reasons.
Boaden and Entwistle
The Panorama film also reveals that BBC director of news Helen Boaden told George Entwistle – at that time director of Vision – about the Newsnight investigation and its possible impact on planned tributes to Jimmy Savile at an Awards lunch at the Hilton Hotel on 2 December 2011.
She told him that, if the Newsnight investigation went ahead, he might have to change the Christmas schedules, but the conversation is said to have taken “less than 10 seconds.”
The director general told a press conference earlier this month that he knew no details of the nature of the Newsnight investigation. He said his arms-length approach was a conscious attempt to ensure the independence of BBC News.
“Helen [Boaden] said ‘we’re looking into Jimmy Savile’ and I said ‘thanks for letting me know’. The key thing was not looking in any sense that I was putting any pressure on a BBC investigation.”
Handling the crisis
Newsnight reporter MacKean also told Panorama: “Ever since the decision was taken to shelve our story I’ve not been happy with public statements made by the BBC. I think they’re very misleading about the nature of the investigation we were doing.”
On 5 October 2012, BBC director general George Entwistle wrote to all staff about the crisis the corporation found itself engulfed in. In that email he said: “the BBC Newsnight programme investigated Surrey Police’s enquiry into Jimmy Savile towards the end of 2011”
Meirion Jones immediately emailed Entwistle taking issue with that account. He wrote: “George – one note – the investigation was into whether Jimmy Savile was a paedophile – I know because it was my investigation. We didn’t know that Surrey police had investigated Jimmy Savile – no-one did – that was what we found when we investigated and interviewed his victims.”
Yet the next day, Newswatch broadcast an interview with the BBC’s head of editorial policy David Jordan in which he said:
“They [Newsnight] were investigating the Surrey Police investigation into Jimmy Savile and they discovered that Surrey Police had done a perfectly decent investigation into Jimmy Savile, had made recommendations to the CPS and then subsequently it had been dropped because of lack of evidence.” (6th October 2012)
MacKean said: “The story we were investigating was very clear cut. It was about Jimmy Savile being a paedophile and using his status as a charity fundraiser and television presenter to get access to places where there were vulnerable teenage girls he could abuse.”