BBC sex scandal report blames chaos, not cover-up, in Savile programs

Former BBC Director General Mark Thompson, now chief executive of the New York Times, was cleared of any wrongdoing in the company's airing of a Jimmy Savile tribute instead of a sex scandal expose.

LONDON — The BBC did not pressure its flagship news show to drop a sex expose into Jimmy Savile, but staff emails published by an inquiry showed that some knew about a "darker side" to the former star even as they prepared a tribute program.

News of Savile's crimes threw the BBC into turmoil, with the world-renowned broadcaster facing accusations that it shut down an investigative report into Savile in favor of a laudatory program after he died last year.

Police say they believe Savile carried out an unprecedented number of sex offenses and suspect him of involvement in 199 crimes, mostly involving children — including 31 rapes.

The scandal, which dominated headlines in Britain through October and November, resulted in the resignation of its director general just 54 days into his job and provoked awkward questions for his predecessor, Mark Thompson, who recently took over as chief executive of the New York Times.

An independent inquiry published Wednesday said it had not found any evidence that senior managers at the BBC applied pressure on the editor of the "Newsnight" investigations program to drop the expose.

However, it said the broadcaster had failed to handle the revelations around the former star due to poor management which resulted in chaos and confusion. Thompson was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, the publicly funded broadcaster's governing body, said the allegation that the Newsnight investigation had been dropped because it clashed with the corporate interests of the broadcaster was extremely serious.

He told reporters the claim "went right to the heart of the BBC's reputation, integrity, and the trust which we depend on. We took the allegations exceptionally seriously."

The accusations against Savile were finally brought to light by rival broadcaster ITV, and some 450 people have since come forward with information about to Savile to detectives.

The report, by a former head of rival Sky News, said the former head of BBC Events had emailed George Entwistle in 2010 to discuss whether the BBC should prepare an obit for Savile at the time of his death. A second email to Entwistle referred to the "darker side of the story."

Another email said: "I'd feel v queasy about an obit. I saw the real truth!!!!"

Entwistle, who was at the time the BBC's controller of Knowledge Commissioning, said he did not recall the email. He went on to replace Thompson as director general, but stepped down after 54 days when he failed to get a grip on the problem.

The BBC Trust said it accepted the report in full and would implement all its recommendations for better management.

"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," the report said. "It was not done to protect the Savile tribute programs or for any improper reason."

(Additional reporting by Natalie Huet)

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