A scandal on their doorstep: BBC boss in the spotlight over Savile allegations

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BBC in the dock. George Entwistle faces MPs
BBC in the dock. George Entwistle faces MPs

The BBC's new director-general endured a baptism of fire today, as he tried to explain to MPs how the corporation had allowed Jimmy Savile to abuse children while working there.

George Entwistle looked under-briefed and nervous when he appeared at the Commons media committee hearing.

MPs asked why he allowed Christmas tributes to Savile to be shown despite being told by BBC head of news Helen Boaden of a Newsnight investigation into the former Top of the Pops presenter.

"I thought she was being a considerate colleague giving me the chance to reflect on what the technical implications might be," he said.

Asked why he did not pursue the matter, he replied: "My assumption was if there was anything I needed to know I would have been told.

"Obviously this is something I've reflected on a lot. The reason I didn't see further information was this determination I had to observe the separate distinction between news and television."

He added: "In the light of what's happened of course I do [regret showing the Savile tribute]. The key thing I needed to know was: did they have something good enough to proceed with?"

Labour MP Paul Farrelly said his behaviour exhibited "an amazing lack of curiosity on behalf of a journalist".

Entwistle replied: "My background as a journalist made me pay particular attention to whether it was stood up or not. There was a distinct possibility it might fade away. As a journalist you are privy to many accusations. Some of them turn out true, some don't."

Farrelly then asked who "sat on" Newsnight editor Peter Rippon to force him to cancel the programme into Savile.

"Is it not possible that he changed his mind?" Entwistle replied.

He argued Rippon became more concerned with the importance of the Surrey police investigation into Savile rather than the revelations about the presenter himself.

Entwistle admitted the scandal was "very, very grave" but refused to accept the BBC had handled it badly.

Looking back on Savile's career at the BBC, he said: "One cannot look at it with anything other than horror. That's a matter of grave regret for me."

The BBC is currently undertaking two separate inquiries into the scandal.

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