Pollard: Newsnight Savile decision flawed… but no cover up

By Charles Maggs

The decision by Newsnight to drop its investigation into Jimmy Savile was "flawed", according to the Pollard review released today.

But crucially the report did not say there was a cover-up at the BBC.

"Newsnight investigators were right. There is clear and compelling evidence that Jimmy Savile was a paedophile. The decision to drop it was clearly wrong," said Ben Pollard, who carried out the investigation.

"The editor did not look properly at the evidence when he made the decision. There were very serious errors by editor's line manager in removing Newsnight from the management risk programme list."

Although ruling out a cover-up, he was scathing in his criticism of the BBC's management structures in dealing with the situation after ITV's investigation into Savile's conduct.

"There was a complete inability to deal with the events that followed," he added. The BBC's management system proved "completely incapable of dealing with it".

This led to "one of the worst management crises is in the history of the BBC", Pollard said.

Resignations have quickly followed, as the BBC's deputy news editor Stephen Mitchell left his position.

The fiasco cost former Newsnight editor Peter Rippon his job. He pulled the airing of the report as he did not believe it was credible enough to broadcast, but it is unclear why he stopped BBC journalists from investigating further.

But in a statement today, he defended his actions in not showing the pulled Newsnight investigation.

"On this occasion, I am being judged not about what we broadcast, but what we did not, and this means that will always be questions about whether more could have been done to get the item on air," he said. 

"However, I do not agree that my decision on this occasion was flawed."

The report's findings were welcomed by the BBC's senior independent director, Riona Reynolds.

"We accept the report's recommendations in full," she said.

"It's clear that the answer is not to impose more rules and regulations, but issues of culture and organisations need to be addressed".

She added there will be an "entirely new Newsnight editorial team" in the short term.

Pollard's review is one of two internal reports at the BBC for journalistic failings on the flagship current affairs programme. Acting director general Tim Davie confirmed the report cost the BBC a total of £2 million.

The government suggested any new changes are a matter for the BBC's internal structures and they would not be getting involved.

"I am pleased that the BBC Trust have acted quickly to publish Nick Pollard's review. The report raises serious questions around editorial and management issues at the BBC and I look to the Trust to help tackle these," culture, media and sport secretary Maria Miller said.

"I also remind the Trust how vital it is to publish all relevant evidence, as soon as possible, in order to re-build public trust and confidence in the BBC."

A second report, being conducted by BBC Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie, is looking into the circumstances behind a separate story which wrongly implicated former Conservative party treasurer Lord McAlpine in a North Wales paedophile ring.

The BBC ran a series of tribute programs to Savile after his death last year, which has led to speculation of a cover-up.

Meanwhile police carrying out Operation Yewtree, the investigation into the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal, have confirmed that they have arrested a man from London in his 70s.