How well has the BBC handled the Savile crisis? You can decide using this timeline from Day One to Day Fifty-Six

To help provide a factual framework for the debate on Wednesday November 7th at the Frontline Club (Trouble at the BBC – Savile, management and public trust) here’s a timeline of the BBC’s handling of the crisis.

I got interested in the details of the timeline when the Sunday Times reported that the date on which the corporation first heard directly from ITV about the allegations that were going to make was September 7th, nearly a month before transmission. The BBC confirmed to me that this was correct. Knowing that under Ofcom’s rules ITV would have had to provide the BBC with sufficient detail to prepare a proper reply, I set out to find out just what the BBC was told on September 7th and what it did once it knew. The answer is that it knew a lot, you can judge for yourself what it did once it knew.

It was actually as far back as August 5th that the Sunday Mirror ran an article called ‘Sir Jim named a paedophile in TV shocker’ .The Sunday Mirror said ITV1 would show a programme before the anniversary of Savile’s death on October 29th which would name him as a paedophile and would include interviews with several victims who would say on camera that Savile abused them when they were under-age while he was the host of various BBC programmes.

But the BBC got the first formal and direct contact from ITV on  September 7th and  if you start the ‘crisis clock’ running on that date  and call this Day One, which I think is fair because that’s when the BBC machine would have gone into action, it puts the BBC’s crisis management in a new context. For instance on this timeline that it took until Day Thirty-Two to apologise to the victims, Day Thirty Four to confirm any independent inquiries and Day Forty-Six to correct the mistakes in its previous public responses.

I also think I’ve found some other interesting information which may not have been revealed before.

This timeline does not attempt to cover every aspect of the Savile ‘crisis’. There are inevitable omissions, for instance we don’t know when the BBC first talked to the police. If you’ve got any suggestions about errors or omissions do let me know.

DAY ONE (26 days to ITV transmission)

Friday September 7th.

The ITV programme makers at Exposure send an e-mail to BBC Press and Media Relations, attaching a letter to the BBC Director-General. Under Ofcom’s rules a person or company who is the subject of an investigation such as this should be invited to contribute and ‘be told the nature and purpose of the programme, what the programme is about and be given a clear explanation of why they were asked to contribute and when (if known) and where it is likely to be first broadcast’.

They must also ‘be informed about the areas of questioning and, wherever possible, the nature of other likely contributions’.

The ITV letter attached to the e-mail does all this. It tells the BBC that the programme will be about the alleged abuse by Savile of girls invited to BBC shows, and that it is scheduled to be transmitted in 26 days time, on October 3rd.

It sets out what the programme team has discovered about five different programme strands in which Savile had appeared, and it lists the evidence gathered from those who were allegedly abused.

The letter then raises the issue of the Newsnight investigation, which had been terminated by the editor of the programme. It also tells the BBC that Exposure has interviewed Esther Rantzen who, after seeing the evidence gathered  by the programme, has said on camera that she now believes that Savile was a paedophile.

The Exposure team then sets out six questions for the BBC to answer, including:

  • what was known at the BBC about what Savile had been up to,
  • what their child protection policies had been, and
  • why the Newsnight item had been dropped.

It invites the BBC to put forward a representative to answer these questions.

The BBC has since said that its Press and Media Relations team forwarded the  email and letter to the BBC legal team, to the BBC Editorial Policy Department and to the Director-General’s office. ITV addressed the letter to George Entwistle believing him to have taken up the role of DG, but in fact Mark Thompson is still in the post, so the BBC Press Office sent a copy to his office.

Freelance reporter Miles Goslett ,who first got the BBC to confirm that that the email (including attached letter to the DG) from ITV  arrived on September 7th,says the BBC also confirmed to him that the documents were forwarded to ,amongst others, George Entwistle and Helen Boaden.

The above paragraph was added as an update on 7th November 2012.

On September 7th the significance of this email and letter will surely not have been lost on those who read them at the BBC. Their largest competitor for mass television audiences, ITV, is giving them nearly a month’s notice that it will be transmitting a programme that will be seen by many millions of people, and will be bound to attract much press attention. It will allege that a star who was very much of the BBC’s own making, and had been honoured after his death with tribute programming, was a serial sexual abuser of children on BBC premises. It will inevitably raise questions about the BBC’s own investigation into Savile – especially in the light of the decision to drop Newsnight’s investigation and go ahead with the tribute programming.

DAY TEN (17 days to ITV transmission)

Sunday 16th September

This is Mark Thompson’s last day as Director-General of the BBC

DAY ELEVEN (16 days to ITV transmission)

Monday 17th September

This is George Entwistle’s first day as Director-General of the BBC

DAY FIFTEEN (12 days to ITV transmission)

Friday September 21st

The BBC sends a reply to ITV’s letter. It says it will not be putting anybody forward to answer the questions posed by the ITV programme-makers. The BBC explains that it has conducted an extensive search of the files, but no evidence has been found of misconduct by Savile. The statement continues:

‘Whilst the BBC condemns any behaviour of the type alleged in the strongest terms, in the absence of evidence of any kind found at the BBC that corroborates the allegations that have been made it is simply not possible for the corporation to take any action’

Responding to ITV’s question about the Newsnight item the BBC say this was not shown ‘for editorial reasons’ .Their statement also says: ‘Newsnight was pursuing a particular angle relating to the CPS/Police which they were unable to substantiate and which therefore was not broadcast’

This was not the first time that the Crown Prosecution Service has been mentioned in the context of  the  BBC  and the Newsnight item . When the Sunday Mirror first ran a story back  on January 8th 2012  about the dropping of the item ,it contained the line ‘Yesterday a BBC aide insisted Newsnight were investigating an alleged  failing within the CPS and the programme was canned because they did not have enough proof to run the story’.

But significantly in his own reaction to other newspaper coverage the Editor, Peter Rippon, had not specifically mentioned the CPS or police, saying only that ‘the story we were pursuing could not be substantiated’.

DAY TWENTY-TWO (Five Days to ITV transmission)

Friday September 28th

The London Evening Standard publishes a report about what ITV will transmit the following Wednesday. The headline is ‘Jimmy Savile sexually abused us as girls, 10 women tell TV exposé’. It quotes a ‘source who worked with the investigation team’ as saying that the programme contains ‘shocking material that really lifts the lid on the icon’ and “goes beyond anybody’s comprehension” of what Savile was capable of.’ The Standard recalls that ‘original plans to broadcast the allegations last December were dropped in favour of two shows celebrating Savile’s BBC career’. There is no mention of any BBC response.

A similar story, apparently partly based on the Standard story, appears in the MailOnline that evening.

DAY TWENTY-THREE (Four days to ITV transmission)

Saturday September 29th

A number of national newspapers report on the Saturday what the ITV programme will allege on the following Wednesday. The Guardian version includes the paragraph:

‘In a statement issued yesterday, the BBC said it had conducted extensive searches of its files to establish whether there was any record or allegation of misconduct by Savile during his time at the BBC but no such evidence had been found.

‘ “While the BBC condemns any behaviour of the type alleged in the strongest terms, in the absence of evidence of any kind found at the BBC that corroborates the allegations that have been made it is simply not possible for the corporation to take any further action,” it said.’

DAY TWENTY-FOUR (Three days to ITV transmission)

Sunday September 30th

Most of the national papers preview the ITV allegations. It appears that the newspaper coverage over this weekend is the first time that the BBC Trust had heard about the allegations – three weeks to the day after the management was formally informed by ITV.

Those newspapers that quote the BBC use extracts from their statement released on the Friday. But the Sunday Times article also looks back at the Newsnight investigation, and they have a further quote from a BBC spokesman: ‘As has previously been documented, allegations against Jimmy Savile were investigated by Surrey police and a decision was taken not to pursue them.

‘To allege that we are withholding evidence from the police is also damaging and false.’

The Sunday Telegraph quotes the Newsnight Editor, Peter Rippon, as saying:

‘It is absolutely untrue that the Newsnight investigation was dropped for anything other than editorial reasons.

‘We have been very clear from the start that the piece was not broadcast because the story we were pursuing could not be substantiated.

‘To say otherwise is false and very damaging to the BBC and individuals. The notion that internal pressure was applied appears to be a malicious rumour.’

DAY TWENTY-FIVE (Two days to ITV transmission)

Monday 1st October

A third successive day of coverage across the national and regional press with reports of what ITV will broadcast. The BBC’s position remains, as quoted by the Telegraph, that ‘it was “simply not possible” to take any further action’.

DAY TWENTY-SIX (One day to ITV transmission)

Tuesday 2nd October

The BBC changes its position. The Head of BBC Press and Media Relations, Julian Payne, emails ITV to say the BBC has ‘changed its statement’. Most significantly the ‘not possible to take any further action’ line has gone. Instead, for the first time, the BBC says there is something which it can do. It asks its own Investigations Unit to contact the police. The full public version of the statement reads:

‘A number of serious and disturbing allegations have been made over the past few days about the sexual abuse of teenage girls by Sir Jimmy Savile. Some of these allegations relate to activity on BBC premises in the 1960s and 70s. We are horrified by allegations that anything of this sort could have happened at the BBC – or have been carried out by anyone working for the BBC. They are allegations of a serious criminal nature which the police have the proper powers to investigate. So we have today asked the BBC Investigations Unit to make direct contact with all the police forces in receipt of allegations and offer to help them investigate these matters and provide full support to any lines of inquiry they wish to pursue. The BBC is working closely with the relevant police authorities. They have asked us to make clear that anyone affected by the issues raised in the ITV programme can contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or their local police force’.

Source (The BBC says this is the updated version of 4th October)

On the same day Peter Rippon publishes a blog on the BBC’s ‘The Editors site’. He denies that the investigation was dropped ‘for anything other than editorial reasons’. One part of the blog reads:

‘Why did I pursue this story about Jimmy Savile and why did I drop it? I decided we should pursue the story because of the nature of the allegations and because the key witness told us the police had investigated the claims but the case had been dropped on the grounds he was too old’.

Rippon never actually says what the exact story was about Jimmy Savile that he decided to pursue and never what ‘the allegations’ were. For instance he never uses words such as ‘it was an investigation into the Surrey police’s handling of the case’

The blog says three other things which are also to become significant later:

1. ‘We had no evidence that anyone from the Duncroft home could or should have known about the allegations’.

2. ‘We had no evidence against the BBC’.

3. ‘We are confident that all the women we spoke to had contacted the police independently already. We also had no new evidence against any other person that would have helped the police’.


DAY TWENTY-SEVEN (Day of ITV transmission)

Wednesday 3rd October

The producer of the Newsnight investigation, Meirion Jones, and the reporter, Liz McKean, email  Peter Rippon and Steve Mitchell  (Deputy Director of BBC News) pointing out that the blog is wrong.

On BBC Radio Four’s The Media Show, Steve Hewlett interviews the maker of the ITV documentary, Mark Williams-Thomas, and then turns to David Jordan, Director of BBC Editorial Policy and Standards.

Hewlett: ‘Why did Newsnight drop their story?’

Jordan ‘I think there’s a slight misconception in something you said earlier Steve, which is what Newsnight’s investigation was actually about … There was an investigation by the Surrey Police in 2007 into the claims by people that they’d been subject to sexual assault by Jimmy Savile, and they looked into that; and we had an allegation made to Newsnight that that investigation hadn’t been conducted properly, and had been dropped for wrong reasons; and the Newsnight investigation was into that investigation, as it were. It was never started out as an investigation into Jimmy Savile himself; it started off as an investigation into whether the Surrey Police had dropped allegations …’

Hewlett: ‘If you had prima facie evidence or serious allegations that this is what Jimmy Savile was up to, irrespective of what the Crown Prosecution Service decided to do, and given what we now know Newsnight might have found out if they had carried on, it should have been pursued shouldn’t it?

Jordan: ‘That all depends. That’s an editorial decision for the Editor of Newsnight or any Editor to make: what sort of story do they want to pursue? In this instance they wanted to pursue a story about how the allegations of assault had actually been handled by the Surrey Police.’

Hewlett also suggests to Jordan that the Newsnight team has more evidence than the Surrey police and asks if this evidence was passed to the police.

Jordan: ‘I’m not sure that Newsnight believed it had any more evidence than the Surrey Police actually had … because they were specifically focused – you might say wrongly. Had you been Editor you might have taken a different decision, but they were so clearly focused on the Surrey Police investigation that they didn’t follow up in more general terms and do what Mark has done, which is laudable, and find a lot of other people subjected to the same abuse.


ITV transmits ‘Exposure –the other side of Jimmy Savile’

DAY TWENTY-EIGHT (One day after ITV transmission)

Thursday 4th October

BBC Radio Four’s ‘Today’ Programme interviews David Jordan. He says it is ‘in the public interest’ for the allegations to have been transmitted by ITV. He is then asked by James Naughtie; ‘Well if it is true that it is in the public interest, surely it was in the public interest that Newsnight, which had much of the same evidence, should have broadcast it when it chose not to?’

David Jordan replies : ‘Well Newsnight looked at a particular aspect, they investigated a particular aspect of what was going on with Jimmy Savile, as indeed we now discover various other people had investigations into Jimmy Savile at various times. What they were looking at specifically was allegations that had been made to the Surrey Police in 2007, and they had themselves received an allegation that the investigation conducted by the Surrey Police in some way hadn’t been done properly. They looked into that allegation. Actually it turned out not to be true. It turned out that the Surrey police had done a professional job that you would expect of them, had delivered evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service and the Crown Prosecution Service had decided on the evidence that they had that they wouldn’t proceed with prosecutions.

Naughtie then puts it to him : ‘what you are saying, as far as I understand it from that is this, that Newsnight did not have access to accounts of alleged abuse which matched the severity of things that were said in the ITV documentary, it didn’t reach that pitch the Newsnight stuff, is that correct?’

Jordan: ‘I’m not sure it didn’t reach the pitch in some instances’

Naughtie: ‘Well surely it would have been right to broadcast it then?’

Jordan: ‘The thing is, what they decided to do – and this is a matter of judgement for the editor of Newsnight at the time – what they decided was that they hadn’t been able to bring their own investigation into what they had been interested in investigating..that they hadn’t been able to conclude that in the way that they thought they might do, they therefore dropped that investigation. Now he, the editor, decided that he didn’t want to pursue the general rumours and allegations about Jimmy Savile’s sexual conduct in the 60s and 70s for a variety of reasons which he spelled out on the blog that he has written, one of which was these things happened a long time ago, and that another one of which was that Sir Jimmy Savile was by that time dead so he thought the level of public interest in the sense that you describe it in pursuing it was less than you might have thought’.

At least two points arise from this interview. The first is that this explanation of what the Newsnight investigation was initially about is framed in much more specific terms than the BBC or Rippon himself has previously offered. The second is that David Jordan does concede to Naughtie that ‘in some instances’ the Newsnight investigation had reached what Naughtie had called ‘the pitch’ or ‘the severity’ of the ITV evidence. But then he says that Rippon didn’t want to pursue what Jordan seems to downplay as ‘the general rumours and allegations about Jimmy Savile’s sexual conduct’.


Later that day David Jordan has a meeting with Meirion Jones .This meeting remains confidential until Day Forty-Seven.

DAY TWENTY-NINE (Two days after ITV transmission)

Friday 5th October

BBC Director General George Entwistle sends an email to all staff ‘A message from George’. He says he is appalled by the things he saw in the ITV documentary and that the corporation will do absolutely everything it can to help find out what has happened. But he makes no mention of setting up any BBC inquiries, saying that ‘The police are the only people with the proper powers to assess criminal allegations, and they have made it clear to me that any BBC internal enquiry in parallel would run the risk of damaging or impeding their work.’

Of the Newsnight investigation he writes: ‘As is now well known, The BBC Newsnight programme investigated Surrey police’s enquiry into Jimmy Savile towards the end of 2011’

The Newsnight producer responsible for the Savile story, Meirion Jones, immediately sends an email to Entwistle:

‘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.’

The reporter Liz MacKean also sends an e-mail. Jones and MacKean are then asked by George Entwistle to meet Ken MacQuarrie ,Director of BBC Scotland to discuss their concerns.This meeting happens on 9th October (see Day Thirty-Three)

The above paragraph was inserted as an update on Nov 7th 2012

David Jordan is interviewed by Samira Ahmed on the BBC News Channel programme ‘Newswatch’,repeated the next day on BBC1. He says again: ‘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.

DAY THIRTY-ONE (Four days after ITV transmission)

Sunday 7th October

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, tells Andrew Marr on BBC 1

‘I think it is pretty shocking, the allegations that we are reading. They need to be properly looked at, properly investigated.

‘It seems to me it is very important that the organisation, the BBC, does that itself.

‘But also, if there are questions that should be pursued by the police and other organisations, everyone has to ask themselves the question ‘Is there new evidence that needs to be looked at? Are there new things as an organisation we should look at and examine?’

DAY THIRTY-TWO (Five days after ITV transmission)

Monday 8th October

George Entwistle gives his first – and only – full interview on the subject, to the BBC Today Programme in which he ‘deeply regrets’ the experiences of the abused women and says that he would like to apologise to them. This is the first BBC apology. Evan Davis puts to him the Prime Minister’s point that the BBC should have its own inquiry alongside any police investigation. Entwistle replies that the police are the ‘only properly constituted authority for dealing with criminal investigations’. He says: ‘the BBC does not have the capacity to compel people who no longer work for it to give interviews. It does not have the capacity to secure evidence forensically’.

But then he goes on to say that ‘when the police have finished everything that they have to do … I will take it further and ensure that any outstanding questions are answered properly … We can take a look properly’.

Evan Davis also attempts to find out exactly what George Entwistle knew when about the specific allegations against Savile.

Davis: ‘Why did the BBC run a eulogy about Jimmy Savile when it was quite clear that this was someone who had a number of question marks hanging over him?’

Entwistle: … ‘All that I in television knew was that Newsnight had begun , because Helen [Boaden] had let me know, an investigation into Jimmy Savile. I didn’t know what had become of that investigation. I didn’t know what discoveries, if any, had been made. … A great many people in the country loved Jimmy Savile’.

Davis: ‘When the programme was run .. in January this year you didn’t know that ten girls or that number had come forward?’

Entwistle: ‘Um, I didn’t know that’.

Davis: ‘Did you know and had you heard the rumours about Jimmy Savile?’

Entwistle: ‘Um, at the time the programme was made I had not. Jimmy Savile was regarded by a great many people as, er, a bit peculiar …’

Later in the interview he is asked if he thinks the Editor of Newsnight made a good editorial decision.

‘With the benefit of hindsight I think we could all wish that Newsnight had been able to go as far as ITV went, but on the basis of what he knew at the time I totally support his judgement. You can’t use hindsight … I’m not prepared to use hindsight to make the judgement that he made a mistake’.


DAY THIRTY-THREE (Six days after ITV transmission)

Tuesday 9th October

At George Entwistle’s request Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean hold separate meetings with Ken MacQuarrie,Director of BBC Scotland who has been asked by Entwistle to find out from Jones and McKean what really happened.Liz MacKean has since said that at the end of her meeting with MacQuarrie he said he would be reporting back to Entwistle.Presumably MacQuarrie he did .

The above paragraph was inserted as updates on November 7th and 8th 2012

The police say they are now 120 separate lines of inquiry with 20-25 possible victims of Savile.

DAY THIRTY-FOUR (Seven days after ITV transmission)

Wednesday 10th October

The Chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, gives an interview about the Savile allegations to Steve Hewlett on Radio Four’s Media Show. He defends the BBC management on all counts. When asked if the BBC has been ‘flat-footed’ in its handling of the crisis he says that when he first took the job he was advised by some of his predecessors that one thing you shouldn’t do as Chairman is always act too hastily, ‘you shouldn’t always respond to the 87 questions you get asked at 9.30 in the evening with demands for answers by the end of the next 15 minutes’. He also says ‘the way we have acted since then has been entirely in line with the police advice’.

Of the BBC inquiry that will follow once there is ‘the green light from the police’, Lord Patten says the Director-General intends to set up an independent inquiry with terms of reference agreed by the Trust. When asked if those terms of reference will include the decisions over the Newsnight programme, he says ‘My own view is that I am very reluctant to question the journalistic integrity of the people involved in those decisions’.

As to what the Newsnight investigation was actually about, he says ‘the programme which Newsnight was pursuing was, as you know because Peter Rippon has made this clear in his blog, it was largely directed at the behaviour of the police and whether the police had dropped allegations unfairly, and I think I am right in saying that they originally thought that the story was the dropping of the police investigation because of the identity of the person who was being identified’. Presumably Meirion Jones’s e-mail to George Entwistle has not been passed on to the BBC Trust.

As to when he became aware of the allegations about Savile, Lord Patten says ‘to be frank, I became aware of the whole story when it broke recently in the newspapers’, thus confirming that nobody in the BBC management told the Trust about the ITV email on 7th September until the ITV allegations became public twenty-one days later. Asked if he should have been told earlier that Newsnight had received allegations of sexual abuse on BBC premises, he says ‘no’. Did he think he should have been? ‘No’.


On his way into Broadcasting House to record The Media Show interview Lord Patten is door-stepped by Lucy Manning of ITV News.

Manning: ‘Looks now as if there is going to be an independent inquiry from the BBC: is that what you want to see now?’

Patten: ‘Absolutely, and I think its been clear for some time that that would happen.’

Later in the doorstep interview there is this exchange:

Manning; ‘Do you think the BBC has handled this correctly, all the way?’

Patten: ‘I think they have handled it in exactly the way they should have done, bringing in the police at the outset.’

Manning: ‘But they didn’t bring in the police at the outset: Newsnight had the allegations …’

Patten: ‘They did bring in the police at the outset – as soon as the story became public last week …’

Manning: ‘When ITV made the story public then they brought in the police, but Newsnight had those allegations from those women and nobody brought the police in then.’


DAY THIRTY-FIVE (Seven days after ITV transmission)

Thursday 11 October

Lucy Manning of ITV News doorsteps George Entwistle on his way to work and asks him about the BBC’s handling of the allegations. He too replies:

‘We went straight to the police with it as soon as we had a sense of the scale of what was going on’.


DAY THIRTY-SIX (Eight days after ITV transmission)

Friday 12th October

George Entwistle announces what he calls ‘two pieces of work; both to be led by independent figures’. The names will be announced as soon as possible. One is ‘an immediate independent inquiry led by an external expert into whether there were any failings in the BBC management of the Newsnight investigation’. The other is ‘an inquiry – once the police have indicated they are happy for it to proceed – into the culture and practices of the BBC during the years that Jimmy Savile worked here, and afterwards’.

In reply to questions at a news conference he makes it clear that Peter Rippon will remain as Editor of Newsnight.

Meirion Jones sends the draft script of the abandoned Newsnight item to George Entwistle.

DAY THIRTY-NINE (Twelve days after ITV transmission)

Tuesday 16th October

The BBC announces that former Court of Appeal judge Dame Janet Smith will lead the independent review into Jimmy Savile and the former Head of Sky News Nick Pollard will lead the review into Newsnight.

Nick Pollard’s terms of reference include ‘whether any inappropriate managerial pressure or consideration may have influenced the decision of the Editor of Newsnight’.

In a ‘Note to Editors’ toward the end of the statement the BBC puts on record that although the Director-General, George Entwistle, normally chairs the Executive Board, on this occasion he ‘absented himself from the Executive Board for the appointment of the two chairs and the agreement of the terms of reference of the reviews. He took no part in discussions around these decisions. The independent reviews will report to the BBC Executive Board, chaired for purposes connected to these reviews by Non-executive Director Dame Fiona Reynolds, the Senior Independent Director Designate’.


DAY FORTY-FIVE (Eighteen days after ITV transmission)

Sunday 21st October

This now appears to be a very significant day in the timeline but perhaps surprisingly little has been written about it. I first got interested in Sunday 21st when I thought I heard Lord Patten tell the BBC World at One that it was then that he had ‘insisted’ that the mistakes in the blog were corrected. According to The Times account of the interview : ‘Lord Patten said: “I knew last Sunday and I insisted that we should put the blog right as soon as possible.”

I wondered why the Chairman of the BBC Trust would have to ‘insist’ on that point . As far as I now understand it, this is what happened: the programme-makers at BBC Panorama are bound by the same Ofcom rules about fairness as their counterparts over at ITV Exposure. If they are going to make allegations against people or companies they must give fair notice in order to invite responses before the programme is transmitted.

So earlier in the week Panorama had been emailing the BBC corporately and key executives individually giving them notice of what would be said about them and offering them the chance to reply. By the Saturday they had received no replies. So on the Sunday morning, Peter Horrocks ,normally Head of BBC Global News but in these unusual circumstances the BBC executive overseeing the production of the Panorama programme (because he hadn’t been previously involved in the saga), emails two executives of the BBC Trust asking their help in bringing this  lack of response to the attention of the Chairman, Lord Patten.

Separately Peter Rippon emailed the BBC with a list of corrections to his blog plus, importantly, clarification from him for the first time that the Newsnight investigation had not started as an investigation into the Surrey police’s handling of the allegations against Savile.

I understand that later that morning George Entwistle calls Lord Patten . It can’t have been an easy conversation . The BBC is going to have to make a big change of course

DAY FORTY-SIX (Nineteen days after ITV transmission)

Monday 22nd 0ctober

On the day on which BBC1 is to transmit Panorama’s investigation into Savile and Newsnight, and the day before George Entwistle appears before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee at the House of Commons, the BBC senior management have before them the questions from Panorama, presumably their draft answers and the email from Peter Rippon correcting his blog. They will know of the Chairman’s insistence that they correct previous mistakes. One option would have been to put out a comprehensive statement of corrections and clarifications. Instead they decide to issue two different corporate statements at different times. One is to be called ‘Statement regarding Newsnight and Jimmy Savile’ and the other is to be called ‘BBC statement to Panorama’.

A difference in content is that   ‘Statement regarding Newsnight and Jimmy Savile’ lists the mistakes in Rippon’s blog based on his email to the management’  but it doesn’t include Rippon’s further point about the origins of the investigation. That is to be included only as a final paragraph in ‘BBC statement to Panorama’. This paragraph is to be the first time that the BBC management effectively admits that it has been misleading people into believing that the investigation started as one into the Surrey Police’s handling of the allegations.

The difference in timing is that the first statement is to be issued on the morning of this day, Monday 22nd October. The second statement will be given to Panorama in time for use in their programme at 22.30 that evening and then issued as a public statement the following day.

The effect, intended or otherwise, of this strategy is that for most of the Monday the main story in the media is the first statement about the mistakes Rippon which made in his blog. There will be no announcement about the mistake which the management made until Panorama goes on the air late in the evening.

Whatever the tactics behind all this there’s no hiding from the BBC Trust that the BBC management had been misleading people and that the Trust-by repeating the management line- had been doing so too.

The BBC Trust has confirmed to Steve Hewlett that on ‘Monday morning (22 October) the Executive provided the full text of the updates to the blog, and the Executive’s proposed corporate statement to Panorama, which contained the information that the Executive now accepted that the Newsnight investigation did not start out as an investigation into the Surrey police’s handling of the case against Mr Savile. As far as the Trust is aware, this was the first time that we had been informed of the Executive’s conclusions on the origin of the Newsnight investigation.’

It is worth recording some of the detail of ‘Statement regarding Newsnight and Jimmy Savile’:

‘The BBC has today issued a correction to the blog by the editor of Newsnight, Peter Rippon. On the basis of material now available, it is apparent from information supplied by the Newsnight editor and programme team, that the explanation by the editor in his blog of his decision to drop the programme’s investigation is inaccurate or incomplete in some respects. The BBC regrets these errors and will work with the Pollard Review to assemble all relevant evidence to enable the review to determine the full facts’.


The most significant of the blog corrections concerns the BBC and the police:

‘The blog says that all the women spoken to by the programme had contacted the police independently already and that Newsnight had no new evidence against any other person that would have helped the police. It appears that in some cases women had not spoken to the police and that the police were not aware of all the allegations’.

This is a major change of position and is very different from the assurances given by George Entwistle and Lord Patten about the speed with which the police had been contacted.

The other two changes ‘by way of correction and clarification’ are:

‘1.The blog says that Newsnight had no evidence that anyone from the Duncroft home could or should have known about the allegations. In fact some allegations were made (mostly in general terms) that some of the Duncroft staff knew or may have known about the abuse.

‘2. The blog says that Newsnight had no evidence against the BBC. No allegation was made to the programme that BBC staff were aware of Mr Savile’s alleged activities, but there were some allegations of abusive conduct on BBC premises’.


Following this statement the Prime Minister  says ‘the BBC has effectively changed its story’ and ‘there are serious questions, they need to be answered’.

The BBC Trust says it is ‘deeply concerning that there have been inaccuracies in the BBC’s own description of what happened in relation to the Newsnight investigation.’

The most interesting section of the ‘BBC statement to Panorama’ comes at the end:

‘..on the basis of information provided by the Newsnight editor and production team, BBC management has reached the view that there are inaccuracies in the Peter Rippon blog of 2nd October and has issued a corrective statement.

‘We should also make it clear we now accept that the Newsnight investigation did not start out as an investigation into the Surrey police’s handling of the case against Mr Savile’.


Again Rippon is, rightly it seems, to be blamed for the blog mistakes but it appears that nobody is to be held responsible for the misleading corporate statements nor is any explanation offered as to why they happened.

One might wonder how it came about that the BBC corporately had to admit its own mistake to its leading current affairs programme. The answer is they didn’t have any option. The Panorama programme-makers had interviewed the Newsnight reporter ,Liz MacKean, and she said: ‘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. 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.’

Amidst all this also comes the news that ‘Peter Rippon is stepping aside with immediate effect from his post while the review by Nick Pollard, the former head of Sky News, into the management of Newsnight’s investigation, is carried out.’ This is a change from the Director-General’s position at his press conference ten days earlier.

DAY FORTY-SEVEN (Nineteen days after ITV transmission)

Tuesday 23rd October

George Entwistle appears before the Commons Culture Committee with David Jordan. Previously he had refused to use hindsight editorial judgement to say that Rippon had made a mistake, but now he says ‘I came away from Panorama firmly of the view that the investigation, even if, in the judgment of the editor, it wasn’t ready for transmission at the point he was looking at it, should have been allowed to continue.’

Asked if he was angry about the mistakes in Rippon’s blog he says he was ‘very disappointed’. He talks of a ‘breakdown of communication’ between Newsnight reporters and the editor. ‘Although I would normally absolutely expect to be able to get from the editor of a programme a complete and full picture of what had been going on in that programme, I thought I needed to get to the bottom of why there seemed to be a difference of opinion and there definitely seems to me to have been a difference of opinion’.

Entwistle doesn’t accept that the BBC hasn’t handled the situation well.

DAY FORTY-EIGHT (Twenty days after ITV transmission)

Wednesday 24th October

David Jordan returns to the Radio Four Media Show three weeks after his previous appearance. Steve Hewlett reads out a list of previous statements by BBC executives, including Jordan, which, Hewlett says, ‘were wrong’.

Jordan says ‘I asked to come back on the programme because your listeners might have been a little misled when I appeared. So I said it started out as an investigation into the Surrey Police and that’s most definitely not the case. It started out, as we now know, into Jimmy Savile and his abuse over many years and it became in the eyes of the Editor, at any rate, a look at the Surrey Police investigation but of course it would always have had to deal with the allegations of abuse as the starting point.

‘The reason why that was the initial view that was taken was because that seemed to be the view that was coming from the Editor who after all is the person who is in charge of the investigation’.

Jordan goes on to explain how ‘listeners might have been a little misled’ by what he has previously said.

Jordan: ‘Well we had the blog written by the Editor, Peter Rippon and our responses we based on that and other information we had at the time. So I’m sorry that I slightly misled your listeners at the time, I didn’t repeat anywhere else that it started out as an investigation into the police as it certainly didn’t’.

Two observations on these comments by David Jordan. Firstly, Peter Rippon never said in his blog that the investigation started as an investigation in to the Surrey Police, so David Jordan can only have based that on ‘other information we had at the time’. Secondly, he is correct in saying that he never repeated that ‘the investigation started into the Surrey Police’. But he told Today that what Newsnight ‘were looking at specifically was allegations that had been made to the Surrey police’, he told Newswatch that ‘they were investigating the Surrey Police investigation into Jimmy Savile’, George Entwistle told BBC staff ‘Newsnight programme investigated Surrey police’s enquiry into Jimmy Savile’ and Lord Patten told the Media Show ‘I think I am right in saying that they originally thought that the story was the dropping of the police investigation’.

Hewlett goes on to ask when Jordan first had reason to believe that the Rippon blog might be wrong.

Jordan pauses then replies: ‘Well over the course of the next week it gradually became clear that there was an alternative view as it were as to what the Newsnight investigation was about, it became clear from representations from the reporter and the producer principally to the Director-General which the Director-General then had then had looked at.’

Hewlett: ‘Is it true that you met the producer or the producers or people from there as it were the morning after our interview after your appearance on the Today Programme and that at that meeting they told you that it was wrong?’

Jordan: ‘No, I didn’t meet any ‘theys’ after my interview with you, no’

Hewlett: ‘You didn’t meet them the day after?’

Jordan: ‘I didn’t meet any ‘theys’ after the day I met you. I didn’t meet any days. I had a meeting with the producer of the programme.’

Hewlett: ‘Theys’?’

Jordan : ‘… which was a confidential meeting which I am not at liberty to disclose here.‘To me the word confidential when it is applied to a meeting in the particular position that I am in is a confidential meeting.’

Hewlett: ‘I understand, I’m sorry if I have breached any confidences.’

Jordan: ‘Well its clear somebody else has.’

Jordan goes on to say that he has urged the producer that if he had any problems with what is being said to get in touch with the Director-General and to get in touch with his line management and tell them that what they were saying was wrong.

Hewlett: ‘Which he did …’

Jordan: ‘Which he did, but not until the Friday following.’

Hewlett: ‘It took an awful long time didn’t it to get this corrected, almost two whole weeks?’

Jordan: ‘Yes it did take a long time and the reason for that is very simple: there were two contradictory accounts of what was going on in Newsnight and those contradictory accounts had to be reconciled, and unfortunately sometimes it takes a while to reconcile the two contradictory accounts, and in this case it took quite a while to reconcile the two contradictory accounts’


This exchange, which leads to an argument between David Jordan and Newsnight producer Meirion Jones in a BBC newsroom, is particularly significant because it goes to the heart of whether the BBC continued to mislead after it realized there may be mistakes in the Rippon blog. David Jordan says that he ‘urged the producer if he had any problems with what was being said to get in touch with the Director-General and to get in touch with his line management and tell them that what they were saying was wrong’. But at the time of this meeting the only BBC person who had said publicly that the investigation had ‘started as an investigation into the Surrey Police’s investigation’ was not the Director-General or the producer’s line manager or even his own Editor, Peter Rippon, but David Jordan himself.

This also raises the question of if and when Lord Patten was told by the management that the BBC’s public position which he was promoting publicly may be wrong, and when he was told that it definitely was wrong.

DAY FORTY NINE (Twenty-one days after ITV transmission)

Thursday 25th October

Scotland Yard says there are 300 plus potential victims of whom 130 have been interviewed so far.

DAY FIFTY-SIX (Twenty-eight days after transmission)

Thursday 1st November

Lord Patten is interviewed by Lucy Manning of ITV News.

Manning: ‘This has been a disaster for the BBC hasn’t it?’

Patten: ‘Yes. But above all it has been a disaster for all those women who’ve been abused over the years and we’ve got two huge priorities now. One is to discharge our obligations to them: not only abused, but feeling that they were marooned with nobody believing their stories until recently; and secondly we’ve got to start rebuilding the reputation of the BBC. The BBC has been the most trusted news gathering organization in the country for years and one of the ways we can rebuild that trust is telling the truth about ourselves even when the truth is awful.’

He also admits that he and BBC management executives had given misleading statements.

When asked if he expects any resignations among the BBC management he says he would not be surprised if there were resignations.


16 thoughts on “How well has the BBC handled the Savile crisis? You can decide using this timeline from Day One to Day Fifty-Six

  1. Pingback: Law and Media Round Up – 12 November 2012 « Inforrm's Blog

  2. Great work, thank you.

    One point about Day 48. You say:

    “But at the time of this meeting the only BBC person who had said publicly that the investigation had ‘started as an investigation into the Surrey Police’s investigation’ was not the Director-General or the producer’s line manager or even his own Editor, Peter Rippon, but David Jordan himself.”

    This seems a bit strong, given this part of your preamble:

    “When the Sunday Mirror first ran a story back on January 8th 2012 about the dropping of the item ,it contained the line ‘Yesterday a BBC aide insisted Newsnight were investigating an alleged failing within the CPS and the programme was canned because they did not have enough proof to run the story’.”

    I don’t see any meaningful difference between this statement and those made when the story resurfaced months later. That this was an investigation into failures within the criminal justice system and not Savile himself appears to have been the line from the BBC press office from the moment the media first reported that Newsnight had shelved the report.

    • Jo,
      Thanks so much for your comment.I am going to do an update soon including a section on what I think is the significance of these different versions.
      Best wishes,
      Stewart Purvis.

  3. Pingback: What can the media learn from previous scandals? | Michael Crick on Politics

  4. What is clear is that the BBC Trust is not an effective form of governance. It is a carnival horse facing in two directions at once. The structural inadequacies have left a smart and experienced politician, Chris Patten, looking like a fool and bereft of authority. The lack of authority become clear when the Chairman of the BBC Trust sends chippy responses to the Secretary of State and pompous admonishments to the Director General. They have no weight – the Emperor now has no clothes.

    As David Elstein has suggested, the Channel 4 model with a board and chairman for the Channel (Lord Burns) and an external regulator would work much better. Patten says the BBC can rebuild trust by telling the truth about itself even when the truth is awful. Yes but it also needs an effective external regulator to hold it to account.

    See Elstein’s “Ditch the BBC Trust – a bad idea from Day 1” in today’s Times

  5. Tim Parsons, in arguing against inquiries you say:

    2) Rippon should resign, one decision has created this situation and he should be responsible for it?

    But what about what Liz MacKean said in emails at the time, as reported by the Daily Mail on 22 October, relying on Channel 4 News:

    One potentially devastating email from Newsnight reporter Liz MacKean, who oversaw the doomed investigation for the BBC2 programme, discusses the reasons for the report being axed and names her editor, Peter Rippon. It was sent on or around November 30 – 24 hours after Mr Rippon had expressed his firm doubts about the show. In it, Miss MacKean talks about Mr Rippon’s ‘latest panic attack’ and recalls him saying: ‘Internally Liz, this is a very long political chain’, Channel 4 News reported …

    A third source claimed the contentious emails referred to a ‘chain’ going ‘right to the top’. Miss MacKean has declined to comment. Last night Panorama did report that Miss MacKean was left with the clear impression that Mr Rippon was ‘feeling under pressure’. On November 30, she emailed a friend documenting a conversation she had had with her editor, writing: ‘PR [Peter Rippon] says if the bosses aren’t happy… [he] can’t go to the wall on this one.’ All her emails will be submitted to the Pollard Review, one of three inquiries set up by the BBC, and headed by Nick Pollard, a former head of Sky News.

    I’m not saying Rippon was without fault but a key purpose of the Pollard Inquiry has to be to find out who was putting pressure on him and why.

    • If Rippon is going to name the “chain”, they will know it’s coming and would have started the process of moving aside. It’s quite easy, I’m sure we’ve all done it, to not do something, blaming others who the other party think are above reproach. You make a good point, however, I doubt that the resolutions will appear much different than my summation from Stuart’s excellent time line.

      • I’m not as confident as you are that we know the outcomes. I agree that there will be strenuous efforts from various quarters to deflect responsibility. Stuart’s timeline highlights the ‘contribution’ of David Jordan in that regard and that’s been particularly valuable to me. One of the general defences already deployed is the size and complexity of the BBC, the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. In this case the right and the left hands belong to the same man. As Stuart intimates someone has to take responsibility for the completely false trail of the story all being about Surrey police and the CPS. Perhaps I’ll meet you tonight?

      • Richard,
        Sorry we didnt get the chance to meet up last night.Thanks for your question from the floor.Any thoughts/ideas you have on what else should be added to this blog please let me know.

  6. Why do we need enquiries? Stuart has laid out everything in an unequivocal manner. His success in compiling this information is that it is without remit or restricted scope, both of which can render enquiries omnipotent, which is often the political intention. It’s quite obvious what failings there have been, in their own words, and the required action can be taken immediately
    1) Pass everything on to the Police.
    2) Rippon should resign, one decision has created this situation and he should be responsible for it?
    3) BBC to rewrite the internal editorial manual.
    4) BBC to apologise personally to all victims.
    5) Patten to outline the integrity of the BBC moving forward, internally and externally.
    Beyond the above, I cannot see that a lot else can be done. I’m grateful to Stuart for the comprehensive job he’s done, probably taking no more than 2 days as everything is a matter of record, and for providing a template for the wasteful exercises we will now watch play out with little, or no, substantive progress, or decisions, made

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