BBC Head of News may have ‘misled her staff’ regarding Savile affair

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  boadenBy Bob Duncan

Documents obtained by the BBC’s own investigation into how it handled the Jimmy Savile affair, suggest that the head of BBC news may have altered an internal announcement and misled her staff, according to the Times.

Helen Boaden, who is back in charge of BBC news despite being criticised twice by the review, intervened in October in the drafting of a note to all BBC staff from George Entwistle, who was the Director-General at the time, but was subsequently forced to resign over his handling of the affair and a subsequent Newsnight report.

In the note, Mr Entwistle tried to justify the BBC’s decision and to quash suspicions that Ms Boaden and other executives had intervened to block the investigation.

In the original draft of the note, Mr Entwistle wrote: “It is now well-known that Newsnight investigated Jimmy Savile towards the end of 2011.”

The review by Nick Pollard, the former head of Sky News, found that these words had been changed to say that Newsnight had been investigating a police investigation into Savile.

This change made the note consistent with misleading claims the BBC had previously made about its reason for dropping the Newsnight investigation. The Newsnight team had set out to expose that Savile was a paedophile and it was only later that it discovered that the police had investigated allegations against the DJ.

The BBC tried to deflect criticism by claiming, untruthfully, that Newsnight had been investigating possible failures by the police but had found none, and so dropped the investigation.

Mr Pollard studied the “drafting history” of Mr Entwistle’s note and found that “the reference to the focus of the Newsnight investigation was specifically changed”.

In his report, published on December 18, Mr Pollard said that Mr Entwistle’s original draft “was changed, it appears, by Ms Boaden, to suggest that the Newsnight investigation was into the Police investigation”.

When asked by The Times why Ms Boaden made this change and what checks she had carried out before doing so, a BBC spokesman did not respond to these specific questions.  He said: “The BBC has accepted the conclusions and recommendations of the Pollard Review in full. We will not be providing any further comment.”

On October 22, the BBC broadcast a correction, stating: “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.”

Some senior BBC presenters expect that Ms Boaden will be replaced after Lord Hall of Birkenhead takes up the post of Director-General in March.

According to the Times, Rob Wilson, the Conservative MP, has urged Ms Boaden to explain why she changed Mr Entwistle’s note. He said: “It would be helpful if those involved in the Pollard review were able to add clarification where there are issues outstanding rather than waiting for the select committee to ask questions.