BBC Abuse Scandal Report Finds ‘Chaos’ but No Cover-Up

(New York Times) LONDON — A report published Wednesday examining the sexual abuse crisis that has shaken the British Broadcasting Corporation strongly criticized the editorial and management decisions that led to the cancellation of a broadcast last year that would have exposed decades of sexual abuse, some of it on BBC premises, by Jimmy Savile, a network fixture who had been one of Britain’s best-known television personalities.

The 200-page report by Nick Pollard, a former head of the Sky News channel who began his broadcast career as a BBC reporter, traced in detail what it described as “a chain of events that was to prove disastrous for the BBC.” Among other things, Mr. Pollard blamed a rigid management system that had “proved completely incapable” of dealing with the crisis that followed the cancellation.

While much of the report centered on the interplay between journalists and their superiors as the allegations against Mr. Savile were investigated, its central conclusion appeared to be that confusion and mismanagement, not a cover-up, lay at the heart of the decision to drop the Savile segment, which would have been broadcast on “Newsnight,” an investigative program. Mr. Savile died at 84 in October 2011, weeks before the segment was scheduled to run.

“The efforts to get to the truth behind the Savile story proved beyond the combined efforts of the senior management, legal department, corporate communications team and anyone else for well over a month” after ITV, Britain’s leading commercial station, broadcast a documentary detailing five women’s claims that they had been sexually abused as teenagers by Mr. Savile. “Leadership and organization seemed to be in short supply.”

Mr. Pollard dismissed a widely circulated theory that BBC News executives or their superiors, reluctant to have the BBC reveal a dark passage in its past, pressured the “Newsnight” team to cancel the Savile segment. Peter Rippon, the program’s editor, said he had considered the team’s conclusions about Mr. Savile not adequately substantiated.

“While there clearly were discussions about the Savile story between Mr. Rippon and his managers,” Mr. Pollard said, he does not believe that they exerted “undue pressure” on him.

After the publication of the report, Tim Davie, the BBC’s acting director general, said that Stephen Mitchell, the deputy head of news, had resigned and that Mr. Rippon would be moved to another job. “Newsnight” will also gain a new deputy editor.

In a statement, the BBC Trust, which oversees the broadcaster, cited Mr. Pollard’s conclusion that no “inappropriate managerial pressure or consideration” factored into the decision to cancel the Savile segment. Still, the trust said the report would require major changes in the operation of the BBC. It said top executives must take initiative and responsibility, share information and embrace criticism, and persuade all employees to rid the company of the insularity and distrust that was revealed in the report.

“The BBC portrayed by the Pollard review is not fundamentally flawed, but has been chaotic,” it said. “That now needs to change.”

The report was strongly critical of several news executives who were directly involved in the decision to cancel the Savile exposé, including Mr. Rippon and the two top executives in the BBC’s news division to whom he reported, Helen Boaden and Stephen Mitchell, all three of whom were suspended from their posts during the nine-week Pollard inquiry.

But it paid scant attention to the role of Mark Thompson, who was director general of the BBC when the Savile segment was dropped and is now the president and chief executive of The New York Times Company. It did not dispute Mr. Thompson’s public statements that he did not know about the Savile investigation until it had been killed and that he did not know of the allegations against Mr. Savile until he left the BBC in mid-September.

After Mr. Thompson was told about the scuttled segment by a reporter at a reception in late December 2011, he asked his news executives about it. According to his testimony to the Pollard inquiry, he “received reassurances” that it had been killed for “editorial or journalistic reasons” and “crossed it off my list and went off to worry about something else.”

The Savile investigation became the subject of media coverage in London beginning in January, and BBC officials have said some of it was included in press summaries prepared for Mr. Thompson . But Mr. Pollard wrote: “Mr. Thompson told me that the various press stories which followed passed him by. I have no reason to doubt what he told me.”

In September, during Mr. Thompson’s final days at the BBC, the corporation asked an outside law firm to send a letter to The Sunday Times threatening to sue if the paper went ahead with plans to publish an article alleging that he and Ms. Boaden had been involved in a conspiracy to scuttle the segment. The Pollard report said, “It is clear that Mr. Thompson did approve sending of the letter.” But he told the inquiry that he did not recall being briefed about the contents of the letter, the report said, and was “very clear that he didn’t read the detail of the letter.”

Challenged repeatedly by one reporter during a news conference to give his verdict on Mr. Thompson’s version of events, Lord Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust, said, “I have no reason at all for disbelieving Mark Thompson.”

Mr. Pollard’s chronicle of the BBC’s mistakes in handling the scandal included its decision to broadcast several Savile tribute programs during the 2011 holiday season. The tributes ran without any mention of the allegations of sexual abuse and rape involving Mr. Savile, a household name in Britain for his starring roles in popular BBC shows.

The report described “chaos and confusion” in the decisions that led to the cancellation of the broadcast in November 2011, and in the events that followed, culminating in the resignation last month of George Entwistle, who succeeded Mr. Thompson as chief executive.

Mr. Entwistle quit after less than two months in the job amid the furor that erupted when “Newsnight” broadcast a segment that wrongly identified a former politician, Alistair McAlpine, as a pedophile who abused boys at a children’s home in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s. The BBC has agreed to pay Mr. McAlpine about $300,000.

A preliminary report into the McAlpine debacle by Ken MacQuarrie, the director of BBC Scotland, concluded that the editorial management of “Newsnight” had already been weakened by suspensions and other disruptions caused by the Savile affair. A fuller version of Mr. MacQuarrie’s report is scheduled to be published together with the Pollard report on Wednesday.

The BBC said Adrian Van Klaveren, the head of a BBC radio station, who was the acting head of news at the time of the McAlpine report, would be moved to a non-news job within the BBC.

A parallel police inquiry has been investigating a torrent of allegations against Mr. Savile. The police inquiry, called Operation Yewtree, has broadened to include sexual abuse allegations in the broadcasting, entertainment and pop music worlds of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, the milieu in which Mr. Savile gained fame.