Savilegate: Some troubling questions for the new CEO of ‘The New York Times’

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I wonder if Mark Thompson had anything to declare when he went through customs en route for his new job at the New York Times? Probably not.

And now he is ensconced as CEO at the NYT, I wonder if Thompson has anything to declare over the Jimmy Savile scandal that has engulfed the BBC?

Probably not.

Even so, I can’t help thinking that this is not the end of the story, for I find it hard to believe that Thompson knew nothing about those stories regarding Jimmy Savile, or was not at least aware of them. It now appears that I am not the only one who thinks this. Allegedly former BBC journalist, Keith Graves, finds it hard to believe, as he, or someone commenting under his name, posted on the Daily Mail:
 
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Mark Thompson says that during his time at the BBC he “never heard any allegations” about Savile. During his years in the television newsroom, culminating in a period editing the flagship evening new, rumours about Savile being ‘into little girls’ were rife as were often crude comments about hims and his behaviour. It is inconceivable that those rumours, which were, I recall, often discussed in the BBC club bar by news staff, did not reach his ears.

- Keith Graves, Valencia, Spain, 28/10/2012 13:27

Even Mike Hollingsworth, the man who first employed Thompson as his assistant at the BBC, said in the Daily Telegraph, Thompson would have had to been “tone deaf” not to have heard rumors about Jimmy Savile.

“He must be mad denying that he’d heard anything about Saville. We had all heard the rumours. You would have to have been tone deaf not to have heard them…

“I know that Mark has a strong Catholic faith, but it wasn’t as if this was something that people would whisper about when he came into a room – he is a man of the world. You just have to look at the programming he put out when he took over at Channel 4 to see that he wasn’t in the least bit squeamish when it came to all kinds of discussions about sex.”

This incredulity from former colleagues has only increased the growing disquiet over the “baggage” Thompson is perceived to be bringing to his new job at the New York Times, as one of the paper’s editors, Margaret Sullivan wondered in a blog: 

“How likely is it that [Thompson] knew nothing?....His integrity and decision-making are bound to affect The [New York] Times and its journalism – profoundly. It’s worth considering now whether he is the right person for the job, given this turn of events.”

The questions hinge on what Thompson knew about the Jimmy Savile scandal, when he was Director General at the BBC. It’s an important issue, one that saw his replacement, George Entwisle (or “Incurious George”) resign his position over not knowing about a Newsnight item that led to a gross libel against an innocent man. If Entwistle was considered guilty for not knowing about the serious allegations broadcast by his flagship news program, then where does that leave Thompson, who claims he knew little or virtually nothing about a planned Newsnight investigation into abuse allegations involving Jimmy Savile?

What little Thompson did know he dismissed in a letter to Conservative MP, Rob Wilson:

“What did happen is that, at a drinks reception late last year, a journalist mentioned to me the existence of the investigation and said words to the effect of “you must be worried about the Newsnight investigation?” This was the first I had heard of the investigation…Although I recall hearing at the time of his death that BBC Television might do something (a tribute) about Jimmy Savile in due course, again I had not been briefed about the programmes themselves. I assume they were commissioned and broadcast by BBC Vision, the BBC’s television arm, in the usual way.”

This is obvious buck passing. Moreover, as it was Thompson who tightened up BBC procedure after the scandalous Brandgate affair - where 2 BBC presenters (Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross) were involved in a prank call that was deemed to be offensive and “a catastrophic breakdown of editorial and compliance control by the BBC” - it seems incredible that Thompson did not take any real interest into a planned BBC investigation into serious allegations of pedophilia involving a major BBC star. 

But according Thompson, apparently not.

In February this year, Dangerous Minds published a blog on the first article exposing Jimmy Savile scandal at the BBC. This article was written by freelance journalist Miles Goslett, and was first published in The Oldie on February 8th, 2012, under the heading ‘Savile Row’.

Goslett had been investigating the Newsnight/Jimmy Savile affair since around mid-December 2011. Despite gathering a significant amount of material Goslett was unable to persuade 7 UK national newspapers to publish his findings. As a freelance journalist, Goslett was powerless to argue, but thankfully, the 75-year-old editor of The Oldie, Richard Ingrams, knew Goslett had an important story to tell, one that gave voice to the victims of abuse, who had been so grievously ignored. Goslett recently explained the background to this over at the Spectator.

The significance of The Oldie piece is clearer now than ever before, given that it was published in February 2012.

You see, The Oldie was:

* The first publication to state that Newsnight‘s expose centred on underage girls of 14 or 15 (as opposed to the Sunday Mirror‘s ‘schoolgirls’ of indeterminate age).

* It the first to name the school the girls attended (Duncroft); the first to reveal that some of Savile’s abuse allegedly occurred on BBC premises (in 1973-1974 after recordings of the TV show Clunk-Click).

* The first to divulge that 2 other celebrities had been named to Newsnight as also being guilty of abusing girls with Savile on BBC premises.

* The first to reveal that Savile had been questioned by Surrey Police in 2007.

* And the first to mention that Mark Thompson was allegedly warned about the Newsnight report before Christmas - and before several tribute programmes to Savile were broadcast by the BBC - but did nothing.

Goslett finished his article with a warning that some of Savile’s victims were preparing to speak out - which suggests he was aware of ITV’s explosive documentary on Savile, which aired on October 3, 2012.

Meanwhile Mark Thompson as the new Chief Executive of the New York Times, is under considerable pressure to explain for how long he has known about the alleged child abuse committed on BBC premises by Jimmy Savile and 2 other celebrities.

On November 18, 2012 the The Sunday Times reported that lawyers acting for Thompson and Helen Boaden, Director of BBC News, had issued a formal letter to The Sunday Times Magazine on September 6th - 10 days before Thompson stepped down as BBC chief - about a proposed article, written by Miles Goslett, covering Newsnight‘s axed investigation into Savile of December 2011.

The letter, published on The Sunday Times website on November 18th, was in response to a series of detailed questions from The Sunday Times Magazine to the BBC about Savile’s alleged sex crimes and the alleged sexual offences of other stars, taking place on BBC premises. Thompson’s and Boaden’s lawyers stated that the planned Sunday Times Magazine story risked making “serious and defamatory allegations” about them and warned that publishing it would result in legal action.

The date on which the legal letter was written - September 6th - which raises further questions about the reliability of Thompson’s public statements explaining how much he knew about Savile’s sexual activities before the scandal came to wider public attention following on from an ITV documentary broadcast on October 3, 2012. 

It also shows that, before leaving the BBC on September 16th, Thompson’s lawyers were engaged in the issue of other living stars having possibly abused minors at the BBC.

Until now Thompson has been unequivocal about his lack of knowledge of Savile’s sexual activities during his 8 years as BBC Director-General between 2004-2012.

Thompson, who started as chief executive of the New York Times, on November 12th, wrote in a letter to Tory MP Rob Wilson on 23 October: “[Savile’s] name scarcely came up at all during my years as DG”

And in a New York Times interview published on October 23rd, he maintained that he did not know that Savile’s behaviour was a “pressing concern” while he was Director General, but that if he had he would have “acted very differently.”

Yet it now seems clear that before Thompson left the BBC, lawyers acting for him went to considerable lengths to avoid his being publicly associated with Newsnight‘s findings.

On September 6th, lawyers Mills & Reeve responded on Thompson’s and Boaden’s behalf to a series of questions put to the BBC by The Sunday Times Magazine on August 22nd. These included asking for the date on which Thompson and Boaden first knew about Newsnight‘s findings that “Savile had allegedly abused underage girls in the 1970s”; and whether anyone from the BBC had ever been in touch with the Surrey Police, which had investigated Savile in 2007 for allegedly molesting children, or the Crown Prosecution Service, about Savile’s alleged abuse.

Most controversially, questions were also put asking if it was true that Boaden and Thompson were “party to concealment of the truth about the sexual offences committed by Savile while Savile was on the BBC payroll?”

The BBC was also asked if it was true that Thompson and Boaden did “not want any investigation or public inquiry into allegations that BBC premises were used by Savile as a place where sexual offences could be committed.”

And a response was also sought to the question that Thompson and Boaden were “aware that Newsnight was told that other stars - who are still alive - were also guilty of sexual offences committed on BBC premises or elsewhere but wants to conceal that knowledge and prevent any inquiry about such conduct.”

Within 10 weeks of the BBC being asked these questions on August 22nd, four people, including Gary Glitter, were arrested and bailed by Metropolitan Police detectives working on the Savile abuse investigation team, “Yewtree”.

Again this raises the question as to why Thompson as BBC Editor-in_Chief, did not find out more about the axed Newsnight report of December 2011, which had allegedly intended to name Glitter.

The existence of Mills & Reeve’s letter of September 6th, suggests either that Thompson and Boaden instructed the law firm personally, or that the BBC did so with their knowledge, which triggers new doubts about Thompson‘s previous assurances to Tory MP Wilson and the New York Times.

Another possibility is that the BBC instructed Mills & Reeve without Thompson’s and Boaden’s knowledge.

The letter is the latest in a long line of warnings about Savile made to Thompson and his office before he left the BBC. In October 2012 The Sunday Times revealed that Thompson’s office was alerted on at least 2 other occasions to claims of Savile’s abuse.

In May 2012 the dogged Miles Goslett rang Jessica Cecil, the head of Thompson’s office, and according to Goslett asked to speak to Thompson about allegations that Savile abused children on BBC premises in the 1970s and to discuss a Freedom of Information request on the same topic which the BBC had refused to answer.

On September 7th, ITV, which had mounted its own investigation into Savile, sent a letter to Thompson’s office seeking a response to its findings that Savile had molested children - sometimes on BBC property - in the 1970s.

ITV’s letter of September 7 also challenged Thompson over why Newsnight’s Savile report was dropped.

Thompson admitted in October 2012 to the London Times that he had a short conversation at a BBC party on December 20th, with BBC journalist Caroline Hawley in which she referred to Newsnight’s Savile investigation.

As things currently stand, Mark Thompson maintains that he did not know exactly what Mills & Reeve’s letter contained and was not shown a copy of it before it was sent.

What seems clear is there appears to be some inconsistencies in Mark Thompson’s version of events, in relation to the Jimmy Savile / Newsnight scandal, and these must be straightened out. Otherwise, Thompson will be seen as “damaged goods,” which will not only harm his standing, but that of the New York Times.

In February, Dangerous Minds published extracts from Miles Goslett’s original article from The Oldie, which was the first to raise the allegations of abuse against Jimmy Savile on February 8th, this year. We now reproduce this article in its entirety, for it is important to remember the victims at the heart of this story, who have been ignored for too long.
 

HOW’S ABOUT THAT THEN?

Savile row

Why did the BBC drop a Newsnight report investigating allegations of sexual abuse made against its long-serving employee Jimmy Savile?

Miles Goslett investigates

When Sir Jimmy Savile died last October he was given a generally rapturous send-off in the press, with fulsome tributes to his charitable work. Savile’s old employer the BBC joined in the celebration with two tribute programmes on TV and one on radio, all broadcast over Christmas. No mention was made of the unsavoury rumours about Savile’s private life which had persisted throughout his career.

Before the BBC’s tributes were aired, however, journalists on the BBC2 programme Newsnight had been investigating the dark side of the apparently saintly entertainer. Their enquiries centred around Savile’s regular visits during the 1970s to Duncroft, an approved local authority school for emotionally disturbed girls aged between 13 and 18 in Staines, Surrey, which closed in 1980. It emerged that in 2007 Surrey Police and the Crown Prosecution Service had investigated a historic complaint that Savile had abused girls at the school but that no action had been taken.

Newsnight tracked down several ex-Duncroft pupils, now middle-aged women, who confirmed that Savile had molested them when they were aged 14 or 15. At least one woman gave an on-camera, on-the-record interview to Newsnight about the abuse she had suffered.

By any standards this was a scoop which would have attracted a considerable amount of attention. However, at a late stage the Newsnight report, due to be shown in mid-December, was dropped.

The BBC’s official line has always been that the report was abandoned purely because there were not enough facts to substantiate a particular angle they were pursuing relating to the Crown Prosecution Service. Their spokesman said: ‘Any suggestion that a story was dropped for anything other than editorial reasons is completely untrue.’

However a BBC News source has revealed to me that this is a smokescreen and there were unquestionably other reasons underlying the decision.

First, the extreme nature of the claims about Savile meant that the Newsnight report was going to seriously compromise the lavish BBC tributes scheduled to run later the same month.

And second, the allegations directly involved the BBC in that the woman who gave the interview said that she and others were abused by Savile on BBC premises. To be precise, she told Newsnight that some abuse took place in Savile’s dressing-room at BBC Television Centre in West London after recordings of Clunk-Click, a children’s programme which he presented in 1973 and 1974; she also alleged that two other celebrities, both still alive, sexually abused Duncroft girls at Television Centre.

I have contacted three women who were interviewed by the BBC concerning the allegations about Savile. They allege that he gave them rewards such as cigarettes, records, and small amounts of money in return for sexual favours. Two of the women said that they also recall being taken for a drive in Savile’s car in the Surrey countryside where abuse took place on the understanding that they could be in the audience of Clunk-Click. A third woman said that Savile had committed one comparatively minor indecent assault on her at Duncroft but that she was aware that other girls experienced far worse.

The BBC has serious questions to answer. The Newsnight investigation uncovered information of which Surrey Police was not aware, and moreover allegations were made about living people. Surely the BBC had a duty to inform the police about these disclosures? Yet there is no indication that it has done so, and the BBC has refused to answer questions about this. Furthermore, given that Savile was on the BBC’s payroll for more than 25 years, and along with the other celebrities who are still alive, is alleged to have abused minors on BBC premises, shouldn’t the Corporation have launched an in-house inquiry? When asked if BBC Director-General Mark Thompson knew of the Newsnight report, the BBC refused to comment. But a source has told me that Thompson was tackled about the axing of the report at a pre-Christmas drinks party, so he
cannot claim to be ignorant of it.

The BBC should be aware that the matter is not at an end. Many of Savile’s other victims – and those of other celebrities with whom he mixed in the 1960s and 70s – are preparing to speak out.

 
A follow-up documentary on Jimmy Savile will be broadcast in the UK on Wednesday 21st November, which will claim Savile created TV shows to gain access to children.
 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

BBC faces serious questions over Sir Jimmy Savile under-age sex allegations


‘The Other Side of Jimmy Savile’: The rape allegations that will not go away


Will the Jimmy Savile Sex-Abuse Scandal Finish-off the BBC?

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher

 

 

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