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BBC chief to be grilled over Savile scandal

The BBC's chief faces a grilling from legislators today, a day after one of his editors -- who had dropped an investigation into sex abuse claims against a top BBC star -- stepped aside.

world Updated: Oct 23, 2012 14:23 IST

The BBC's chief faces a grilling from legislators on Tuesday, a day after one of his editors -- who had dropped an investigation into sex abuse claims against a top BBC star -- stepped aside.

Director General George Entwhistle will appear before a parliamentary committee to answer questions about the growing scandal surrounding the late Jimmy Savile, once one of the corporation's biggest names.

And John Whittingdale, the deputy who chairs the committee due to question Entwhistle, has made it clear he could be in for a rough ride.

"The handling of this by the BBC has been lamentable, they have made a bad situation even worse, and ultimately the director general is responsible for that," he told a BBC programme on Monday. "So certainly, we shall want to press him on that whole issue."

Prime Minister David Cameron expressed concern Monday over the BBC's handling of sex abuse claims against Savile.

And Peter Rippon, editor of the BBC's flagship current affairs programme Newsnight, became the first senior figure inside the corporation to be toppled by the unfolding scandal.

Late last year, he dropped a Newsnight investigation into sex abuse claims against Savile.

A few hours after Rippon stepped aside, another BBC television programme, its flagship investigative unit Panorama, revealed more compromising details of the affair.

In particular, it carried claims from a lawyer for some of Savile's victims that there was evidence of a paedophile ring within the corporation during the star's heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.

Earlier Monday, the BBC conceded that a blog posting by Rippon, in which he had said a show about Savile was dropped last December for editorial reasons, was "inaccurate or incomplete in some respects" and had been corrected.

Cameron gave his response to reporters soon after.

"The nation is appalled, we're all appalled by the allegations of what Jimmy Savile did and they seem to get worse by the day," Cameron told reporters.

"The developments today are concerning because the BBC has effectively changed its story about why it dropped the Newsnight programme about Jimmy Savile."

British police have launched a separate criminal investigation.

Savile, who with his jangling jewellery and shiny tracksuits was one of British television's best-known stars, died last November aged 84.

The BBC's Panorama programme asked why the broadcaster had pulled the Newsnight feature at a time when it was preparing to broadcast a tribute to the presenter over Christmas in 2011.

It interviewed Karin Ward, who had told Newsnight how she had been a victim of Savile's abuse.

Ward told Panorama how upset she had been at the decision to pull the item, saying she felt it was "...because someone at the top didn't believe me."

Liz Dux, a lawyer for Savile's alleged victims, told the show that "there are serious allegations a paedophile ring was operating" at the BBC during Savile's tenure.

BBC 'regrets' errors
Entwhistle was only appointed to the top BBC job this summer. Some legislators are already calling for his predecessor, Mark Thompson, to be summoned to face questions in parliament about how much he knew of the scandal.

Questioned by a reporter late Monday, a tense-looking Thompson said: "As I have already said several times before, I was not involved in the decision-making process about this programme at all."

He is due to start as CEO of the New York Times in November.

In the corrections posted by the BBC on Monday, the broadcaster said Rippon had incorrectly said in his blog that the corporation had no evidence that anyone from a children's home linked to the scandal knew about the abuse.

And while Rippon had said there was no evidence that the corporation knew of Savile's activities at the time, there were in fact allegations of abuse on BBC premises, it added.

The BBC also conceded that some of those who had reported abuse by Savile in interviews with Newsnight had not spoken to police: Rippon had initially insisted that all of them had.

"The BBC has announced that Peter Rippon is stepping aside with immediate effect from his post," the statement said. "The BBC regrets these errors...," it added.

The Savile scandal has snowballed since a programme by the BBC's commercial rival ITV aired allegations about the entertainer by a handful of women two weeks ago.

Scotland Yard says it now believes there may be 200 victims. It has also said it is investigating suspects who are still alive.