Culture Secretary claims BBC 'inappropriately' pulled Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile

The BBC "inappropriately" pulled an investigation by Newsnight into sex abuse allegations against Jimmy Savile, Culture Secretary Maria Miller said today.

Speaking in the Commons for the first time since the allegations surfaced, she said she was confident the corporation was treating the allegations "very seriously".

But Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman told MPs that Savile's "exulted" status within the corporation allowed him to act with impunity.

Miller said: "The BBC has launched three separate investigations, as the House will be aware. The first will look particularly at the allegations with regard to the item on Savile which was inappropriately pulled from Newsnight.

"The second review to be undertaken when the police advise us that it is appropriate to do so, will focus on Jimmy Savile himself. And although the BBC's child protection policy was overhauled in 2002, the review will also focus on whether its policy is fit for purpose and what lessons can be learnt. That will be assisted by an independent expert.

"There is also an additional piece of work that will look at the very troubling allegations of sexual harassment at the BBC that have come to light in recent weeks as well and the Director-General (George Entwistle) will give further details of this later in the week.

"These are undoubtedly very serious matters that have wide-ranging implications for a number of public institutions, not just the BBC. It is now crucial we understand what went wrong and how it can be put right."

He said the BBC had dragged its feet on announcing the inquiries and this made it appear that it did not want to get to the bottom of the scandal, as he accused the trust of acting as a "cheerleader" for the Corporation rather than as a critical guardian of standards.

"Any hint of a cover-up by the BBC of its own role in this dreadful affair will cause huge damage to public and audience trust," he said.

"We don't have an explanation as to why the BBC scrapped the Newsnight investigation entirely rather than giving it more time to develop its work.

"And why didn't the BBC pass on to police at the time new claims it had obtained about Savile and about two other living celebrities who are still at large, having allegedly abused under-aged girls on BBC premises?

"I have a number of major concerns that the investigations announced by the BBC will not be sufficiently independent, transparent and robust to give the public confidence."

In reply, Miller said there was no need for a wider inquiry while the police investigation was going on. It was crucial detectives were allowed to continue their investigation "unfettered" by other inquiries, she said.

Maria Miller

Harman said Labour supported the Government and she urged the BBC to review its child protection procedures and handling of whistle-blowing cases.

The investigations must include senior executives and the Corporation's leading stars, she said, claiming that it was Savile's "exalted celebrity status that gave him a sense of impunity".

She said: "Everyone has been sickened by the vile abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Savile. It's impossible to overstate the suffering he caused to those he abused.

"What has deepened the revulsion is that this happened at the BBC, an institution so loved and trusted it is known as Auntie. This has cast a stain on the BBC."

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