'He was grossly let down by the people beneath him' - after George Entwistle exit MPs say more BBC heads should roll

The BBC is braced for further bloodletting as recriminations flew within the corporation over the resignation of director general George Entwistle.

MPs demanded that staff directly responsible for the botched Newsnight child abuse investigation were held accountable for their actions.

The future of the programme itself appeared to be in the balance as the chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, said there would have to be some "tough managerial decisions".

Lord Patten sought to rally staff, insisting that he was committed to rebuilding trust and confidence in the corporation in the wake of the Newsnight fiasco and the Jimmy Savile abuse scandal.

However, he found his own position under fire, with senior figures suggesting that as the man who appointed Mr Entwistle, his own position was now untenable.

Entwistle quit saying he was taking responsibility for the "unacceptable" Newsnight report which wrongly implicated former Tory Party treasurer Lord McAlpine in the North Wales child abuse scandal of the 1970s and 1980s, even though he had not known of the programme an advance.

However, the chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee John Whittingdale said senior staff who were directly involved must also be held to account.

The programme was cleared for broadcast at the level of the BBC board of management, even though the abuse victim, Steve Messham, was never shown a photograph of Lord McAlpine and the peer was not given a chance to refute the allegations.

"If George Entwistle was unaware of the programme, which he says he was, then clearly somebody below him took the decision that it was right to broadcast it," Mr Whittingdale said.

"That was a terrible decision and people need to take responsibility for that. So potentially it may require other people to resign."

Labour former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw said: "Given that in my view George Entwistle - who was a good man, a decent man trying to do his best, only a few weeks in the job - was grossly, grossly let down by people beneath him, and I don't think supported enough by people in the Trust, I think it cannot end here."

Former Conservative cabinet minister David Mellor, who had responsibility for broadcasting, said that having made the original appointment, Lord Patten should not now be in a position to choose his successor.

"If I was him, I would consider whether I am so tainted by this nonsense. You know George, bless his heart, had the leadership qualities of Winnie the Pooh," he said. "He (Entwistle) is not a credible person."

Lord Patten insisted that he would not bow to pressure to quit, although he acknowledged that his job was on the line unless he could turn the situation around.

"If I don't do that and if we don't restore the huge confidence and trust that people have in the BBC then I'm sure people will tell me to take my cards and clear off," he told Sky News's Murnaghan programme.

"I am not going to this morning take my marching orders from Mr Murdoch's newspapers. I think there are big issues which need to be tackled involving the BBC and ... that's what I want to give my attention to."

Lord Patten, who held talks with the new acting director general Tim Davie, said he hoped a full-time replacement could be brought in within "a few weeks rather than a lot of months".

He denied forcing Mr Entwistle to quit, but acknowledged that he had not tried to persuade him to stay.

"He went extremely honourably. I didn't try to argue him out of it because I think he had made his mind up and I think it was the right decision," he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.

He indicated MEntwistle should have been better prepared for his catastrophic Saturday morning interview with Radio 4's John Humphrys, which many observers believe finally sealed his fate.

"You don't go on an interview with John Humphrys and expect the bowling to be slow full tosses," he said.

During their 15 minute encounter, the Today programme presenter ruthlessly exposed Entwistle's ignorance about what had been going on inside the BBC during the making of the Newsnight report.

His resignation announcement on the steps of Broadcasting House shortly after 9pm that evening - after just 54 days in the post - brought to an end the shortest director-generalship on record.

Almost from start he had been under pressure as he sought to grapple with the Jimmy Savile scandal which broke barely a fortnight after he took office.

He came under fire for - in his previous role as head of television - having pressed ahead with tribute programmes to the late DJ, even though he was warned that Newsnight were investigating him.

He was also criticised for delays in setting up an internal inquiry and in correcting mistakes in the BBC's original account of how the Newsnight investigation into Savile came to be dropped.

Nevertheless, there was anger within some quarters of the BBC at the way he had been treated. Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman said he had been brought low by "cowards and incompetents".

"The real problem here is the BBC's decision, in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry, to play safe by appointing biddable people. They then compounded the problem by enforcing a series of cuts on programme budgets, while bloating the management.

"I had hoped that George might stay to sort this out. It is a great pity that a talented man has been sacrificed while time-servers prosper."

Following talks tonight with the BBC Trust, Mr Davie will tomorrow set out his plans for dealing with some of the issues arising from the Newsnight broadcast "as a first step in restoring public confidence," a spokesman for the Trust said.

 

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