The editor at the center of one of the biggest crises in BBC history has stepped aside from running his program after the organization said his explanations for dropping an investigation into alleged sexual abuse by longtime television star Jimmy Savile were "inaccurate or incomplete in some respects."
Peter Rippon is stepping aside with "immediate effect" while the BBC reviews his decision to pull the piece from the news program "Newsnight." Rippon's reporters had unearthed multiple allegations of child sexual abuse by Savile, an iconic presence on British television for decades. But he controversially chose to drop the probe, and a rival network ultimately aired a similar investigation.
Beyond the criminal inquiries, the BBC has since set up two probes. One is looking at why Savile was apparently allowed to commit his crimes so freely on BBC premises, and one looking at Rippon's decision. He has faced accusations (which he has strongly denied) that he came under pressure to look the other way due to a Christmas tribute to Savile that the BBC wanted to air.
Rippon claimed in a blog post that the piece was dropped solely because of a lack of evidence of police mismanagement in the Savile case. It is this statement that the BBC is now questioning.
The move came as "Panorama," a long-running investigative BBC series, looked inside its corporate home for an episode set to air Monday. It uncovered a series of emails between Rippon and his staff. According to the emails, Rippon was initially bullish on the investigation, but changed his mind abruptly when the reporters could not find evidence of police mismanagement of the allegations.
"The story is strong enough, and the danger of not running it is substantial damage to BBC reputation," an email from producer Merian Jones to Rippon read.
"We weren't asked to find more evidence ... we were told to stop looking at the story," he later told "Panorama," adding that he predicted charges of a "cover-up" would surface if the piece was shelved.
Liz McKean, a "Newsnight" reporter, sent an email to a friend: "PR [Peter Rippon] says if the bosses aren't happy … [he] can't go to the wall on this one."
Moreover, McKean told "Panorama" that the initial angle of the story had been focused squarely on the allegations of abuse, and not on the details of the police investigation. She called later claims about the angle of the piece "misleading."
"The story we were investigating was very clear-cut," she said. "It was about Jimmy Savile being a pedophile and using his status as a charity fundraiser and television presenter to get access to places where there were vulnerable teenage girls he could abuse."
The BBC statement said that Rippon had been incorrect when he wrote that "Newsnight" had found no evidence against the BBC, or that all of the women the program talked to had already gone to the police.
"Panorama" issued a statement saying that it had found "no evidence" to contradict Rippon's claims that he pulled the Savile investigation for editorial reasons and not because the corporation was planning the Christmas tributes.
"Panorama" also reported that George Entwisle, the current director-general of the BBC and a former "Newsnight" editor, was told that, if the Savile investigation were to air, planned Christmas tributes to him would likely have to be scrapped.
Entwistle is set to testify before Parliament about the crisis on Tuesday. He has repeatedly said that he only knew of an investigation, and did not attempt to find out the nature of the probe into Savile's life.
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