Top BBC editor steps aside during Savile probe

"Newsnight" editor steps down amid child sexual abuse allegations against the late TV star, Jimmy Savile

By Gregory Katz

Published October 22, 2012 1:25PM (EDT)

LONDON (AP) -- A top BBC editor stepped aside Monday while the broadcaster reviews a decision to pull the plug on a segment about sexual abuse allegations against a beloved U.K. children's television star.

The editor, Peter Rippon of the prominent "Newsnight" program, had not been forthcoming in his explanation about why the segment on Jimmy Savile did not run, the BBC said in a statement. The broadcaster said he is stepping down immediately while the matter is investigated.

The respected British broadcaster's decision has damaged its reputation and led to accusations it was covering up the crimes of one of its biggest stars, who died last year at the age of 84 after a long career in children's television.

Savile's actions are also being investigated by police and other agencies. Police say there may be more than 200 potential victims of the entertainer, the longtime host of "Top of the Pops" and "Jim'll Fix It," recognized for his garish track suits and platinum hair.

Rippon is the first BBC figure directly blamed for the broadcaster's failure to properly report on abuse claims.

The BBC says Rippon's explanation of his decision in a blog post earlier was "inaccurate or incomplete in some respects."

The BBC is facing criticism for providing different explanations for pulling the December segment that would have lifted the veil on Savile's abusive history, which had been rumored but not reported on at the time.

Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday it is important that investigations proceed and said the BBC had changed its story regarding its handling of the Savile story.

"We have to get to the bottom of what happened," he said. "These are serious questions."

The BBC Trust, the corporation's governing body, said it was deeply concerned that there had been "inaccuracies in the BBC's own description of what happened in relation to the Newsnight investigation."

BBC is publicly funded through its license fees and various commercial enterprises; it enjoys a large degree of independence from government but is subject to legislation passed by Parliament.

It used Savile for many years despite rumors about his activity.

The BBC is set to air its own investigation of its failure to report on Savile's sexual abuses Monday night on the "Panorama" show.

On the show set for broadcast Monday, BBC correspondents claim the Savile segment was pulled because of pressure from senior management.

In a statement released Monday, the BBC cited three problems with Rippon's initial statements about why the segment was not aired.

The BBC said Rippon's blog indicated that Newsnight staff had no evidence against the BBC when in fact there were allegations that some of the abuse happened on BBC premises.

It also faulted Rippon for saying that all the abuse victims interviewed by the program had told police about the abuse, when in some cases the women had not done so, meaning that police were "not aware of all the allegations" against Savile.

In addition, BBC said Rippon had indicated that there was no evidence that anyone working at the Duncroft school was aware of allegations that Savile had abused girls there, when in fact there were indications that "some of the Duncroft staff knew or may have known about the abuse."

Gregory Katz

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Bbc Celebrity Child Abuse Jimmy Savile Scandal