Dame Janet Smith: 'Unreliable' press reports gave 'misleading' impression BBC knew about Savile's crimes - Press Gazette

Dame Janet Smith: 'Unreliable' press reports gave 'misleading' impression BBC knew about Savile's crimes

Newspaper reports that senior staff at the BBC covered up Jimmy Savile’s crimes cannot be relied upon, according to a report by Dame Janet Smith.

Her report looked into the culture and practices of the BBC during the time Savile worked there as a DJ and presenter and committed numerous sexual offences.

In it she notes that newspaper articles “have created an impression of knowledge about Savile's sexual misconduct at the high levels in the BBC”.

In particular she singled out a story by Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail on 12 September 2013 which said that senior BBC employees "stand accused of being complicity in Savile's crimes on Corporation premises".

She said: “After two and a half years spent working on this review, I have found no evidence that any one BBC employee above producer level could stand accused of complicity in Savile's crimes in connection with his work at the BBC.

“That is not to say that BBC employees are without fault but I found no evidence that a senior BBC employee was complicit in Savile's crimes.

“I eventually came to the conclusion that much of the material by which the public had been persuaded that the BBC knew about Savile’s crimes was unreliable. In my view, the fault for this lies primarily with the individuals providing embellished accounts to the press, although on occasions, the press must bear some culpability for failing properly to investigate the information provided to it.”

Smith looked in detail at a number of media reports which suggested senior BBC figures had covered up Savile’s crimes and she dismissed them all as unreliable.

Smith said: “It is unfortunate that the public has gathered the impression that the BBC had been told time and time again about Savile’s misconduct.  It has become received wisdom that that was so. 

"Examination of the facts relating to the reports I have discussed in this chapter demonstrates that this impression is misleading."

Atmosphere of fear at the BBC

The Smith report says that Savile "would gratify himself sexually on BBC premises whenever the opportunity arose" and notes that staff missed numerous opportunities to stop him, the long-awaited report into the scandal has found.

She found there was a culture of "reverence and fear" towards celebrities at the corporation and that "an atmosphere of fear still exists today in the BBC".

When a junior female employee at Television Centre complained to her supervisor that she had been sexually assaulted by Savile, she was told "keep your mouth shut, he is a VIP", the report found.

Smith said girls who dared to complain about being sexually assaulted were regarded as "a nuisance" and their claims not properly dealt with.

BBC staff missed a string of opportunities dating back to the late 1960s to stop Savile, who died in October 2011 aged 84 never having been brought to justice for his crimes and is now believed to be one of Britain's most prolific sex offenders.

Dame Janet found that a number of BBC staff were aware of Savile's offending, but she cleared the broadcaster as a corporate body of knowing about it.

Her report states: "In summary, my conclusion is that certain junior and middle-ranking individuals were aware of Savile's inappropriate sexual conduct in connection with his work for the BBC.

"However, I have found no evidence that the BBC, as a corporate body, was aware of Savile's inappropriate sexual conduct in connection with his work for the BBC."

The 'unreliable' reports

The Sun – 12 October 2012

Headline: “Top Beeb director: I blew whistle on Jimmy Savile but BBC ignored me"

This story said:

A TOP TV director has revealed he blew the whistle on Jimmy Savile having sex with a young girl at the Beeb – but was IGNORED.

David Nicolson, now 67, caught the perv in his Jim’ll Fix It dressing room with a girl aged “16 maybe 15”. 

He said bosses told him: “That’s the way it goes.” 

Smith contacted Nicolson who disputed the way The Sun had reported his account: “First, he said, he had not seen the couple having intercourse; nor had he told  The Sun that he had…

“He had seen them standing up, within a metre or two of each other, both clothed.  He said that the girl, who he thought would have been about 16 or 17, was brushing down her clothing. 

“She looked a little confused and embarrassed but not in any way distressed.  He had not reported the incident to anyone in authority at the BBC; although he found Savile’s conduct ‘offensive and grubby’.”

Smith added: “ He said that he did not express the outrage attributed to him in The Sun article.”

And she said he had provided an email sent to a Sun reporter in which he said: “ I did not mention the dressing room incident to Ordish or anyone senior.”

The Sun declined to provide shorthand notes or recordings to back up its account, but it stood by its report which was backed up by notes from the journalist concerned.

Smith said: “…my conclusion on the balance of probabilities is that Mr Nicolson did not report what he had seen in the dressing room to anyone in authority at the BBC and that he did not do so for the reasons he gave both in evidence to me and in his email to The Sun reporter.  It follows that the public should not rely on this article as evidence that the BBC was told about the dressing room incident and turned a blind eye.”

The Daily Mail – 1 October 2012

Headline: “We were victims of Jimmy Savile”.

In this report a man described as “a former BBC chauffeur” said staff members had been “fired for talking about Savile’s reputation” and that the BBC employed chaperones to prevent girls from being lured into Savile’s dressing room”.

The report said he had once drove home a girl who was distressed after an encounter with Savile and that senior staff knew about this.

The Smith review spoke to the man, described in the report as A1.

The report states: “When we spoke to A1 he was 84 years old and repeatedly said that he regretted that his recollection of events in the 1970s is now imperfect in some respects.      

“A1 denied that he told the Mail  that some of the drivers at the BBC had previously been fired for talking about Savile’s reputation

“My conclusion on this issue is that A1 had no direct knowledge that the chiefs on any show knew about the event involving the girl or indeed about any misconduct by Savile.  His statement on that topic was based on assumption which, although not unreasonable, may well have been wrong.”

She said the Mail report was a faithful account of what A1 said, backed up by shorthand notes which the paper provided for the review.

But she said his account could not be relied upon because of evidence that his memory was “playing tricks on him”. She said: “I think that A1 probably did take a young girl home from Television Centre in a state of distress caused by something done by Savile."

Daily Telegraph  8 November 2012

The paper published a report stating that: “A radio show pundit lost his spot on the BBC after reporting Jimmy Savile’s abuse of young  girls to his bosses, he claimed yesterday.  David Hardwick was becoming a regular guest on Savile’s Speakeasy radio show in the early 1970s but he said that came to an abrupt end after he told the BBC he witnessed girls, possibly as young as 13, leaving Savile’s motor home in an isolated area of a service station in Leicester more than 40 years ago.”

After talking to Hardwick, Smith concluded: “Either Mr Hardwick is wrong or all the BBC records and the recollections of other witnesses are wrong.”

She noted also that Hardwick has “a long record of offences of dishonesty”.

She said: “ I have come to the conclusion that his account cannot be accepted.  Whether he ever attended Speakeasy I do not know but I am quite satisfied that his account relating to the journey north, his sighting of the young girls and his reporting of these matters to the BBC cannot be relied upon.”

The Mirror  26 October 2012

Headline: “I told BBC Jimmy Savile groped a girl ….  and  they laughed it off”

This story quoted former newsreader Alan Hardwick who said he saw Savile put his arm around a girl of about 13 before pinching her bottom.  The report said he complained to a manager at Yorkshire Television, where the incident happened, and also told the BBC.

Smith said: “On contacting Mr Hardwick, he confirmed that he had indeed witnessed an incident involving Savile but said that any reference to the BBC in the article must be a mistake by the newspaper.”

The source of the article was traced back to a report in the Lincolnshire Echo.  Hardwick told a journalist from the paper: “I mentioned it to other people in the industry and at the BBC and I was laughed at  because they all said, ‘Don’t you know that Savile likes them young?’  I felt a bit of a fool.”

Hardwick told the Smith review: “I think a misunderstanding may have crept in.  Possibly my fault”

Express – 7 October 2012

A piece published on 7 October 2012 stated that BBC managers knew Savile was abusing children in its studios. 

It said “Christopher Biggins believes the BBC should be 'held to account' over the Jimmy Savile scandal, calling it the 'worst kept secret in  showbusiness'”. 

Smith said: “While I do not criticise the Express for publishing its piece, it is unfortunate that the article and in particular the headline gives the impression that Mr Biggins had actual knowledge of the  matters of which he was speaking.  He has assured us that he did not.”      



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette