Paxman: Savile Claims Were 'Common Gossip'

Top BBC executives denied having ever heard about Jimmy Savile's sex crimes, despite Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman's claim they were "common gossip".

Both former Director General Mark Thompson and Director of News Helen Boaden told an internal BBC inquiry they had never heard any "rumours" about the DJ and presenter.

The details were included in thousands of pages of evidence gathered during an inquiry by former Head of Sky News Nick Pollard.

It was set up last year to investigate if management failings were behind Newsnight's decision to drop its Savile investigation in December 2011, weeks before a Christmas tribute was broadcast.

The revelations about Savile, which were later broadcast by ITV, led to a major criminal investigation and focused attention on what police described as decades of predatory sexual crimes committed by the star.

Mr Paxman said the BBC's handling of the decision to drop its investigation was "almost as contemptible" as its behaviour during the years the DJ was one of its biggest names.

He said: "It was, I would say common gossip, that Jimmy Savile liked, you know, young - it was always assumed to be girls."

He added: "I had no evidence. But it was common gossip, I think."

Mr Thompson, who spent 30 years at the corporation in two separate stints, said he had never worked with Savile.

He said: "I had never heard any rumours at all, if you like of a dark side of any kind, sexual or otherwise about Jimmy Savile".

Ms Boaden said she "had never heard any dark rumours about Jimmy Savile" but did meet him at a lunch for veteran radio presenters.

She said: "He came to the lunch, he kissed my hand at the beginning, he kissed my hand at the end, he said not a word to me between those events".

Mr Paxman told the inquiry "the important question" was how Savile had been allowed to rise to prominence within the BBC.

He said: "What was the BBC doing promoting this absurd figure, this absurd and malign figure? And I think that has to do with the fact of the BBC having been aloof from popular culture for so long."

A producer at the BBC proposed running an investigation into child abuse carried out by Savile hours after the presenter's death, evidence gathered during the inquiry revealed.

An email released among thousands of pages of evidence from the report said that producer Meirion Jones suggested the show soon after it was known the former DJ had died.

Mr Jones - who was involved in the axed Newsnight investigation that prompted the Pollard inquiry - proposed the idea in an email headed "Jimmy Savile - paedophile".

He told BBC news bosses that some of the girls who had been molested by Savile were ready to talk about their experiences.

The email is among hundreds of documents and transcripts of interviews with senior figures that have now been released by the BBC.

Sky News' Media Correspondent Niall Paterson says the material from the report is in a format that makes it very difficult to review quickly.

He said it has been scanned and placed online by the BBC in a way that does not allow it to be electronically searched - meaning anyone wishing to locate particular passages must pore through  the entire report .

Many of the pages feature sections that have been redacted to remove passages that lawyers feel could be libellous.

It has emerged that the Savile piece would have been shown on December 7, 2011, but Newsnight editor Peter Rippon decided the focus of the story should be changed to look at the Crown Prosecution Service's involvement.

Meirion Jones warned just days before the planned broadcast that it should go ahead because otherwise the BBC would be accused of a "cover-up" and a scandal could blow up.

He wrote: "I think if we go ahead with TX (transmission) next week there will be minor embarrassment to the BBC.

"If we cancel or delay till after Christmas there is a risk of another BBC scandal on the scale of the Queen or Jonathan Ross and similar damage to our core value of trust."

He urged the broadcast to go ahead because he said it would come out eventually, adding: "We know News International are all over this story."

Another of those interviewed, former Director General George Entwistle, told the inquiry the BBC had self-censored hundreds of comments placed by members of the public on a corporation tribute website to Savile.

The comments, which included one person who wrote "One of my best friends in 1972 was molested by this creep Savile. He was never the same again. Killed himself in 1985. How's About That Then?", were stopped from being published by a team of moderators.

The Pollard Review  - which cost the corporation about £2m - concluded that the investigation in Savile was abandoned because of a "flawed" decision by the show's then editor, Peter Rippon.

Mr Rippon told Mr Pollard how he felt about making the decision.

He said:  "It was a fine judgement ... particularly because you are conscious of the kind of obligation and duty of care to the women that they are doing, that it makes it quite a big judgement to make."

The latest evidence is likely to place further criticism on the corporation for an apparent reluctance to hold to account executives whose actions brought about the crisis.

BBC chairman Lord Patten said: "These documents paint a very unhappy picture, but the BBC needs to be open - more open than others would be - in confronting the facts that lie behind Nick Pollard's report.

"A limited amount of text has been blacked out for legal reasons, but no one could say that the effect has been to sanitise this material, which again puts a spotlight on some of our failings. We need to acknowledge these shortcomings and learn from them."

Meanwhile, Scarborough Council has said it is likely that Savile will be formally stripped of his freedom of the borough title.