BBC culture allowed star to commit sex crimes, but top staff unaware: report

Thu Feb 25, 2016 12:11pm EST
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By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's globally respected broadcaster, the BBC, was told on Thursday it was guilty of serious failings in its handling of Jimmy Savile, a celebrated TV and radio showman revealed after death to have been one of Britain's most prolific sex offenders.

Warnings about Savile's conduct went unheeded for decades, a damning report by a former judge said on Thursday. It found no evidence of a cover-up by the BBC as an institution, however.

The report said there had been - and still was - a prevailing, macho culture at the publicly-funded broadcaster in which staff were fearful of making complaints, especially about its top stars known internally as "The Talent".

That meant senior managers were kept in the dark, concluded the report's author, former Appeal Court judge Janet Smith. But a lawyer for Savile's victims called the findings a "whitewash" and implausible.

The Savile scandal burst into public view in 2012 when British police said Savile, one of Britain's best-known celebrities, had abused hundreds of victims, mainly youngsters, over six decades until his death aged 84 in 2011.

Some of the abuse took place at hospitals where he was renowned for his charity work. He was knighted for the latter.

The revelations plunged the BBC, funded by an annual license fee and known around the world for its news and dramas, into crisis and prompted allegations the broadcaster had covered up his crimes.

"It seems to me that the BBC could have known," the broadcaster's director general, Tony Hall, told a media conference. "Just as powerful as the accusation 'you knew', is the legitimate question: 'How could you not have known?'"   Continued...

Jimmy Savile is seen on a boat on the River Thames in this file photo taken in London, on April 9, 1970. REUTERS/Mal Langsdon