Leveson and Jimmy Savile

Did the press inquiry scare newspapers away from a major story?

3 November 2012

9:00 AM

3 November 2012

9:00 AM

Last December I received a telephone call concerning Jimmy Savile’s apparent sexual abuse of underage girls in the 1970s. The details I heard were pretty chilling, but the negative reaction when I tried (unsuccessfully) to report the claims in the national press was equally troubling. There is every indication that the Leveson inquiry into press standards was to blame.

My source said that a Newsnight investigation into Savile’s activities had been shelved by the BBC in mysterious circumstances and encouraged me to find out more. I learnt that Newsnight had heard that Savile and two other celebrities, both still alive, had abused many different girls on BBC premises and in the Surrey countryside, when Savile visited an all-girls approved school called Duncroft. Newsnight also discovered that Savile had been questioned over sex crimes by Surrey police in 2007.

The claims had been corroborated several times over by former Duncroft pupils; two had even waived their anonymity to talk in front of the cameras about their experiences. By any standards Newsnight’s investigation was worthy of national attention, but the programme’s editor, Peter Rippon, had killed the story. Why? One theory I heard was that it clashed with tribute programmes to Savile scheduled for Christmas week.

On 21 December the BBC press office confirmed to me that Newsnight had undertaken a Savile investigation. Without commenting on details, they said it had been axed for editorial reasons. With this confirmation, I assumed the story would sail into any newspaper. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Over two weeks I contacted six national news desks. One after another rejected the idea. I consistently suggested that it would not be necessary for anyone to accuse Savile outright of abusing children, simply to report that Newsnight had jettisoned its exposé despite significant-seeming findings, of which I knew quite a bit. Newsnight’s groundwork could then be developed, or perhaps other victims would come forward.


Yet it was futile. Some papers told me that because Savile had been dead less than two months the story was ‘in bad taste’, whatever its provenance. Others said that if the police hadn’t prosecuted Savile in his lifetime, it wouldn’t be worth pursuing him
now. And a couple of news desks judged that material like this was ‘best avoided’ for the time being.

I assumed that they were referring to the time of year — Christmas — but it was the seventh and final paper I contacted that gave what I now believe to be the real reason I was dismissed by all seven. The senior executive I spoke to admitted that because his editor was about to appear in front of Lord Leveson’s inquiry into press ethics, then at its height, it would be unwise to run the piece. Being seen to be behaving responsibly was vital if the press was to avoid statutory regulation. Running a provocative story about Savile, then still considered a saintlike figure, might therefore be a mistake.

Having the story rejected by the national press seemed more alarming than the initial call I had taken about Newsnight’s shelved investigation. Here was the deputy editor of a national title telling me that publishing a controversial article would be a bad idea in case it showed his editor and the wider industry in an unflattering light. The story’s public interest was of secondary importance.

As a freelance journalist I was powerless to argue. But as I reflected over Christmas that the BBC tribute programmes praising Savile were being broadcast by the very organisation which had been critically investigating him a few weeks earlier, it was remarkable to me that much of the press was totally uninterested in this fact. A key opportunity for the press to hold the BBC to account — perhaps even to save the corporation from the trouble in which it now finds itself — had been missed.

Last April I made a freedom of information request to the BBC asking for any records of written communications or meetings among four BBC executives, including the then director-general Mark Thompson, concerning the Newsnight investigation and allegations that Savile had molested underage girls on BBC premises in the 1970s.

On 18 May the request was denied so I rang Mr Thompson’s office and told an aide, Jessica Cecil, that I wanted to talk to him about the request and also about claims made to Newsnight that girls were abused on BBC premises by Jimmy Savile in the 1970s. Ms Cecil referred me to the BBC press office. Last week she admitted that she did not pass on the details of my call to Mr Thompson. Instead, she told the BBC director of communications, Paul Mylrea. He did not pass word of my call to Mr Thompson either.

Eventually only ITV was prepared to confront this difficult issue, with a Savile exposé that triggered the current storm. Perhaps in retrospect the conclusion will be drawn that newspapers, lacking in confidence because of the Leveson inquiry, had to wait for someone else to fire the starting gun before they could fully investigate a story whose main ingredients they had known for months.

Several commentators have argued that, just as the BBC failed in its duty to broadcast the results of Newsnight’s six-week inquiry, so some newspapers failed for decades in theirs to investigate rumours about Savile. This criticism may be valid, though it seems Savile’s powerful position and aggressive legal stance whenever challenged were central factors in his escaping justice. The possibility that he blackmailed others also cannot be ruled out. However, with hindsight it seems implausible that newspapers wouldn’t have been interested in this material. So much work had already been done. The Leveson inquiry, and its perceived threat to a bruised industry, prevented at least one national newspaper from reporting a story which its editor may now regret he did not run. If other papers had the same reason, they did not admit it, but I now believe that it must have been the primary factor which held them back.

The irony is that Lord Leveson is focused almost solely on the press, whose commercial fortunes are diminishing all of the time. The BBC, with its guaranteed income of £3.5 -billion a year, has largely avoided this televised inquiry. And yet the BBC, like many newspapers, made use of private detectives, spending £310,000 on them over 230 separate occasions in six years. Perhaps if the BBC had been included fully in the Leveson inquiry, newspapers would have felt differently about reporting on what must rank as the most serious scandal in its history.

With the story rejected by the mainstream press, it was Richard Ingrams, the 75-year-old editor of the Oldie, who felt able to run the piece. He commissioned me without hesitation and the story was published in February.

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Show comments
  • http://twitter.com/BishopMacstory bishop

    Miles thank you for your determination to get this story out. The Paedophile ring in the Police the Courts and the Government is very powerful. Perhaps you can pursue the story of whistleblower Andrea Davison who exposed the North Wales Child abuse scandal and is seeking political asylum in Argentina.! More power to you Miles

  • sarah

    “There is every indication that the Leveson inquiry into press standards was to blame.”

    Nice try. The abuse started in the 1970s on the premises of an international media megalith which, incidentally, covered it up. The Leveson inquiry began in 2011.

    If there had been press regulation and public accountability then as some fear now from the Leveson enquiry, that might not have happened.

  • peterooo

    Miles – if your sources told you that Newsnight investigation concerned Savile and two other celebrities, presumably you know the names of all involved? Is the press going to flee from naming these too?

    • rob

      No they are still chilling out from Leveson!

      Don’t you think that they are happy with the Savile story as long as it doesn’t go further beyond the BBC and into “higher” realms. Leveson is a fig leaf.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adrian.harper.92 Adrian Harper

    nonsense, rumours about saviles liking for under age girls have been around for ages as most journalists knew full well. where were all the crusading journalists then? its an understandable piece of spin by journalists to blame the leveson inquiry but nobody with a brain will swallow it.

  • Moor Larkin

    There seems the same “hunting in a pack” mentality by the papers now the story has been broken, because there seem to be some major flaws about what has been presented. These are in danger of being ignored because of the so-called “tidal wave” of accusations since. However, one thing that is remarkable is that that tidal wave of accusations hit about 300 almost immediately and hasn’t risen since.

    Anyhow, the flaws are shown in a series of blogs. This link is part 4 of 7 and probably the easiest entry point:


    but you can look either side to see what came before and what has come since. “The Oldie” might be interested again because the person behind the blog appears to be in her 60’s, I would guess; and her story revolves around the 90+ year-old headmistress of Duncroft who is still alive and who was never approached by the “forensic” itv investigators, nor by the BBC journalist from Newsnight, who turns out to have been the nephew of the very same Headmistress!!

    What is it they say about never letting the truth get in the way of a good story?

  • Teddy123Bear

    I’m just looking at the base elements that led to the evolution of Leveson, and wondering if it might be necessary to examine these to see the cause for the media ‘not to want to get into Savile and Newsnight.

    Leveson happened because of an intense amount of pressure mounted by the BBC into the phone hacking scandle.

    For the BBC it was the excuse to neutralize what would have been a direct threat against their own power from Murdoch.

    We see time and time again that the BBC will spare no effort or expense to serve its own agenda, which has nothing to do with the purpose it was set up for, or adhering to its charter.

    It is clear today that Savile performed his abuse, with the ‘tacit consent’ of many in the BBC who were aware of his behaviour. It doesn’t take an Einstein to realise that if the BBC would have run the Newsnight story about Savile, they were also going to be incriminating themselves. So they chose to shelve it, under the excuse that it was for ‘editorial reasons’. As for it conflicting with any tributes to Savile they had scheduled, they could just as easily cancelled those. Difference is one puts the BBC into good light, and the other a negative one.

    But for ITV, they would have been happy to let it remain hidden, but since it was revealed what has been their actions?

    First all the bosses either denied knowledge of it, or reiterated the ‘editorial reasons’ as the excuse. Even the head of BBC Trust at first parroted this line, and claimed that any further inquiry was unnecessary.

    Is there really any doubt about what is going on here? Just the fact that Patton himself, without any further ‘investigation’, just repeats the ‘everything is above board’ mantra, shows the real intent of the BBC and those who helped try to perpetrate this insidious cover-up under the label of TRUST. Only when MP’s got into the fray did they do an about turn, and declare there would be an inquiry.

    The investigation of the BBC should now not be about what happened 40 years ago and since with their condescension and enabling, but about how they knowingly tried to present fiction as the truth, because it suited their agenda, with no department within its walls representing the public who are forced to pay for these bloated self-serving propagandists.

    Let the rest of the media and government not forget these issues and keep pushing for this cancer within our society to be cut out.The power the BBC has, which yourself Miles, has observed first hand, was able to bring Leveson about, and got away so far with crimes far worse than what Leveson investigates.

    Please, for the good of this country, keep hammering away.

    • Baron

      Teddy123Bear, hear, hear, and again HEAR.

      But hammering away they will not, my blogging friend, the pervert and the BBC are both symptoms of the same cancerous disease that of excessive power and influence, nobody touched Sir Jimmy because of it, nobody’s much touching the BBC because of it, both hide behind ‘doing good things’, which of course it’s true, but both can do, and actually do evil, hurt people, scare people, brainwash them and get away scot free. Nobody will stand up to the BBC (as nobody stood up to the Yorkshire albino) knowing full well it will keep going not only on the £3,5bn of license fees but on another £1.5bn plus from commercial activities, that’s alot of moolah, you confront the monolith, you cut yourself from it.

      We never learn, do we, but we have Leveson looking into the MSM, and he will most likely suggest a setting up of yet another quango to censor the dying phylum of the MSM gnomes the influence of which, compared to the reach of the BBC, amounts to about a dozen farts in a gas chamber full of Zyklon B.

      • Teddy123Bear

        Thanks Baron, and I too recognize the wisdom in your words.
        I know from history that eventually the BBC will create its own downfall. Either they will be taken to task for their sins by those with the power and enough guts to do so, or they will achieve what their agenda is designed to do. They’re too shortsighted to see the end results of the policies they promote, and unable ever to admit they might be wrong, will pursue them until it’s too late.
        For the time being all we can do is follow the philosophy of the 1000 cuts, or as many as it takes to bring down the behemoth.

      • Lezza

        Phylum? What a frothy show-off.

    • http://profiles.google.com/societyoscar Oscar Shuttle

      why is always the BBC’s fault?

      why no blame directed towards The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Star, Express . local newspapers all over the country etc etc who repeatedly promoted Savile ?

      If the claims are true, no wonder he felt untouchable when Britain’s tabloids promoted his activities whilst now claiming that along they knew the rumours.

      • Teddy123Bear

        What is about this paragraph you didn’t understand?

        The investigation of the BBC should now not be about what happened 40
        years ago and since with their condescension and enabling, but about how
        they knowingly tried to present fiction as the truth, because it suited
        their agenda, with no department within its walls representing the
        public who are forced to pay for these bloated self-serving

        But to answer your question; Since Savile achieved the status he did as a BBC celebrity, it’s fair to assume that any media companies detecting his hanky panky would have hesitated before stirring up a hornets nest, especially as no police inquiry were willing to confirm his guilt.

        But if you are unhappy with any of those media companies you named, don’t buy any of their goods. As soon as we can do the same with the BBC, I for one will be happy.

  • TimFootman

    If Leveson discouraged the press from running the claims against Savile, why didn’t they feel able to do something before Leveson? Because they preferred to hack phones for inane tittle-tattle about the likes of Sienna Miller. They had a free press, but they pissed it up the wall. Sorry, don’t buy it. And now the swivel-eyed conspiracy theorists and the tedious anti-BBC axe-grinders (Murdoch’s catamites, whether willing or unwilling) are in on the act. Ho-hum.

  • http://profiles.google.com/societyoscar Oscar Shuttle

    You make the same bizarre claim as a former The Sun editor does: that somehow Savile was so powerful or litigious that they could not write about his alleged activities.

    That may be so: but if they had this knowledge then why did they week after week, year after year promote Savile and his so-called charity runs and fundraising?.

    The tabloids are being given a free ride in this affair and the Beeb is being made carry the can when the silence of the majority of Britain’s tabloids could have meant an entirely different outcome. If anything, this re-inforces the claims that Britain’s all powerful media is out of control and has only one interest at heart- profit.

    If the Savile claims are proved then the majority of Britain’s media can hang it’s collective head in shame along with the BBC and refrain from re-writing it’s own role in this travesty..

  • Matthew Walther

    “Lord Justice,” not “Lord,” Leveson.

  • roger

    One aspect that really needs sorting out is the care system, the percentage of children who are abused that are already in the system, which should be protecting them and giving them the same start as those in a loving family, is too large to ignore. Rochdale was recently so things are still as bad as decades ago. Why take a girl into care for being a twelve year old prostitute in a dysfunctional ‘family’ for them to be exploited when in the care system. Scandals will just continue with this current system.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mhrcss Shaheeb Mahmood Sher

    30th October 2012

    House of Commons
    SW1A OAA

    Dear Member of Parliament

    Re: The Prime Minister’s Non-disclosure of Leveson Inquiry evidence

    The Prime Minister refused to answer questions on non-disclosure of Leveson Inquiry evidence and end speculation of a Downing Street Cover-up. A long standing convention of parliament is that members display professional regard by answering questions of public interest, irrespective of personal differences.

    The Prime Minister stated he would provide any emails related to News
    Corps controversial bid for control of BSkyB. He promised “If any are found, I will make them available to the inquiry.” No 10 had not subsequently told the inquiry it had turned up anything.

    The Prime Minister falsely promised to tell the truth about matters which affect the outcome of the inquiry
    Perjury is considered a serious offense as it can be used to usurp the power of the courts, resulting in miscarriages of justice.

    The Prime Ministers defence is that he has provided all the information requested by Justice Leveson. The argument Justice Leveson has only requested one email so the others are irrelevant is surprisingly negligent as it assume foreknowledge of the content of the other emails that forms part of an investigative inquiry. The requirement of impartiality dictates that any information pertaining to the News Corp bid for BSkyB be handed over for investigation without prejudice. Is Justice Leveson asking the individuals concerned to act as their own judge?

    There is a conflict of interest in personally judging the relevance of emails as the disclosure of the existence of the emails may be embarrassing for the Prime Minister, who personally ordered the Leveson Inquiry in the wake of the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

    The concern is by consulting with Downing Street personnel with no official capacity in the Leveson inquiry the Prime Minister initiated an alternative inquiry to establish the level of co-operation. A personal inquiry to determine relevance against the role of Justice Leveson is dishonest. This betrays public confidence since it was the Prime Minster who personally setup the Leveson Inquiry to establish the truth, however here he is withholding information from the inquiry. The public feeling is that it is one rule for the Prime Minister and another rule for everyone else.

    Justice Leveson’s partiality should be questioned as he has neither demanded the information or condemned the withholding of evidence.

    Further it raises serious questions of the impartiality of the whole inquiry and the way it has been run. Since how effective can an inquiry be, if it seeks to allow individuals to determine the relevance of their own evidence?

    As the most accountable person in the country, it is vital for the Prime Minister to give full disclosure to the Leveson Inquiry in the public interest and to end speculation of a Downing Street cover-up. Downing Street accepts such communication do exist and they have already been reviewed by the Prime Minister.

    “If the Prime Minister has taken any steps to prevent any material, relevant or not – whether texts, emails or notes of conversations, between David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and News International – from coming into the public domain, then people will think is yet another instance of the Prime Minister being less than straight-forward with the country.”

    “The PM must make sure that every single communication that passed between himself and Brooks and Coulson is made available to the inquiry and more important, to the public.” – Chris Bryant MP

    The government chose to dismiss the role of the chief legal adviser, Dominic Greave and consult an issue of national importance, as a personal matter. As a result the Prime Minister discriminated the role of Mr Grieve to obtain the wrong advise: the Brookes-Coulson emails were outside Lord Justice Leveson’s remit and so did not offer them up to form part of his report, expected to be published next month.

    The Attorney-General was not consulted, the Prime Minister’s role within the government requires normal legal channels to address questions that could affect the government.

    It should not be up to a lawyer inside Downing Street, with no official capacity, to decide whether a text or email was relevant to the inquiry.

    As the most accountable person in the country, it is vital for the Prime Minister to give full disclosure. The dossier must be released. The Prime Minister must redress any indiscretion to pervert the course of justice.

    It is with regret, that once again we see the shameful example of self-interest and office placed before public interest and civic duty.

    We have reached the stage in this country where the sovereignty of the people must be acknowledged in a written constitution, the custody of which will be vested with the legislature chamber, our lordships will be guardians of the constitution and all people every where will have testimony to the dignity of man.

    The most culpable person is the Attorney-General, who in view of the facts has chosen not to advise the government of its legal responsibilities.

    For the Attorney-General to remain silent while the PM discharges his legal responsibilities to disclose Leveson Inquiry evidence amounts to an abdication of responsibility from an office charged with upholding the integrity of the government.

  • D Short

    Let’s have an inquiry into the use of escort girls by senior newspaper editors in the 1980s.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.maloney.39904 John Maloney

    Have a look at http://www.pebpr.blogspot.co.uk -gives details from 1997 enquiry into N. Wales scandal, and names individuals who were never investigated.

  • hdb

    I read the headline ‘Leveson and Jimmy Saville’ and thought for a minute that the good judge had just announced he had been among those fiddled by the old perve.

  • Watcher

    The BBC has created an image of itself as the populist defence against Authority. It then claims it must be Independent to perform it’s self appointed task. Incidentaly, nothing to do with it’s original charter. However being independent means it can become completely self serving and beyond question or control. It has been hi-jacked by it’s employees to support wefarist, statist, left/liberal policies in it’s own interests. The Trust is a supine body which is in the thrall of the BBC and sees it’s only task as protecting the BBC’s independence. The Licence fee payers are viewed by the BBC with disdain and any questioning of their policies dismissed with extreme arrogance. The BBC has much to answer for in the systematic demoralisation of the nation. It’s broadcast culture and ethos is an attempt to rationalise the aberrant behaviour of it’s employees. Savile & his cohorts could not have happened without the BBC.