NY Times Story Questions Role of Its CEO in BBC Abuse Scandal

Mark Thompson - Portrait Outside - H - 2011
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

A letter could put renewed pressure on ex-BBC boss Mark Thompson who started as head of the New York Times Co. this week.

LONDON - A legal letter sent earlier this year on behalf of then-BBC director general Mark Thompson  has raised questions about his assurances that he was not aware of sexual abuse accusations against late former BBC host Jimmy Savile during his tenure, the New York Times reported.

The news of the letter could also put renewed pressure on Thompson and the New York Times Co. where he started his new role as CEO this week. The New York Times has covered the questions about its new boss' past several times in recent weeks. And the paper's ombudsman recently questioned his suitability for the CEO role.

STORY: BBC Trust Chairman Predicts Resignations in Wake of Jimmy Savile Abuse Probes

Some observers have argued that Thompson must have at least heard about accusations against Savile, including allegations that he abused young people on BBC premises, during his time at the U.K. public broadcaster and failed to probe them. Some have also wondered if Thompson played a role in the recently revealed controversial decision by BBC flagship news show Newsnight late last year to drop an investigation into accusations against Savile.

STORY: Jimmy Savile Sex Abuse Scandal: British Police Identify 200 Potential Victims

Thompson has said he wasn't aware of the allegations and had no hand in killing the planned news show report. “During my time as director general of the BBC, I never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile," he recently said.

An internal BBC probe is currently looking at what led to the Newsnight decision to drop the Savile report.

The legal letter that has now emerged was sent to The Sunday Times in London 10 days before Thompson left his BBC role. In it, lawyers representing him and another BBC executive threatened to sue the paper that is part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. over a planned article, which was to argue that they were involved in putting a stop to the Newsnight investigation.

The Sunday Times had mentioned the letter a few days ago, but never revealed details of its content. The New York Times said that it included a summary of the alleged abuse by Savile. The Times of London article was set to “look at a number of allegations regarding the behavior of the late television and radio presenter, specifically that he took advantage of a series of young women," the New York Times quoted from the letter. "Some of the alleged assaults took place on BBC premises.”

A Thompson aide told the New York Times that he had orally authorized the letter, but had not been fully aware of its contents. “It’s not clear if he was shown it, but he doesn’t remember reading it,” the aide said. Thompson declined to comment.

The New York Times Co. has said it was content with Thompson's description of the events and his lack of knowledge.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai