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LONDON – BBC director general George Entwistle said the public broadcaster will launch two inquiries surrounding sex abuse claims made against Jimmy Savile, the former Top of the Pops presenter and BBC broadcasting stalwart for more than 30 years.
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The first inquiry will be mounted into why an investigation into Savile by its flagship late night news show BBC Newsnight was canned before airing last year.
The second inquiry will be into whether or not culture and practice at the BBC at the time enabled Savile to carry out the sexual abuse of children but that will wait for the go-ahead from the Metropolitan police, which is conducting its own investigation.
Police said they had now received 340 potential lines of inquiry into allegations concerning child sexual abuse and dealing with 40 potential victims of the former screen star.
At a news conference Friday, Entwistle told the media that both inquiries — commissioned by the BBC Executive Board — would be chaired by independent external experts, whose names would be announced next week.
Said Entwistle: “Jimmy Savile’s victims have faced years of pain and we owe it to them and our audiences to understand how this happened and make sure nothing like it can happen again.”
He added: “I have one thing to repeat — that is a profound and heartfelt apology on behalf of the BBC to every victim. It is the victims, these women who were subject to criminal actions, who must be central in our thoughts.”
“And it is the fundamentally criminal nature of many of these allegations that has made supporting the police my first priority. But the BBC will not avoid confronting the events of its past to understand what happened and to try to ensure that nothing of this kind can happen ever again at the BBC.”
Entwistle’s press conference apology comes just days after BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten, speaking at a Broadcast Press Guild lunch, said there would likely be no on air apology until the police investigation was done.
The BBC’s inquiry into the ‘culture and practices’ at the BBC that allowed Savile to apparently sexually assault underage girls for decades is set to dominate the media here for weeks.
Entwistle promised the inquiries would be “forensic, but also soul-searching, examinations.”
The alleged offences date back to 1959 and the youngest victim is believed to be just nine-years old.
A spokeman for Scotland Yard told The Daily Telegraph: “We would once again praise the courage of, and thank everyone who has come forward to provide us with information to assist in understanding the scale of abuse perpetrated by Savile.”
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg speaking on Radio 5 live, said he could not understand how the Savile scandal had remained hidden for so long, adding there must have been people at the BBC who “knew what was going on.”
Dozens of women have now come forward to claim the TV presenter abused them and Savile is accused of assaulting women at BBC Television Centre.
“I just keep asking myself why did this remain buried for so long,” Clegg told BBC Radio Five Live. “There must have been just so many people who knew what was going on in hospitals, the BBC, maybe in the police.”
Clegg said the only explanation he could come up with is “what we are seeing is the dark side of the culture of celebrity, and actually in this case it wasn’t a culture of celebrity it was the cult of celebrity.”
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