Who knew what and when about hints in Louis Theroux’s show, asks Dame Janet Smith
By David Hencke | 7 July 2015
BBC chiefs are braced for condemnation from an inquiry over the broadcaster’s failure to discover that one of its stars was a prolific paedophile.
Dame Janet Smith, who is conducting a review into how Jimmy Savile was able to carry out sexual abuse of children and adults while at the broadcaster, is concerned about why the corporation failed to realise what he was doing despite hints of his paedophilia in one of its own programmes 15 years ago.
Exaro can reveal that Smith, a former Court of Appeal judge, has asked several BBC executives what enquiries were made about Savile as a result of an insightful programme on him presented by Louis Theroux. In the programme, Theroux referred explicitly to the “paedophile” accusation against Savile – one of the BBC’s biggest names on radio and television. Savile presented ‘Jim’ll Fix It’, a television series that arranged for children’s wishes to come true.
Sources at the BBC say that it is vulnerable to the charge that it failed to look properly into the allegation of paedophilia against Savile, even though Theroux’s line of questioning was cleared for broadcast in 2000. The sources were unable to say what Smith had concluded about the episode, but are anticipating strong criticism.
One source stressed that the inquiry was maintaining a “firewall” between itself and the BBC to prevent managers from discovering its findings.
The Smith review has questioned BBC executives over the following exchange in the programme, ‘When Louis Met… Jimmy’, in a section about Savile and children:
Louis Theroux: So, why do you say in interviews that you hate children when I’ve seen you with kids and you clearly enjoy their company and you have a good rapport with them?
Jimmy Savile: Right, obviously, I don’t hate ’em. That’s number one.
LT: Yeah. So why would you say that, then?
JS: Because we live in a very funny world. And it’s easier for me, as a single man, to say, “I don’t like children,” because that puts a lot of salacious tabloid people off the hunt.
LT: Are you basically saying that so tabloids don’t, you know, pursue this whole “Is he/isn’t he a paedophile?” line, basically?
JS: Yes, yes, yes. Oh, aye. How do they know whether I am or not? How does anybody know whether I am? Nobody knows whether I am or not. I know I’m not, so I can tell you from experience that the easy way of doing it when they’re saying “Oh, you have all them children on Jim’ll Fix It,” say, “Yeah, I hate ’em.”
LT: Yeah. To me that sounds more, sort of, suspicious in a way, though, because it seems so implausible.
JS: Well, that’s my policy, that’s the way it goes. That’s what I do. And it’s worked a dream.
LT: Has it worked?
JS: A dream.
Smith has finished her review, and was planning to publish it in May.
But she has delayed publication after Scotland Yard warned her that it could prejudice active criminal investigations.
A BBC spokeswoman told Exaro: “At the time of filming ‘When Louis Met Jimmy’, neither Louis nor the BBC production team were aware of any specific allegations against Jimmy Savile.
“However, Louis felt it appropriate to refer to the unsubstantiated rumours that had circulated about Jimmy Savile among journalists for years. The programme went through the normal BBC compliance procedures.”
Exaro also understands that Smith’s review will make an acutely embarrassing disclosure from BBC board minutes of more than 40 years ago.
The minutes are said to show that the board formally thanked Savile for acting as a spokesman for the broadcaster in rebutting a story about a BBC photographer who allegedly made sexual advances to young teenagers during a recording of ‘Top of the Pops’. Savile presented this edition of the programme, which gave a run-down of the pop charts.
The News of the World was pursuing the story, but was headed off by Savile. The story never ran, for which the BBC board was very grateful.
Meanwhile, the BBC also faces accusations that it paid for legal advice for Savile to stop publication of accusations that he was a paedophile.
Alun Rees claimed in a Facebook post that when he was a reporter on the Daily Express it confronted Savile with the accusation, but that the BBC paid for legal advice for the celebrity, stopping the story from running.
Rees declined to comment to Exaro.
The BBC spokeswoman said: “Dame Janet Smith’s review has been commissioned to consider the culture and practices of the BBC during the years that Jimmy Savile worked here and has had our full co-operation. We will await their full report, but we are not aware of any evidence that supports this claim.”
The BBC commissioned the inquiry in 2012. It engaged Reed Smith, the global law firm, whose London base is in Broadgate Tower. The law firm has devoted one floor of the building to the review.
BBC sources said that, with some lawyers charging £700 an hour for their work, the legal bill for the Smith review runs to £10 million.
The scandal of child sex abuse by Savile and another of the BBC’s stars, Stuart Hall, has rocked the broadcaster.
However, as even official authorities increasingly acknowledge the scale of the scandal, Panorama has hit difficulties with the programme, and its planned transmission has been repeatedly delayed.
Additional research by Samuel Osborne.
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