Incoming CEO of NY Times Says He ‘Never Heard Allegations’ of Child Sexual Abuse by Long-Time BBC Colleague

By Penny Starr | October 19, 2012 | 5:39 PM EDT

Former BBC Presenter Jimmy Savile (1926-2011).

( – Former BBC chief Mark Thompson, who will take over as president and CEO of the New York Times next month, said he “never heard allegations or complaints” about long-time BBC personality Jimmy Savile, who died in 2011 but who is now being investigated for allegedly sexually abusing numerous underage girls over the course of four decades.

One incident of alleged abuse, according to an eyewitness who was a producer at BBC, took place in Savile's BBC dressing room.

From 1979 to 2004, incoming New York Times CEO Mark Thompson worked in various production, editorial, and directorial positions at the BBC. Then, in 2004, he became the BBC's director general, a position he held until mid-August 2012.

Sir Jimmy Savile worked at the BBC from 1964 to 1994. During that time, he held prominent host/presenter jobs for the popular shows “Top of the Pops,” “Clunk Clink,” and “Jim’ll Fix It.”  All three programs dealt primarily with teenagers and young kids and issues important to youth culture.

Savile’s time at the BBC overlapped Thompson's for 15 years, from 1979 to 1994. But Savile's 1994 retirement from BBC pre-dated Thompson's 2004 ascension to director general of the network. In an Oct. 13 New York Times article, Thompson is quoted as saying: “During my time as director general of the BBC, I never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile.”

In 2007 and 2008, when Thompson was director general of the BBC, British police questioned the then-retired Savile about allegations of child sex abuse in the 1970s, according to BBC News.

BBC Television Centre. (AP)

Further, “in 2008, Sussex police receive an allegation of sexual assault against Savile which allegedly took place in Worthing in 1970 but it is dropped as the complainant is ‘unwilling to co-operate,’” reported the BBC.  “Savile is also named during a 2008 police investigation into abuse at Haut de Garenne children's home in Jersey.”

Savile died in October 2011. In December 2011, a six-week investigative report into the pedophile allegations against Savile by the BBC’s own Newsnight investigative team was dropped. The BBC instead chose to broadcast tribute programs to Savile at Christmas time. (Thompson had worked as a Newsnight editor back in the mid-1980s.)

Thompson was named CEO of the New York Times Company on Aug. 14, 2012, and he is expected to assume his full-time duties there in November.

Although the BBC did not broadcast its own investigative report of Savile in late 2011, the Newsnight editor, Peter Rippon said in a blog on Oct. 2, 2012, that he decided not to air the program and that he was not “ordered to do it by my bosses as part of a BBC cover-up.”

Among Rippon’s reasons for not airing the report, he said, were that “Savile was unable to defend himself. What was the public interest served by reporting it given he is dead? The nature of the allegations and the level of proof required. The fact the incidents were 40 years ago.”

The very next day, Oct. 3, the commercial TV network ITV, in Britain, ran a lengthy, investigate report on Savile entitled, “Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile.” In this report, several women went on-camera and told their stories of Savile’s alleged sexual abuse against them. The report also examined rumors, allegations, and eyewitness accounts of Savile allegedly sexually abusing girls, some as young as 12 years old, from the 1960s up through the 1990s.

Besides his BBC work, Savile had engaged in a variety of charity projects in the 1980s. In the 1990s and 2000s, he continued these activities, some of which put him in the proximity of disabled, disadvantaged and mentally ill young girls, such as at Broadmoor Hospital and Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

Former BBC Director General Mark Thompson, now CEO of The New York Times Company. (AP)

Back in 1972, Savile had been appointed an Officer of the British Empire. In 1990, he was knighted by the Queen of England for his “charitable services,” and he was also honored with a Papal knighthood by Pope John Paul II that same year.

Incoming New York Times CEO Thompson told the Times he was not involved in the BBC’s decision in 2011 to spike the Newsnight program investigating charges of child abuse against Savile.

“I was not notified or briefed about the Newsnight investigation, nor was I involved in any way in the decision not to complete and air the investigation,” Thompson said on Oct. 13 in a New York Times article about the scandal.

“I have no reason to doubt the public statement by the program’s editor, Peter Rippon, that the decision not to pursue the investigation was entirely his, and that it was made solely for journalistic reasons.”

“During my time as director general of the BBC, I never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile,” Thompson said.

The New York Times reported, and as the ITV report documented, the allegations about Savile had “been around for years” but did not crescendo until the ITV broadcast two weeks ago.

Bill Oddie, a former actor in the popular BBC series "The Goodies," which ran from 1970 through 1982, dismissed the claims by Mark Thompson. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on Oct. 21, Oddie rejected claims by Thompson "that he was unaware of rumors about Savile, saying: 'You worked at the BBC and you don't know anything about it? Don't be ridiculous. That is absolute nonsense."

Former BBC PResenter Jimmy Savile. (AP)

“Exposure; The Other Side of Jimmy Savile,” featured women who shared their stories about being fondled and, in some cases, raped by Savile when they were 14, 15 and 16 years old.

“Before I knew it he had me on the bed and he was having sex with me,” said a woman who was 15 at the time of the 1968 incident she describes.

The documentary reported that Savile allegedly preyed on women at the hospitals and at a school for troubled girls where he was involved in charitable activities.

One of those women described in graphic detail how when she was a student at the school, Savile would take her and other girls for rides in his Rolls Royce where the girl(s) were given candy, perfume and cigarettes in exchange for performing oral sex and other sex acts with Savile.

The documentary also features three individuals who worked at the BBC, including two who said they witnessed Savile’s behavior.

Sue Thompson was 23 and working at the BBC when she walked into Savile’s dressing room and saw him with a young girl she estimated to be 14 or younger, according to the ITV report. The girl was sitting on his lap and he had his left hand up her skirt.

“It was definitely a sexual advance to this girl,” Thompson said. She told the former police officer who led the one-year investigation into Savile that led to the documentary that she did not report the incident because she feared no one would believe her.

The New York Times headquarters in New York City. (AP)

Wilfred De’Ath was a producer of the BBC radio show “Teen Scene” in 1964 when he asked Savile to appear on the show. As shown in the ITV report, De’Ath said he met Savile at a restaurant where he was with a girl De’Ath estimated to be 12 to 14 years old. He said the next morning Savile called him from his hotel and asked the producer to say hello to the same girl who was still with him.

“I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that she was between 12 and 14,” De’Ath said. “Everybody knew that he was constantly in the company of underage girls.”

Esther Rantzen, who was for many years a colleague celebrity of Savile at the BBC as the host of “That’s Life!” at first said she would not condemn a man who was not able to tell his side of the story, but changed her mind after hearing the testimony of the women in the ITV report.

“It’s very painful, very distressing” Rantzen said in the documentary. “In a funny way, we all colluded with this, didn’t we?

“We made him into the Jimmy Savile who was untouchable,” she said. Rantzen worked at the BBC from 1965 to 1994. She was the host of the popular show “That’s Life!” In a recent interview, Rantzen said, “There were always rumors surrounding Jimmy and, of course, he knew, because from time to time they were put to him by interviewers like psychiatrist Anthony Claire or reporter Louis Theroux. But he just batted them back.”

“There were rumors that he behaved very inappropriately, sexually, with children,” she said. Rantzen said that after viewing the ITV report and the testimony of the women on the program, she believed they were telling the truth about Savile.

Some of the women who would have appeared in the Newsnight film were in the ITV’s expose, reported The Guardian.

In announcing that Mark Thompson was going to head the New York Times Company, Times Company Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. touted Thompson's experience at the BBC.

Arthus Sulzberger Jr., chairman of the board of the New York Times Company. (AP)

“Mark is a gifted executive with strong credentials whose leadership at the BBC helped it to extend its trusted brand identity into new digital products and services,” Sulzberger, Jr., chairman of the Times Company, said in an Aug. 14 statement.

“Our board concluded that Mark’s experience and his accomplishments at the BBC made him the ideal candidate to lead the Times Company at this moment in time when we are highly focused on growing our business through digital and global expansion,” said Sulzberger.

In the Aug. 14 statement, Thompson himself said: “The New York Times is one of the world’s greatest news providers and a media brand of immense future potential both in the U.S. and around the world. It is a real privilege to be asked to join the Times Company as it embarks on the next chapter in its history.”

“I’m particularly excited to be coming to The New York Times Company as it extends its influence digitally and globally,” said Thompson. “I look forward to working with the board, Arthur, and his highly talented management team to build on the success that has already been achieved and to explore new ways of bringing journalism of exceptional quality, integrity and depth to readers and users everywhere.”

Two months later, in an Oct. 13 news story about the Savile sex-abuse scandal, the New York Times quoted Thompson as saying he had never heard any "allegations" about Savile and that he had not known about the cancelled Newsnight investigative piece.

“I was not notified or briefed about the Newsnight investigation, nor was I involved in any way in the decision not to complete and air the investigation,” the Times quoted Thompson. “I have no reason to doubt the public statement by the program’s editor, Peter Rippon, that the decision not to pursue the investigation was entirely his, and that it was made solely for journalistic reasons.”

“During my time as director general of the BBC, I never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile," Thompson told the Times.

George Entwistle, who has replaced Mark Thompson as director general of the BBC and is scheduled to give evidence this week in the House of Commons about the Savile-BBC scandal. (AP)

The BBC issued a statement on the allegations about Savile that was included in the ITV documentary.

“We are horrified by allegations that anything of this sort could have happened at the BBC or have been carried out by anyone working for the BBC,” the statement said. “They are allegations of a serious criminal nature which the police have the power to investigate. We have asked the BBC Investigators Unit to make direct contact with all the police forces in receipt of the allegations and offer to help them investigate these matters and provide full support to any line of inquiry they wish to pursue.”

In a timeline of the scandal published by the BBC itself, the organization said that the Metropolitan Police had launched a formal investigation on Oct. 19.

“The Metropolitan Police launches a formal criminal investigation into alleged sexual abuse by the late Sir Jimmy Savile and others,” said the BBC. “In a statement, the force says there are ‘living people that require formal investigation.’ More than 400 leads have been followed up and over 200 potential victims identified, figures which Commander Peter Spindler calls ‘staggering.’”

Thompson's successor as director-general of the BBC, George Entwistle, will appear before a committee of the British Parliament this week to answer questions about the scandal.

On Monday, the Daily Mail reported that Members of Parliament are also considering calling in Thompson himself.

"MPs are also considering calling his predecessor, Mark Thompson, to give evidence," said the Daily Mail.

Michael W. Chapman contributed to this report.