(CNSNews.com) – New York Times Company CEO Mark Thompson’s repeated assertions that he did not know, while serving as BBC chief, about allegations of child sex abuse by the late British TV personality Jimmy Savile, are again being challenged.
Nick Pollard, the head of an independent inquiry into the affair, has confirmed that a senior BBC News official contradicted Thompson’s claim that he first time he heard about the Savile allegations was after he left the BBC last September to take up his new post in New York.
Thompson had served as director-general of the British institution, a role that incorporates that of chief executive and editor-in-chief, since 2004.
Late last year he told the Pollard Review that he had “never heard” rumors that Savile – a popular entertainer who died in late 2011 aged 84 and has been accused of having committed hundreds of abuses during a long BBC career – had a “dark side of any kind, sexual or otherwise.”
Thompson also told Pollard that until he left the BBC in September 2012, he had not heard that a BBC “Newsnight” investigation into Savile – launched soon after his death but later dropped – related to allegations of pedophilia. (The main thrust of Pollard’s review was to establish whether the BBC, which at the time was honoring Savile with tribute programs, had abandoned the “Newsnight” story for improper reasons; he concluded that it had not.)
Thompson made the same denial several more times in other contexts, including in interviews with his new company’s flagship New York Times, asserting that he had “never heard any allegations,” while at the BBC, relating to the sex abuse.
But now a British lawmaker has received a letter from Pollard confirming that, during his inquiry last year, lawyers acting for BBC News Director Helen Boaden had written to inform him that Boaden says she told Thompson about “the nature of the ‘Newsnight’ investigation” about nine months before he left the BBC.
The Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Wilson had written to Pollard to ask about apparent differences in the statements of Boaden (who claims she told Thompson about the sex abuse allegations in a Dec. 2011 conversation) and Thompson (who claims he heard nothing about the sexual nature of the allegations before his Sept. 2012 departure).
“I believe it is fundamentally important that those in positions of public trust be held to account for their actions,” Wilson wrote to Pollard.
“If Mr. Thompson, as Director-General and de facto editor-in-chief of the BBC at the time, did indeed know that there were suspicions or allegations about Savile’s conduct and both allowed the tribute programs to be broadcast in December 2011 and failed to act in his remaining nine months as Director-General of the BBC to ensure the BBC put the public record straight, or that it passed on the evidence it held to the police, he should be held to account for this.”
In his reply to the lawmaker, Pollard confirmed that “in a letter from Ms. Boaden’s lawyers shortly before my report was published, it was stated that Ms. Boaden did communicate to Mr. Thompson the nature of the Newsnight investigation as far as she knew it when he rang her from BBC headquarters in Salford just before Christmas 2011.”
Pollard added, however, that “Mr. Thompson has a different recollection of that conversation.” The seeming contradiction between the two accounts had not changed his opinion, which appeared in his inquiry report released last December, that he had “no reason to doubt” Thompson’s word on the matter.
“In any event, I stand by the conclusions I reached in relation to Mr. Thompson and do not consider that there is anything further I can add on this issue.” (Pollard's letter to Wilson Letter from Nick Pollard.pdf)
‘Drip-drip of revelations’
Wilson is not letting the matter rest, however.
He has also written to the BBC’s current management and the chairman of the governing BBC Trust, Chris Patten, drawing attention to the discrepancy and urging them to release the Boaden letter into the public domain.
Wilson warned Patten and the managers that the BBC’s attempts to draw a line under the Savile scandal and move on would be undermined by the “further drip-drip of revelations and the emergence of cracks in the Pollard Review’s findings.”
Wilson told CNSNews.com Thursday he found Pollard’s stance on the matter baffling.
“In concluding that there is ‘no reason to doubt’ Mark Thompson’s version of events, the Pollard Review is effectively saying that no weight should be attached to the account of the BBC’s most senior female executive, who has contradicted Thompson’s denials,” he said.
“I am very puzzled as to why the Pollard Review has chosen to believe the account of Mark Thompson, who has publicly contradicted himself about what he knew about the Savile allegations and admits to having an imprecise recollection of events, but has seemingly discounted entirely the evidence of Helen Boaden, who was party to the key conversation with Thompson and seems to have a much clearer recollection of events than he does,” Wilson continued.
“I find it very difficult indeed to justify how the Pollard Review can possibly maintain this conclusion in light of the evidence in front of them. No one from the review or the BBC has yet offered any sort of explanation.”
Wilson summarized his concerns about Thompson’s position.
“Mark Thompson has denied knowing about the nature of the allegations against Jimmy Savile during his time as head of the BBC, despite phoning the head of BBC News to enquire about the BBC’s own investigation into Savile, and later being copied into emails about the allegations and even signing off a legal letter in relation to the allegations,” he noted. “His office also took calls from journalists in relation to the allegations while he was still Director-General.”
After he took up the post at the New York Times, Thompson told staff he would hold “town hall” meetings where, among other things, he could address any questions they may have about the Savile affair. Those meetings were postponed in December until “early in the new year.”
Queries sent to the NYT Co. on Thursday about the Boaden claims, and about the delayed town hall meetings, brought no response by press time.