EXACTLY a year after the £3m Pollard Review into the Jimmy Savile affair delivered its findings, BBC chairman Chris Patten is confronting a new scandal – one created by the man who investigated the last scandal, er, Nick Pollard.
The public now knows the secret Patten has harboured for months: that after publishing his report, Pollard privately confessed that he had made “a mistake” by excluding key evidence from it. Despite knowing of this “mistake” since early September, Patten has only recently – and most reluctantly – agreed to look into it. Tory MP Rob Wilson has had enough of the delays, though, and as the Eye went to press he was threatening to publish a recording of a conversation between Pollard and a reporter in which Pollard confesses his “mistake”. Wilson sent the recording to Patten last month.
Completely at odds
The review, which earned Nick Pollard £96,000 for eight weeks’ work, was meant to establish why Newsnight’s 2011 investigation of Savile was axed. Laughably, it failed to identify who spiked the story, but one conclusion it did reach was that the BBC director-general at the time, Mark Thompson, had had no idea that Newsnight’s proposed Savile film was about child abuse until after he left the BBC in September 2012.
The trouble for the BBC now is that after publishing his report in December 2012, Pollard rang a reporter and confided that the finding about Thompson wasn’t quite right. He said the BBC’s then head of news, Helen Boaden, had told him and his review team something completely at odds with Thompson’s story: namely that during a phone call in December 2011, nine months before Thompson left, she had warned him that Newsnight was investigating Savile’s sexual abuse of children.
The Boaden letter
Her claim could have been deeply damaging for Thompson, since even after the phone call he had allowed the BBC to broadcast gushing Christmas specials paying tribute to the creepy DJ. But the only version of the Boaden conversation included in Pollard’s 3,000 pages of evidence was that given by Thompson himself, when Pollard asked if she had given him any indication of why Newsnight had been investigating Savile. “No, not really.” Did he know it was about sexual abuse? “No.” By suppressing the Boaden letter that contradicted this, Pollard was able to conclude that there was “no reason to doubt” Thompson’s account.
Had he publicly acknowledged a reason to doubt Thompson’s reliability, the former D-G’s lucrative new career as chief executive of the New York Times might have been derailed – and the BBC would have had to explain why it broadcast tribute programmes. Pollard spared Thompson and the BBC these embarrassments. Why he later felt the need to unburden himself to a journalist remains unclear: in public, when challenged about Boaden’s evidence, he has insisted it was irrelevant to his inquiry.
The Eye has been reporting this brewing scandal since March (see “Lights, Camera – Redaction!”, Eye 1335), and for months MP Rob Wilson has badgered Patten and new director-general Tony Hall about Pollard’s sin of omission. But again the BBC has behaved as if ignoring questions will make them go away. When Wilson sent Patten the tape of Pollard’s confession last month, Patten had no choice but to ask Pollard for a formal explanation.
Isn’t it now time all the evidence submitted to the Pollard review was published? As we pointed out in Eye 1335, none of the responses to his so-called “Salmon letters” – letters sent to inquiry witnesses offering them a chance to clarify or add evidence – has been made public. Helen Boaden’s devastating allegation about Mark Thompson proves that this correspondence contained crucial details which Pollard didn’t report – and which the public, who footed the £3m bill for his inquiry, has so far been denied.