BBC director general Tony Hall has confirmed that the Corporation has sacked veteran DJ Tony Blackburn because of failings in the evidence he gave to the Jimmy Savile enquiry.
“I’m making no judgement about what happened in the past. I’m making a judgement about how someone has engaged with a seriously important inquiry,” said Hall, reading from prepared notes. “I’m making a judgement about the standards of behaviour I expect from everybody working at the BBC now.”
He made it clear that the BBC had not named Blackburn, who gave evidence under condition of anonymity to Dame Janet Smith. Blackburn is now threatening to sue the BBC for sacking him and making him a “scapegoat” for the Savile abuse scandal.
Hall would not comment on Blackburn’s claims, despite being asked to do so repeatedly at a press conference today. He said: “As Dame Janet has said, she has rejected his [Blackburn’s] evidence and she has explained very clearly why. I have to take that extremely seriously.
“My interpretation of that is that Tony Blackburn fell short of the standards of evidence that such an inquiry demanded. I’m making no accusations about events or behaviours that happened in the past … but about what he was doing in front of this really crucial inquiry.”
In the report, Dame Janet Smith cites testimony that Blackburn was interviewed twice by senior BBC manager Bill Cotton and Sir Brian Neill QC – who presided over a 1972 inquiry into Top of the Pops. This concerned complaints from the mother of Claire McAlpine who committed suicide after claiming she was seduced by Blackburn when she was 15 in 1971.
Mrs McAlpine found the claims about Blackburn in a diary which her daughter kept and alleged that a sexual encounter occurred a few weeks before her death.
But when interviewed by Dame Janet for the inquiry, Blackburn denied that these interviews with Cotton and Neill had taken place, prompting the High Court judge to dismiss his evidence.
Hall said. “My view is that given the importance of this investigation and the weight of responsibility of everyone to work fully and frankly with Dame Janet’s review, I felt it was untenable for the BBC to continue its relationship [with Blackburn] because of that.”
However neither Dame Janet nor Hall would go so far as to say that they believed Blackburn “lied” in his evidence, despite being asked the question repeatedly at today’s press conference.
Neither would Hall be drawn on whether the BBC had paid Blackburn any compensation or severance pay, insisting that the question was a private matter between the DJ – who presented Top of the Pops from the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s – and the Corporation.
In her report, Dame Janet also criticised the BBC’s dismissal of complaints by Claire McAlpine’s mother after her daughter took her own life.
“The BBC’s internal investigation into Mrs McAlpine’s complaint does not appear to me to evince any sense of concerns about the safety and welfare of Claire or of girls like her. Rather it appears to me to have been designed to protect and exonerate the BBC and to fob Mrs McAlpine off.”
The Corporation’s editor in chief delivered an emotional address at BBC Broadcasting House in which he said he was personally affected by reading the testimony of the “courageous” victims who testified over the course of the nearly three year inquiry.
In response to a question from a journalist, Hall said he was “content”, rather than “pleased”, that the inquiry had been commissioned and defended its cost – which totalled £6.5m for the two-and-a-half years it took to complete.
The report contains harrowing evidence of the crimes committed by Savile and Stuart Hall over decades of their work at the BBC.
Dame Janet Smith reveals that there were 72 victims of Savile during his time with the BBC and 21 victims of Stuart Hall.
Her report cites five examples when the conduct of Hall and Savile could have been unearthed but were missed for various reasons. The report refers to a “macho” culture at the BBC were staff were deferential to stars and too loyal to their programmes or too frightened to speak out.
The report says that 117 people at the BBC had heard rumours of Savile’s conduct but did not report the allegations up the chain of command.
However Dame Janet says there is no evidence that any senior managers – which she defines as BBC staff and employees above the level of producer – were made aware of allegations against Savile.