BBC director-general George Entwistle offered a “profound and heartfelt apology” to the alleged victims of Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuse as he announced that two inquiries would be launched.
One will look into whether there were any failings over the handling of an abandoned Newsnight investigation into the late DJ and broadcaster.
A second independent inquiry will look into the “culture and practices of the BBC during the years Jimmy Savile worked here”, Mr Entwistle said.
Speaking at a press conference at New Broadcasting House in central London yesterday, Mr Entwistle said: “As the director-general of the BBC I have made clear my revulsion at the thought that these criminal assaults were carried out by someone employed by the BBC and that some may have happened on BBC premises as well as, we now discover, in hospitals and other institutions across the UK.
“I have one thing to repeat – that is a profound and heartfelt apology on behalf of the BBC to every victim.
“It is the victims, these women who were subject to criminal actions, who must be central in our thoughts.”
Since ITV screened a documentary in which five women alleged they were abused, new claims about Savile’s predatory behaviour have emerged on a daily basis.
Scotland Yard is pursuing 340 lines of inquiry in the Savile abuse case involving 40 potential victims, the force revealed.
So far 12 allegations of sexual offences have been officially recorded but this number is increasing, Scotland Yard said.
Metropolitan Police detectives are in contact with 14 other forces as the number of allegations against the former DJ continues to rise.
Speaking about the inquiry into the “culture and practices” at the BBC during the Savile years, Mr Entwistle said: “It will examine whether that culture and those practices allowed him or others to carry out the sexual abuse of children. It will also examine whether the BBC’s child protection, whistle-blowing and bullying and harassment policies and practices are now fit for purpose.”
Mr Entwistle said he wanted to ensure “nothing of this kind could ever happen again at the BBC” as he revealed two “independent figures” would lead the inquiries.
They will be commissioned by the BBC executive board, chaired by Dame Fiona Reynolds.
“These will be forensic but also soul-searching examinations,” Mr Entwistle said.
“Our audience’s trust in us is paramount. We will do everything in our power to maintain that trust and we will do that by holding ourselves to account fully and openly, as we have always done and as our audience expect.”
The second inquiry will look at whether there were any failings in the BBC management in the decision not to air the Newsnight investigation, he added.
“Despite our efforts to make our belief that the decision to drop the Newsnight investigation was taken properly for sound editorial reasons, people have continued to speculate. This is damaging to the BBC and is a cloud of suspicion which cannot be allowed to continue.”
An announcement will be made next week on how the BBC will deal with allegations of sexual harassment, Mr Entwistle said.
“Jimmy Savile’s victims have faced years of pain. We owe it to them and to our audiences to understand how this could have happened and to make sure that everything we do makes sure that nothing like this could ever happen again,” he said.
The ITV documentary on Savile included allegations that he targeted young hospital patients at Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire and Leeds General Infirmary.
The Government has also been dragged into the scandal after allegations that the TV presenter abused and raped patients at Broadmoor hospital in the 1970s and 1980s, when he was a volunteer there.
The Department of Health could be sued by victims as it was running the psychiatric hospital at the time, the Guardian said.
A spokeswoman said there would be an investigation into how Savile was appointed to lead a “taskforce” overseeing a restructuring of the hospital’s management.
In a statement the department said: “We will investigate the Department of Health’s conduct in apparently appointing Savile to this role.
“Although the framework for child protection and safeguarding for Broadmoor and other special hospital patients changed radically in 1999, we of course want to establish the circumstances and see if any lessons can be learned.
“In hindsight he should very obviously not have been appointed. Had anyone involved in the appointment been aware of allegations of abuse against Savile, we would not have expected him to have been appointed.”
The developing scandal has seen the BBC come under fire with allegations that the corporation was aware of the Jim’ll Fix It presenter’s behaviour and failed to take action.
Former BBC director-general Greg Dyke said he knew nothing of the allegations until two weeks ago.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Any Questions, he said: “Jimmy Savile was long gone by the time I got to the BBC, and I hadn’t worked there before.
“But I look back, and I look back at who was head of light entertainment in those days, and you come to really quite venerable figures like Bill Cotton and Jim Moir and I cannot believe – these were men of great integrity, I mean Jim Moir was a devout Catholic – I just don’t believe they would have condoned this.
“We don’t know anybody knew yet and that will be the interesting thing to find out, and that’s what the inquiry will find out – who knew. Of course the problem is there’s hardly anybody left at the BBC who was there at that time.”