Former BBC producer Meirion Jones, who was prevented from running an investigation into Jimmy Savile, said he was furious the programme had been aired. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters
Panorama’s report on an alleged VIP paedophile ring has reopened deep wounds at the BBC, which is still recovering from the impact of the Jimmy Savile affair.
Present and former executives at the BBC disagreed over whether it was appropriate for Panorama to question whether a VIP paedophile ring had operated out of flats in Dolphin Square in Westminster in a programme broadcast on Tuesday night.
Meirion Jones, the producer who was prevented from airing an investigation into Jimmy Savile by the BBC, was furious about the special hour-long programme. In an interview, he said: “There are still people at the BBC trying to make the case that you can’t trust victims and therefore they were right not to run the Savile programme.”
Jones, who no longer works for the BBC and went on to win awards for his work on the Savile scandal, said the corporation had behaved “disgracefully” in its treatment of another victim of historical child abuse, Karin Ward, and that this week’s Panorama showed how little the corporation had changed.
Panorama’s report, The VIP Paedophile Ring – What’s the Truth? casts doubt on the testimony of an alleged victim of such historical abuse, a sensitive subject for a broadcaster that had been accused of failing to air allegations about Savile and mishandling false allegations about Lord McAlpine.
The BBC is yet to publish a report, started three years ago by former High court judge Dame Janet Smith, into the culture and practices of the broadcaster during the time Savile worked there. The Metropolitan police has said that her findings could hamper ongoing investigations into sexual abuse claims.
BBC executives rejected Jones’s claims, with one senior executive responsible for the programme insisting that the broadcaster could not allow the need to atone for the mistakes of the past to stop good journalism.
Ceri Thomas, the editor of Panorama, said the furore reflected the impact the Savile scandal had had on two huge institutions, the BBC and the Metropolitan police. “What’s really interesting is how the big institutions have reacted to Savile,” he said.
Tuesday’s programme asked whether the “pendulum has swung too far” with mistakes of the past leading to any wild allegation being accepted by the media, police and judiciary. “Panorama can’t give up evidence-based journalism because it’s too dangerous,” Thomas added.
Some journalists were reportedly unhappy about questioning potential witnesses during a live investigation. Insiders said that once some of the programme’s material started to leak out, producers sought the earliest possible slot ahead of its end of intended programming on 29 October.
Thomas wrote a blog explaining why his team broadast the documentary, fronted by Daniel Foggo. In the blog, he asks whether “the police are so determined not to dent the credibility of witnesses that they don’t want to investigate it at all”. The BBC executive went on to criticise other journalists who had reported the allegations: “Parts of the media – particularly the online, alternative media – raced down that road, publishing wild stories without pausing to check if they were true. A lot of things have been published that never should have been.”
Mark Watts, editor in chief of Exaro, the online site which has led investigations into historical child abuse, said the programme was “a disgraceful piece of gutter journalism by the BBC”.