Chris Patten urged to quit BBC over George Entwistle's reported pay-off

Calls for broadcaster's chairman to quit intensify amid reports of director general's £1.3m pay-off

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 3:30am

Pressure mounted yesterday on Chris Patten, former Hong Kong governor and now chairman of the BBC's governing board, after two senior executives stepped aside - widening the fallout from errors in child-sex abuse investigations that forced the broadcaster's director general to quit.

News director Helen Boaden and her deputy Stephen Mitchell have given up their responsibilities, with an inquiry under way into why a BBC Newsnight programme on sex-abuse claims against late entertainer Jimmy Savile was cancelled last year. The BBC insisted that Boaden and Mitchell had not been sacked and were expected back at their jobs.

George Entwistle, the director general, resigned at the weekend after a separate Newsnight investigation erroneously implied that a senior politician had molested a young boy.

Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, said there must be a "thorough, structural, radical overhaul" of the way the public broadcaster was run, although he said he would not be resigning over the row. But calls for him to quit grew after it was reported that Entwistle would receive a £1.3-million (HK$16 million) pay-off. Entwistle will leave the BBC with a £450,000 lump sum plus a £877,000 pension plan, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Conservative lawmaker Philip Davies was quoted as saying that it was "yet another reason" why Patten should step down.

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman, Steve Field, said the pay-off for Entwistle, who led the BBC for just 54 days, was "hard to justify" but he added that it was for the BBC to justify the decision.

The prime minister gave his support to Patten, Field said. "The important thing is for Chris Patten to lead the BBC out of its present difficulties."

Former Labour press chief Alastair Campbell said Patten's role "surely has to come under proper examination now".

"Not just in relation to the appointment process but also in relation to the uncomfortable position that makes him both cheerleader and regulator. It is unsustainable," Campbell blogged.

Monday's Daily Mail ran the front-page headline "Can Patten survive?" followed by: "As Newsnight storm grows and director general gets £450,000 pay-off, BBC chairman faces calls to quit over what HE knew".

The allegations against Savile, who died last year aged 84, and the botched Newsnight report have left the BBC facing one of the most serious crises of its 90-year history.

A major police investigation is under way into claims that Savile abused up to 300 children over a 40-year period, including on BBC premises.

The inquiry has so far resulted in the arrests of former glam rocker Gary Glitter and comedian Freddie Starr, while a third man was arrested on Sunday and subsequently bailed.

Wilfred De'ath, 75, who produced a radio show for Savile, told the online edition of the Telegraph that he had been arrested at his flat in Cambridge and was a victim of mistaken identity.

Amid outcry at how Savile could have got away with it for so long, the BBC has also launched its own inquiries into the scandal.

Patten said he was keen to see these through, as well as an urgent review that Entwistle had ordered into the Newsnight fiasco. Entwistle, who joined the BBC as a trainee in 1989, was under pressure to explain the Savile scandal from almost the moment he was installed as director general on September 17.

Culture minister Maria Miller welcomed his departure as "regrettable but the right decision".

However, Newsnight anchor Jeremy Paxman said Entwistle had been "brought low by cowards and incompetents".

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters