LONDON: A sex scandal gripping Britain’s BBC deepened Wednesday with claims of a pedophile ring involving some of its stars. The BBC has been thrown into disarray by accusations it helped cover up sexual abuse by one of its most celebrated former presenters, Jimmy Savile, and has struggled to explain why one of its own shows killed an investigation into it.
The broadcaster’s former director general, Mark Thompson, said his handling of the case shouldn’t prevent him becoming the boss of The New York Times. The broadcaster’s current Director General George Entwistle has been condemned for his handling of one of the worst crises in the corporation’s 90-year history and questions have also been raised about his predecessor Thompson, who is set to take over at The New York Times Co. next month.
The British government warned the BBC Wednesday that the scandal was raising “very real concerns” about public trust.
“These allegations do leave many institutions, perhaps particularly the BBC, with serious questions to answer,” Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament.
Police and the BBC – which is funded by the public through an annual license fee – are looking into allegations that the eccentric, cigar-chomping Savile, who died last year, abused young girls over six decades. Some of the attacks were alleged to have taken place on BBC premises.
Lawyers representing some of the male and female victims, some of whom were as young as eight when the abuse occurred, said their clients had indicated an organized pedophile ring involving other celebrities existed at the BBC during the height of Savile’s fame.
“There is information of a possible pedophile ring and we have people who have approached us with that information,” Alicia Alinia, a lawyer involved in the cases, told Reuters.
“It seems to be a number of people who were involved other than Jimmy Savile, I can’t reveal any specific names of celebrities involved, but it seems as though it wasn’t just limited to unknowns.”
Earlier, the BBC said new allegations had been made against nine current BBC staff or contributors since revelations about Savile were first broadcast by rival British channel ITV.
These ranged from inappropriate language or behavior to harassment and serious claims of sexual assault.
“Where appropriate action needs to be taken and people would need to be suspended, that will happen,” a BBC spokeswoman said.
In a sign the scandal could spread further, MP Tom Watson told parliament a senior aide to an unnamed former prime minister might have been involved in a suspected pedophile ring.
“I want to ensure that the Metropolitan Police secure the evidence, re-examine it, and investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful pedophile network linked to parliament and No. 10 [the prime minister’s office],” he said.
The developments come at a time when politicians are increasingly voicing disquiet about the BBC’s broader management structure.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller wrote to the broadcaster’s independent governing body to say “very real concerns are being raised about public trust and confidence in the BBC.”
Lawmakers and the media heavily criticized Entwistle for his appearance before parliament Tuesday to answer questions over the scandal.
Thompson, his predecessor, is also facing scrutiny over his handling of the case. The public editor of The New York Times questioned whether the Briton was now fit to serve in his new role with such a scandal hanging over him.
“I do not believe there is anything that I’ve done in relation to this matter which should in anyway impinge on my abilities to fully discharge the responsibilities I’ll have at The New York Times,” Thompson told Reuters.
Entwistle told hostile lawmakers Tuesday that failures at the corporation had allowed Savile to prey on young girls, but denied he had helped suppress the report.