Examination of broadcaster’s policies on child protection quietly removed from inquiry
By David Hencke and Tim Wood | 18 November 2015
“The BBC has a clear understanding of what needs to be done to keep children safe”
– Moira Murray, specialist in child protection, Good Corporation
Questions over BBC policies on child protection have been quietly removed from the terms of reference for the broadcaster’s inquiry into paedophile Jimmy Savile.
Exaro can reveal how the BBC told Dame Janet Smith, the retired judge who is conducting the review, that it wanted to take away this key element from her remit.
Mystery remains over the delay in publication of the damning review after Exaro revealed last month that it already takes account of police concerns about potential prejudice to ongoing criminal investigations.
The broadcaster changed the terms of reference so that the Smith review should no longer “consider whether the BBC’s current child-protection and whistleblowing policies are fit for purpose.”
One BBC source concerned about the broadcaster’s attitude to its problem with child sex abuse spoke of being shocked at how the corporation has fundamentally changed the terms of reference for the Smith review without anyone in the media noticing.
Smith is understood to have agreed to the change, after the BBC initiated the move, on the grounds that delays to her review were holding up any necessary changes to the broadcaster’s policies on child protection and whistleblowing.
The BBC formally announced the change to her remit last year, although it went completely unnoticed at the time.
The Smith review even issued a statement at the time to say: “We have agreed with the BBC an amendment to the review’s terms of reference in order to allow the BBC to commence an independent assessment of its child protection and whistleblowing policies now.” Again, the statement went unreported.
The Smith review, launched in 2012, continued to look into the BBC’s failure to stop sexual abuse by Savile, one of its biggest stars, linked to his work at the broadcaster. It was expanded in 2013 to review the case of another of the BBC’s stars, Stuart Hall.
However, criminal proceedings against Hall delayed the review in early 2014. Hall had been convicted in 2013 of indecently assaulting 13 girls. At his second trial in May 2014, he was convicted of a further two sexual assaults of another girl.
The BBC instead asked Good Corporation, a company that advises on corporate responsibility and business ethics, to carry out an “independent assessment” of the BBC’s “child-protection and whistleblowing policies”. The broadcaster commissioned the work at the same time as removing this key element from the Smith review’s remit.
Despite the change, the Smith review is still due to report on “the lessons to be learnt” from the evidence uncovered in the Savile and Hall cases.
However, Good Corporation has already published its report, which praised the BBC’s child-protection and whistleblowing policies for “a clear understanding of what needs to be done to keep children safe.” It also commended the BBC’s whistleblowing policy, but warned that awareness of it was “extremely low” within the corporation.
The broadcaster published it at the same time as its annual report in July, but again the findings have gone unreported by the media.
The BBC executive published a response as part of the report, saying: “Good Corporation concludes that the BBC has strong child-protection policies in place and that considerable effort has been made to improve them.”
“The overall conclusions of the Good Corporation’s review are positive, and no serious weaknesses are raised in the report.”
The BBC executive thanked Good Corporation for its “extremely thorough work”, adding, “Child protection and safeguarding will always be a priority for the BBC, and we will never be complacent.”
A BBC spokeswoman said that it did not carry out a “formal tender process” for the work because it would have taken too much time. She refused to say how much it cost, saying that it was “commercially confidential”.
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