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Ex-BBC head denies burying Savile probe

NEW YORK--The former head of the BBC on Wednesday denied any role in shelving an investigation into allegations of widespread abuse of underage girls by the late British TV star Jimmy Savile.

Mark Thompson, who is set to become CEO of the New York Times next month, told the newspaper he had heard about the probe from a reporter at a holiday party last December and followed up with two BBC News officials.

“I talked to senior management in BBC News and reported the conversation I had at the party and asked was there a problem,” he said, adding that he was told the story would not be published “for journalistic reasons.”

Thompson, who headed the British Broadcasting Corporation from 2004 to September 2012, said: “There is nothing to suggest that I acted inappropriately in the handling of this matter.

“I did not impede or stop the 'Newsnight' investigation, nor have I done anything else that could be construed as untoward or unreasonable.”

Thompson said he was never told about the nature of the allegations against Savile, nor did he ask, during his talks with the reporter and the officials.

“Had I known about the nature of the allegations and the credible allegations that these horrific crimes had taken place during his time at the BBC and in the building at the BBC, I of course would have considered them very grave and would have acted very differently,” he was quoted as saying.

George Entwistle, the current director general of the BBC, defended on Tuesday the broadcaster's response to allegations of sex abuse by Savile before British lawmakers, but admitted its reputation had taken a hit.

He said the world's biggest public broadcaster regretted dropping the “Newsnight” probe, but denied that pressure from BBC top brass had forced the flagship current affairs television show to shelve its investigation.

Savile, a DJ who rose to become one of the biggest and most distinctive personalities of BBC television from the 1960s until the 1980s, died last October aged 84.

Two weeks ago the BBC's commercial rival ITV aired allegations by several women about the entertainer, who was known for his shiny tracksuits, gold jewellery and ever-present cigar.

British police have launched a separate criminal investigation into the alleged abuse by Savile, and Scotland Yard says it believes there may have been as many as 200 victims.

The New York Times confirmed in its story that Thompson would join the company as president and CEO the week of Nov. 12, though he does not have a special contract and either party could end the agreement at any time.

“It is my belief that there isn't anything in my participation or my role in this story that would impede my ability to join and work with my colleagues at The New York Times,” Thompson told the newspaper.

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