* Sex scandal has raised questions about BBC's judgment
* Director general has defended the corporation
* Imbroglio threatens to affect New York Times
By Michael Holden and Kate Holton
LONDON, Oct 24 A sex scandal gripping Britain's
BBC deepened on Wednesday with claims that a paedophile ring had
existed involving some of its stars, as its former director
general said his handling of the case shouldn't stop him
becoming the boss of the New York Times.
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 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 Mark Thompson, who is set to
take over at the New York Times Co next month.
The British government warned the BBC on 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 licence 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
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 organised paedophile ring
involving other celebrities had existed at the BBC during the
height of Savile's fame in the 1970s and 80s.
"There is information of a possible paedophile ring and we
have people who have approached us with that information,"
Alicia Alinia, one of the lead lawyers involved in the cases for
the Slater and Gordon law firm 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 behaviour 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, lawmaker Tom
Watson told parliament a senior aide to an unnamed former prime
minister might have been involved in a suspected paedophile
"I want to ensure that the Metropolitan Police secure the
evidence, re-examine it, and investigate clear intelligence
suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament
and Number 10 (prime minister's office)," he said.
The developments come at a time when politicians are
increasingly voicing disquiet about the BBC's broader management
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 criticised Entwistle for his
unconvincing appearance before parliament on 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
openly 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.
He said he was not briefed on the high-profile investigative
programme that was looking into allegations against Savile, who
hosted prime-time children's shows on the BBC, and that he was
not involved in the decision to kill its report.
Entwistle, who replaced him as BBC director general in
September, told hostile lawmakers on Tuesday that failures at
the corporation had allowed Savile to prey on young girls, but
he too denied he had helped suppress the report.
Damian Collins, a lawmaker from the ruling Conservative
Party and a member of the parliamentary committee which
questioned Entwistle, said it still wanted answers.
"I don't think the director general gave a very convincing
performance yesterday and I think there were a lot of questions
about the decisions he's taken," he told Reuters.
In reference to Thompson, who was director general when the
decision was taken to drop the investigative Newsnight programme
into the subject, he said:
"I find it extraordinary that the decision to close down the
Jimmy Savile investigation could have been taken without the
knowledge of the director general, who is the editor-in-chief,
because this was not any run-of-the-mill investigation.
"It was one of the highest importance, involving some very
grave criminal allegations about someone who had been a BBC
employee for decades."