* 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 (Reuters) - 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 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 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 ring.
“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 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 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.”