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BBC crisis deepens as new allegations emerge

A pedestrian is reflected in a door as they walk past the BBC Broadcasting House in London October 18, 2012. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
A pedestrian is reflected in a door as they walk past the BBC Broadcasting House in London October 18, 2012. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

By Maria Golovnina

LONDON (Reuters) - A crisis gripping Britain's BBC deepened on Monday after it emerged a senior producer had warned the broadcaster could be accused of a cover-up when it axed its own expose into alleged sexual abuse by a one-time TV star.

Allegations that flamboyant BBC presenter Jimmy Savile, who died last year, operated unhindered as a paedophile for years while working for the BBC have rocked the publicly funded broadcaster.

Its new head, George Entwistle, is now under pressure to explain why the BBC dropped an investigation by its Newsnight program into Savile last year. Mark Thompson, now the New York Times Co's chief executive, was in charge of the BBC at the time.

In a program due to be aired in Britain later on Monday, a Newsnight producer behind the investigation, Meirion Jones, said he had warned his editor that the BBC was at risk of being accused of a cover-up if it did not run the story, the BBC said.

"I was sure the story would come out one way or another and...the BBC would be accused of a cover-up," he was quoted as saying by the BBC.

Knighted as a "Sir" by Queen Elizabeth, cigar-chomping Savile was one of the BBC's biggest names and most recognised television personalities, and questions have been raised about whether the broadcaster turned a blind eye to his activities.

Police investigating alleged abuse by Savile opened a criminal inquiry last week, saying more than 200 potential victims had come forward since an investigation by another British TV channel claimed he had preyed on children for decades.

Rival commercial channel ITV broadcast interviews with women who said Savile abused them when they were as young as 12, sometimes on BBC premises.

Entwistle is due to appear before parliament on Tuesday to answer what are likely to be tough questions about the case.

The BBC has launched two independent reviews of the allegations, one looking into Savile's actions and another to investigate why the Newsnight report was shelved.

It has not commented officially on the case, saying it would be inappropriate to say anything until the reviews had been concluded.

The Panorama program, due to air in Britain on Monday night, is expected to give details of how much information the Newsnight team had on Savile at the time.

Veteran BBC foreign correspondent John Simpson said the BBC's handling of the case was the worst crisis to hit the corporation in his almost 50-year career.

"I don't think the BBC has handled it terribly well," he said, according to the BBC. "All we have as an organization is the trust of the people, the people that watch us and listen to us and if we don't have that, if we start to lose that, that's very dangerous I think for the BBC."

(Writing By Maria Golovnina; editing by Patrick Graham)