The BBC current affairs program "Newsnight" on Friday night aired allegations that a senior Conservative politician from the Margaret Thatcher era had sexually abused boys in the 1970s and 1990s as part of a scandal involving children's homes in North Wales.
But the BBC stopped short of naming the politician, bringing a torrent of tweets criticizing its report.
Earlier Friday, The Telegraph newspaper reported that former Newsnight presenter Michael Crick tweeted: "'Senior political figure' due to be accused tonight by BBC of being paedophile denies allegations + tells me he'll issue libel writ agst BBC."
A subsequent tweet read: "The senior political figure due to be accused paedophile activity by BBC tonight tells me that he still hasn't heard from them for response."
In a later post on its website, the BBC said the allegations arose from a scandal alleging child sexual abuse at children's homes in North Wales in the 1970s and 1980s that started coming to light in the early 1990s. The allegations led to investigations and a government-ordered inquiry, the 2000 Waterhouse Tribunal.
In the Newsnight segment, a man said he had been repeatedly abused by the politician in the late 1970s. Steve Messham claimed that he had been abused "more than a dozen times" and that when he finally went to the police, "I was called a liar." He called for a new investigation.
Newsnight said a man claiming that he also had been abused by the politician had been interviewed for BBC radio in 2000. Newsnight said it had not been able to find the man for its report, but it provided an unusual dramatization of the man's radio interview.
According to the dramatization, the man said he had gone to North Wales police but had been told there wasn't enough evidence.
Police believe former TV star Jimmy Savile, a national icon, may have been one of Britain's worst pedophile offenders. Some of Savile's alleged 300 victims had appeared on his TV shows. NBC's Keir Simmons reports.
On Thursday, British police arrested comedian Freddie Starr as part of an investigation triggered by allegations that the late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile sexually abused hundreds of children, according to media reports.
The allegations have shaken Britain's state-funded broadcaster, with hundreds of people now coming forward to report abuse dating back over several decades by Savile, a household name in Britain.
Lawyers representing some of the victims have said their clients indicated an organized pedophile ring involving celebrities existed at the BBC during the height of Savile's fame in the 1970s and 1980s.
On Sunday, police arrested glam rock singer and convicted sex offender Gary Glitter, born Paul Gadd, as part of the Savile investigation. He was released on bail.
BBC Director General George Entwistle and his predecessor, Mark Thompson, incoming chief executive officer of the New York Times Co., have come under heavy criticism for their handling of suspicions about Savile.
A BBC investigation into Savile was dropped last year, when Thompson was at the helm. It took a rival network, ITV, to uncover the scandal. Thompson has said he did not know about the program's investigation and had no involvement in the decision to axe the report.
It’s still not clear why the well-regarded show "Newsnight" dropped the investigation, and there is no suggestion that either Thompson or Entwistle were involved in a cover up. But, on top of the BBC’s failure to stop Savile, its shelving of his investigation has shocked the UK. The BBC’s journalism is fiercely independent; its own journalists have done much to make the Savile story headline news, but many of the questions are about the competency of BBC's management rather than individual reporters and producers.
NBC's Keir Simmons and Reuters contributed to this report.
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