‘Saville affair must not ruin ChildLine’

Jimmy Savile  in 1999
Jimmy Savile in 1999

THE Jimmy Saville scandal must not be allowed to damage the children’s charity ChildLine.

That’s the message from St Helens MP Shaun Woodward, who helped launch the organisation almost three decades ago.

As a children’s rights campaigner and a former BBC journalist, Mr Woodward is uniquely qualified to comment on what is rapidly developing into one of the greatest scandals of our time.

ChildLine founder Esther Rantzen, with whom Mr Woodward worked for several years on TV’s That’s Life - fears the toxic fall-out from the Saville affair will imperil the charity’s future. The television presenter admits she heard rumours about the disgraced DJ but did not act on them.

But Mr Woodward - speaking publicly for the first time on the scandal during an interview with the St Helens Reporter at his constituency office in St Helens - insists the charity must be protected.

“Esther is a highly moral person and she is devoted to young children,” he said. “She always felt if one child was let down that was too many.

“Esther always feels a sense responsibility. She really feels for all children. But Childline will not come out of this damaged. It must be protected.

“I personally never heard any rumours about Saville and I never came across him while at the BBC but like a lot of people I certainly believed he was very odd.”

Mr Woodward, who worked as a producer and editor on the BBC’s Newsnight and Panaroma before embarking on a political career, believes both the police and his former employers have serious questions to answer.

“It’s not just about the BBC, I think there are some questions for the police and we have to ask, if the police couldn’t find enough evidence to prosecute him (Saville) what chance did the BBC have?”

However, the Labour MP, speaking before BBC Director General George Entwistle sensationally resigned on Saturday, has been left stunned by the conduct of some BBC journalists and management.

And he highlights the response he and Rantzen gave BBC bosses when they attempted to prevent the pair broadcasting an appeal to find a seriously ill young boy called Ben Hardwick a liver transplant.

“I obviously must come from a different school of journalism but for me if you believe in a story you stand up for it, you don’t back down,” he said.

“When Esther and I wanted to take up the appeal for Ben Hardwick, management told us we couldn’t do it because they were concerned Ben would die while we were running the story.

“We were totally opposed to this and Esther was very clear. She said okay but here’s my resignaton letter. Management backed down and we ran the story.”