Wires

Britain's BBC apologises over sex abuse scandal

* Critics have accused BBC of cover-up

* Jimmy Savile, the accused presenter, died last year

* He was a household name, famous for charity work

* Women say he abused them in 1970s/1980s

By Maria Golovnina

LONDON, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Britain's BBC on Monday apologisedto a group of women who allege that one of the state-fundedbroadcaster's top entertainers sexually abused them decades ago,a scandal that has raised questions about the BBC's judgmentthen and now.

The man accused of using his status as a celebrity andprominent charity fund raiser to commit the crimes is JimmySavile, an eccentric BBC presenter who died last year aged 84.

Instantly recognisable for his shock of blonde hair, Savilewas famous for his larger-than-life personality and for his loveof smoking cigars, donning tracksuits and coming out with catchphrases that sometimes became part of the national lexicon.

The former DJ travelled around London in a Rolls-Royce andwas knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his charitable work in 1990.When he died last year, he was buried wearing a tracksuit afterhis gold-coloured coffin was put on public display in a hotel.

His reputation was called into question last week, however,after a documentary shown by the BBC's rival ITV channel aired aslew of sexual assault allegations against Savile, triggering amedia storm that has raised awkward questions for the BBC.

On Monday, the BBC's new boss, George Entwistle, promisedthe corporation would cooperate fully with the police toinvestigate the allegations.

"The women involved here have gone through something awfuland it's something I deeply regret," he told BBC radio onMonday, the first time the BBC had said it was sorry for what itis alleged to have happened.

"I would like to apologise on behalf of the organisation toeach and every one of them for what they have had to endurehere."

"A CULTURE OF SEXUAL ABUSE"

Some women said Savile had abused them when they were asyoung as 12 and described a culture of sexual abuse inside theBBC at the height of Savile's fame in the 1970s and 1980s. Somealso alleged that they had been attacked on BBC premises.

The scandal has seen critics accuse the BBC of mishandlingor even covering up the case, particularly after aninvestigation into the allegations by its own flagship TVprogramme was axed by its editors last December.

Prime Minister David Cameron has waded into the scandal,calling on the BBC to conduct an internal investigation, sayingthe allegations were "truly shocking".

"It seems to me it is very important that the organisation,the BBC, does that itself," he told a BBC programme on Sunday.

"But also, if there are questions that should be pursued bythe police and other organisations, everyone has to askthemselves the question: 'Is there new evidence that needs to belooked at?'"

Entwistle - who became Director General of the BBC less thana month ago - said all questions would be addressed, but onlyafter police had finished their own investigation.

In an attempt to distance themselves from the sex abuseclaims, charities set up by Savile are now considering droppinghis name altogether, local media reported.

Last year, an investigation by Newsnight, the BBC's flagshipnews show, was shelved, prompting suggestions that BBC bosseshad known about the allegations but kept quiet.

The BBC has denied that. Newsnight's editor Peter Ripponsaid his decision not to run its story was because the claimsagainst Savile could not be substantiated.

(Editing by Andrew Osborn)

((maria.golovnina@thomsonreuters.com))

Keywords: BRITAIN BBC/SAVILE