As part of the ongoing inquiry into what the BBC knew about allegations of sexual misconduct against DJ Tim Westwood, the corporation has launched a 24-hour hotline to allow people to report information confidentially. The independent inquiry, led by barrister Gemma White KC, has already seen more than 50,000 BBC documents and is now extending its deadline to June or July to allow for a thorough review of new information.
Last August, Ms. White was appointed by the BBC Board after an internal review found the corporation should have further explored a string of sexual assault allegations against Westwood. The 65-year-old, who left the BBC in 2013, strongly denies allegations of five sexual offenses that are alleged to have taken place between 1982 and 2016.
Ms. White has opened the confidential phone line until 19 May to give people an opportunity to speak with her or her colleagues directly. The dedicated phone line will allow people to contact Jahnine Davis, a safeguarding professional with particular expertise in violence against women and girls and safeguarding black children, or to speak to Ms. White if they wish. Either Ms. Davis or Ms. White will be available to speak during the working day, and Ms. Davis will also be available on certain evenings.
Ms. White said that she had recently been provided with material suggesting that some people would prefer to contribute to the review by calling her or her colleagues directly rather than emailing to make an appointment to speak. There will be a 24/7 answering system to take messages if they are unavailable, or if people would prefer to leave recorded evidence on the machine.
The BBC has faced criticism for its handling of sexual misconduct allegations in the past, with many accusing the corporation of turning a blind eye to the problem. The launch of the hotline is part of an effort to “expand the ways in which people can come forward” to report information, said Ms. White.
“I expect to report to the BBC in late June or early July 2023,” Ms. White said in a statement. “I appreciate that this is later than many would have hoped. The additional time is necessary for a thorough review of documents and information which we continue to receive and will allow a reasonable period to consider any new contributions which are made through the phone line.”
Last year, a statement from a representative of Westwood denied all allegations of inappropriate behavior. “In a career that has spanned 40 years, there have never been any complaints made against him officially or unofficially,” the representative said.
The launch of the hotline comes amid a wider conversation around sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry, with many high-profile figures facing allegations of inappropriate behavior. It remains to be seen what impact the BBC inquiry will have on the industry and whether it will lead to further changes in how allegations of sexual misconduct are handled.
The allegations against Tim Westwood came to light in 2020 when a former colleague, Lisa Lashes, accused him of sexual misconduct on social media. She claimed that Westwood had behaved inappropriately towards her during a DJ set in the late 1990s.
Following this, several other women came forward with similar allegations against the former BBC DJ. The corporation then commissioned an internal review to investigate how it had handled the claims made against Westwood.
The inquiry, led by Gemma White KC, has since uncovered more than 50,000 documents related to the allegations, including witness statements and internal BBC correspondence. The newly launched hotline aims to give people an additional means of reporting any information they may have about the case.
In a statement, Ms. White said: “I want to ensure that everyone who has information that might help this inquiry feels able to come forward. The phone line we have set up will provide a confidential and secure way for people to share their experiences.”
The inquiry is examining what the BBC knew about the allegations against Tim Westwood and whether it took appropriate action at the time. It will also consider whether the corporation has made improvements to its handling of such cases in the years since the allegations first emerged.
Westwood, who is now 65 years old, has strongly denied all the allegations against him. In a statement released through his representative last year, he said: “In a career that has spanned 40 years, there have never been any complaints made against him officially or unofficially. Tim Westwood strongly rejects all allegations of wrongdoing.”
However, in March and April of this year, Westwood was interviewed under caution by the Metropolitan Police in relation to five sexual offenses alleged to have taken place between 1982 and 2016. He has not been charged with any offenses and has maintained his innocence.
The BBC has said that it is cooperating fully with the police investigation and that it is committed to ensuring that the inquiry led by Gemma White KC is thorough and impartial.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the corporation said: “The BBC is committed to ensuring that all allegations of sexual misconduct are taken seriously and that appropriate action is taken in response. We are cooperating fully with the police investigation into allegations against Tim Westwood, and we have launched an independent inquiry to examine what the BBC knew about the allegations and whether it took appropriate action at the time. We are committed to supporting all those affected by these issues and to ensure that the findings of the inquiry are acted upon appropriately.”
The BBC has faced criticism in recent years over its handling of sexual misconduct allegations against high-profile figures. The corporation has implemented a range of measures to improve its response to such cases, including the appointment of a new Director-General, Tim Davie, who has pledged to make the BBC a “safer place to work”.
The inquiry into the allegations against Tim Westwood is expected to conclude in June or July of this year. Ms. White has urged anyone with information to come forward and has assured them that their confidentiality will be respected.