Top BBC executives denied ever having heard about Jimmy Savile's sex crimes despite Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman's claim they were "common gossip".

Both former director-general Mark Thompson and director of news Helen Boaden told an internal BBC inquiry they had never heard any "rumours" about the DJ and presenter.

The details were included in thousands of pages of evidence gathered during an inquiry by former Sky executive Nick Pollard.

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It was set up last year to investigate if management failings were behind Newsnight's decision to drop its Savile investigation in December 2011, weeks before a Christmas tribute was broadcast.

The revelations about Savile, later broadcast by ITV, sparked a major criminal investigation and focused attention on what police described as decades of predatory sexual crimes committed by the star. Mr Paxman said the BBC's handling of the decision to drop its investigation was "almost as contemptible" as its behaviour during the years the DJ was one of its biggest names.

He said: "It was, I would say, common gossip that Jimmy Savile liked, you know, young – it was always assumed to be, girls. I had no evidence. But it was common gossip, I think."

Mr Thompson, who spent 30 years at the corporation in two separate stints, said he had never worked with Savile. He said: "I had never heard any rumours at all, if you like, of a dark side of any kind, sexual or otherwise about Jimmy Savile."

Ms Boaden said she "had never heard any dark rumours about Jimmy Savile", but did meet him at a lunch for veteran radio presenters.

She said: "He came to the lunch, he kissed my hand at the beginning, he kissed my hand at the end, he said not a word to me between those events."

Mr Paxman told the inquiry "the important question" was how Savile had been allowed to rise to prominence in the BBC.

He said: "What was the BBC doing promoting this absurd figure, this absurd and malign figure? And I think that has to do with the fact of the BBC having been aloof from popular culture for so long.

"Suddenly pirate radio comes along and all these people in metaphorical cardigans suddenly have to deal with an influx – once pirate radio, once pop radio is legalised, they suddenly have to deal with an influx of people from a very, very different culture and they never got control of them and I'm not sure even now they have."

Some 3000 pages of emails, interviews and submissions from BBC executives and journalists were made available yesterday.