‘Sexual predator’ Savile abused children as young as eight
LONDON: Late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile was a predatory sex offender who abused children as young as eight over more than 50 years, using his fame and eccentricity to hide “in plain sight”, British police said on Friday.
A three-month investigation with the NSPCC children’s charity found that Savile, one of the biggest TV stars in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, took every opportunity to abuse young girls, boys and adult women across the country.
He used his fame as presenter of BBC TV’s “Top of the Pops” chart show and children’s programme “Jim’ll Fix It” to rape and assault victims on BBC premises as well as in schools and hospitals, where he was welcomed by his fans.
The scandal has thrown the BBC into crisis, although police said the world’s biggest public broadcaster should not shoulder the blame for his criminal acts.
“It is clear that Savile cunningly built his entire life’s work around gaining access to vulnerable children in order to carry out his abuse,” said Peter Watt of the NSPCC.
He described Savile as “one of the most prolific sex offenders” the charity had ever dealt with, adding: “He hid in plain sight behind a veil of eccentricity, double-bluffing those who challenged him.”
David Gray, head of Scotland Yard’s paedophile unit, said Savile “spent every moment of every waking day thinking about it, and whenever an opportunity came along, he took it”.
The police report was published as Britain’s top prosecutor, Keir Starmer, admitted that action could have been taken against Savile in 2009 if police had taken the victims more seriously.
Starmer apologised and said he hoped the Savile case would be seen as a “watershed moment” that changed the authorities’ approach to sexual abuse.
Savile, who died in October 2011 at the age of 84, was a hugely popular but eccentric figure, famed for his shock of white hair, tracksuits and chunky gold jewellery. He was knighted in 1990. There were rumours about his private life but he batted them away with jokes.
A year after his death, five women went on television to complain Savile had abused them when they were girls, opening the floodgates for hundreds of similar allegations.
About 450 people have now come forward with information, with 214 criminal offences, including 34 rapes, 28 of them of children, recorded so far.
Three quarters of the victims were children, mostly girls aged between 13 and 16, but the youngest was an eight-year-old boy.
The report found there was “no clear evidence” that Savile was involved in any paedophile ring. Instead, it said the attacks, which stretched from 1955 to 2009, were “mainly opportunistic sexual assaults”.
In 1960, a 10-year-old boy saw Savile outside a hotel and asked for his autograph. The presenter took the child inside to reception, where he subjected him to a serious penetrative sexual assault.
Police said Savile was able to get away with it because of his fame as well as the shame felt by his victims and their fears they would not be believed.
Commander Peter Spindler, who led Scotland Yard’s investigation into Savile, said he had “groomed the nation”.
He said the police report “paints a stark picture emphasising the tragic consequences of when vulnerability and power collide”.
But he cautioned against blaming any one institution for the abuse, which took place at the BBC, in schools, in 13 hospitals and even in one hospice, where Savile sexually assaulted a young teenage visitor.
“It’s dangerous to look at one organisation to try to hang the blame on them,” Spindler said, insisting that “celebrity was his vehicle”.
The BBC has commissioned an independent investigation into the allegations, and last month published a critical review into the failure of its “Newsnight”programme to report claims of abuse made against Savile following his death.
The corporation expressed its shock at Friday’s police report, saying: “The BBC is appalled that some of the offences were committed on its premises. We would like to restate our sincere apology to the victims of these crimes.”
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said an inquiry was also underway into how Savile abused hospital patients, adding: “I think all of us feel sick, frankly, that we were eulogising this person who at the same time was conducting this utterly appalling behaviour.”