A former miner turned DJ and TV presenter, Sir Jimmy Savile OBE was one of Britain’s most revered postwar pop icons. Through his dedication to charity work, he became a confidant of Prince Charles and friend of the longest-serving prime minister of the U.K., Margaret Thatcher. But Friday, following a three-month police investigation into allegations of sexual abuse, the late icon’s reputation came crumbling down. The new report released Friday, co-authored by the Metropolitan Police and the child-protection agency the NSPCC exposes Savile as a “prolific sex offender” who preyed on hundreds of young boys and girls during his 50-year career, exploiting the laxity and negligence of key pillars of British society in the process.
Titled Giving Victims a Voice the 30-page testimony proves that a large number of Savile’s sexual assaults on minors took place on BBC premises. With elevated celebrity status as a presenter of the chart show Top of the Pops and massively popular primetime show Jim’ll Fix It, Savile was given access to his own private rooms. The failure of the BBC to fully investigate the allegations about Savile after his death in October 2011 (they ran three tribute shows instead) has already rocked the famous public-service broadcaster, prompting the resignation of its newly appointed director general, George Entwistle, and raising questions about his predecessor, Mark Thompson, who took over the helm of The New York Times last year.
However, at Friday’s press conference, Scotland Yard Commander Peter Spindler told journalists that Savile had “groomed the nation” while using his fame to “hide in plain sight.” “His offending footprint was vast, predatory, and opportunistic,” Spindler said.
Of the 450 interviews and the more than 200 sexually related crimes, many took place in health-service or home-office premises where Savile enjoyed special status and access, often his own rooms, and considerable administrative power. Included in the report is a map and index of the alleged locations where the sexual abuse took place. Among the more prominent locations are Britain’s premier spinal-injuries unit, Stoke Mandeville, and its top high-security psychiatric hospital, Broadmoor. The list also includes 14 hospitals, 14 assaults in schools, and even a hospice for the dying. Nearly 73 percent of his victims were children, some of them as young as 8. One of the young boys was reportedly a terminally ill patient in Great Ormond Street Hospital during the 1970s. Out of the more than 200 crimes recorded, 126 were indecent assaults, 34 rapes.
Over a dozen internal inquiries have now been set up—from the BBC to the Prison Service—to investigate how Savile’s abuses went undetected for so long. The Crown Prosecution Service apologized today for failing to charge Savile in the 1970s, and issued new guidelines for investigating allegations of abuse. Meanwhile, Operation Yewtree, Scotland Yard’s investigation into “Savile and Others” has questioned 10 men, with one file of a 60-year-old man being sent to the crown prosecutors on Wednesday. Though Savile, who died in 2011 after a bout with pneumonia, is beyond justice, his $7 million estate could be subject to legal claims from victims.
But Friday’s press conference and report emphasized the most important compensation for most of the victims was simply having their traumatic experiences vindicated by a proper investigation, after years of skepticism, doubt, and disbelief. Trevor Sterling, a lawyer who represents 45 of Savile’s victims, explained their motivation for publishing the report to The Guardian. “They really want this report to be a cultural shift. But it still remains to be seen. The victims have had a very difficult time because all of this has been so public, and that has to some extent compounded their sense of distress. But the inquiry has been handled sensitively by the police and [the victims] feel this report marks an enormous release because they have been able to tell their stories and to be believed.”
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t stop with this report. The publicity around Savile has created a chain reaction, triggering other dormant child-abuse scandals from the ’80s and ’90s to rear their ugly heads. In October last year, the Labour MP Tom Watson—a key campaigner in exposing the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s News International newspaper group—used parliamentary privilege to demand Prime Minister David Cameron open up the police files on Peter Righton, a senior social worker and child-protection expert, who was convicted of possession of child pornography in 1995. Watson asserted that former child-protection officers had told him the police files suggested “clear intelligence of a widespread pedophile ring” with “of a link to a senior aide of a former prime minister.” Scotland Yard is taking these allegations seriously, and has opened a scoping investigation, Operation Fairbank, into claims by some adults that they were sexually abused as children in a pedophile ring.
Even if there proves to be no evidence of organized pedophile activity in senior political circles, Friday’s reports into Savile’s abuses points to a systematic failure. According to Peter Garsden, a Manchester-based lawyer who heads up the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers and has spent 20 years representing victims of institutional abuse, the report will be painful for the victims. “The news of the report will be of interest to other survivors of abuse, who will be triggered into past memories of pain, which they have left buried for too long,” Gardsen told The Daily Beast. Still, he hopes the report will prove a powerful vehicle for change. “What we need is a system that allows all survivors to be heard when they want to complain, something which is sadly lacking in our system of government.”
Whether child abuse happened in the upper echelons of British society may be an open question, but the failure to address it certainly came right from the top.