WHEN council workmen arrived at Woodland Cemetery in Scarborough at 1am on Tuesday to remove Sir Jimmy Savile’s black granite headstone, they were struck by how recent events had put a chilling spin on the TV presenter’s chiselled epitaph: “It was good while it lasted.”
For him, perhaps. Yet today the thoughts of the British public, who a year ago mourned Savile’s passing, are now with the presenter’s young victims, the number of whom rises with each passing day.
It has been genuinely shocking, the speed with which the reputation of a “national treasure”, a figure who shaped the childhood of two generations, has been so comprehensively shattered and reduced, just like his gravestone, to rubble.
A fortnight ago, his memory conjured up the image of a tracksuit-clad, cigar-chomping marathon runner whose good deeds raised millions for charity. Today, the film spooling through the national psyche is of a sexual predator abusing teenage girls everywhere, from his Jim’ll Fix It dressing room in the BBC’s Television Centre to a seedy campervan parked in the grounds of Broadmoor Hospital.
His crimes have taken a sledgehammer to the reputation of the BBC, the police and the three hospitals who provided him with bed and board and, according to witnesses and victims, a licence to prey on the young and vulnerable.
This weekend, many are asking how a serial abuser could rise to become a national celebrity, who even flaunted his passion for underage girls in his 1974 autobiography, but whose behaviour, so long the subject of “green-room gossip”, was never adequately challenged or stopped.
Only after his death last October was an investigation launched, ironically, by BBC’s Newsnight, which then spent six weeks tracing and interviewing ten women who said they had been abused by him as young teenagers, or said they had seen him abusing other young girls. Yet the ten-minute report was never broadcast, after being dropped for what was described as “editorial” reasons.
Ken MacQuarrie, the head of BBC Scotland, is now in the tricky position of carrying out an informal investigation into the matter, reporting directly to George Entwistle, the director-general, who some critics believe may have put pressure on Newsnight to dump the report as the BBC was then planning a Christmas tribute to Savile called As It Happened. Entwistle, who last night strenuously denied he played any part in the decision, was then head of BBC’s television channels, said he was merely informed of the investigation, along with Helen Boaden, the BBC director of news.
The baton was picked up by ITV, which launched its own
investigation led by a former
police officer, and it was this documentary, broadcast 12 days ago, with its claims by a number of women that the presenter had sexually abused them as young teenagers, that prompted other women who had remained silent for decades to come forward. Within days, the Metropolitan Police said they would spearhead the investigation, while Savile’s family asked for his headstone to be removed.
The question of why Savile was allowed to continue his abusive behaviour for so long may be answered, in part, by the lack of complaints, either to the police or the BBC, during his lifetime. Savile was interviewed by police only once, in 2007, about a historical allegation of abuse of a pupil at Duncroft
Approved School, and although a report was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service, no charges were brought.
His name was also mentioned in 2008 during an inquiry into abuse at the Haut de la Garenne children’s home in Jersey, which he visited several times during the 1970s, but as there were no direct allegations against him, he was not questioned.
Meanwhile, former tabloid editors have said that, while victims approached them, no-one was willing to sign an
affidavit or assist in defending any subsequent libel trial.
The fact that he was clearly so trusted by a number of major British institutions further insulated him against rumours. Yet in the past week the three hospitals to which he dedicated the majority of his charitable work – Stoke Mandeville, Leeds General and Broadmoor – have all been subject to new allegations of abuse and cover-up, which each institution denies.
AT STOKE Mandeville, there were claims that staff encouraged young patients to pretend to be asleep when Savile visited the wards, so as to reduce the chance of the presenter
The local Conservative MP, Robert Wilson, said he had received a number of allegations, including a report that the hospital chaplain had mentioned his “scandalous” behaviour 25 years ago. The allegation is that management turned a blind eye on account of the £40 million he raised for the hospital, where he had his own room.
At Leeds General Infirmary where, for decades, Savile worked as a porter, the hospital said it had received two complaints, including that of June Thornton, who was a patient in 1972 and said she saw him abuse what she believed was a brain-damaged girl.
At Broadmoor, Savile was presented with his own set of gold-plated keys and regularly parked his mobile home in the grounds of the hospital, where he
volunteered for 40 years and described himself as “honorary assistant entertainment officer”.
Girls were invited to watch television in his van, where they were subjected to sexual assaults. One girl, Alison Pink, now known as Steven following a sex-change operation, said: “When you were told to clean Jimmy’s caravan, you knew you didn’t need to bring a dustpan and brush.”
A psychiatric nurse, Naomi Stanley, said that during the 1980s a female patient told her Savile raped her and “treated her like an animal”. She reported it to her superiors and police officers involved in her supervision, but no action was taken.
The multiple inquiries now threading through the Metropolitan Police, the BBC and each hospital will surely get as close as we can ever know to the truth, now the prime suspect is dead.
Yet it was a Scot, Caroline Moore, of Clarkston, East Renfrewshire, who was 13 years old and being treated for spinal injuries at Stoke Newington Hospital in 1971 when she said he “took my face in his hands and rammed his tongue down my throat”, who posed the question: “Did he think that doing all this charity work at the hospital meant he could get a wee perk here or there?”