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Stuart Hall pleads guilty to multiple sex charges

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  • by RORY REYNOLDS and KIM PILLING
 

VETERAN BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall has admitted sexually abusing children as young as nine, having earlier vociferously denied any wrongdoing.

• Stuart Hall pleads guilty to multiple sex offences, including indecent assaults on 13 girls, one as young as nine

• Offences read out at Preston Crown Court alleged to have taken place between 1967 and 1986

• Hall also charged with rape of 22-year-old woman

• Detectives travel to Australia as Operation Yewtree investigation widens

The 83-year-old was branded an “opportunistic predator” by prosecutors after he changed his plea to guilty on 14 charges relating to indecently assaulting 13 girls over a period of 20 years.

The investigation was sparked after one of his victims came forward following the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal.

Hall, best remembered as presenter of the long-running family entertainment show It’s A Knockout, issued a statement yesterday offering his “unreserved apology to the individuals concerned”.

Corporation chiefs described his admission as “absolutely sickening” and said he would never work for the BBC again.

Former colleagues at the BBC described Hall as “a complete nuisance” and “one of those people who had his hands all over you and all over anyone female who came in”.

He entered the guilty pleas at Preston Crown Court last month, but they could be disclosed only yesterday, after reporting restrictions were lifted.

Outside court, Hall appeared a broken man, having heard his lawyer, Crispin Aylett, QC, tell the judge: “He is only too aware his disgrace is complete”.

It was in stark contrast to a previous appearance, when he stood on the court steps and declared the allegations were “pernicious, callous, cruel and above all spurious”.

Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor for the north-west of England, said: “His victims did not know each other and almost two decades separated the first and last assaults, but almost all of the victims, including one who was only nine at the time of the assault, provided strikingly similar accounts.”

Mr Afzal went on: “Whether in public or private, Hall would first approach under friendly pretences and then bide his time until the victim was isolated. He can only be described as an opportunistic predator.”

On 16 April, Hall stood in the dock as the charges were put to him. He calmly and repeatedly answered “guilty” – a word that has destroyed his reputation.

At Preston Magistrates’ Court hearing briefly heard of the abuse suffered by three victims. In the 1980s, Hall molested a nine-year-old girl by putting his hand up her clothing. He also kissed a 13-year-old girl on the lips after saying to her: “People need to show thanks in other ways.”

Hall was charged with those offences when he was arrested in December.

Police confirmed publicity surrounding that initial arrest had led to more victims coming forward, a fact likely to fuel the current debate over calls for the accused not to be named in such circumstances.

He was subsequently charged with abusing ten other girls and the rape of a 22-year-old woman, between 1968 and 1986.

Yesterday, the judge, Recorder of Preston Anthony Russell, QC, granted bail until his sentencing on 17 June.

Reporting restrictions on the case had been imposed to avoid prejudicing a possible future trial for rape and three counts of indecent assault that Hall had denied last month.

Peter Wright, QC, prosecuting, said the Crown was satisfied the rape count could lie on file after it was given consideration at “the most senior level” and the alleged victim was consulted. The three other charges were merged with one he has admitted, involving one victim.

Hall was surrounded by a media scrum as he left court and was led into a waiting taxi. He did not comment, saying only to waiting reporters that he had a “heavy cold”.

During yesterday’s hearing, his lawyer said he proposed to present a “full mitigation in due course” but that his client’s guilty pleas were the best possible mitigation.

Mr Aylett continued: “The most recent offence took place in 1986, that is 27 years ago. The first offence in 1968 is almost half a century ago.

“The defendant is now 83 years of age and of otherwise exemplary character, and, as might be imagined, this investigation has come as an especially bitter blow at this stage of his life.”

He went on: “In a number of cases, the parents of complainants were aware at the time what was said to have taken place.”

He said they had chosen to keep their children away from Hall in future.

Later, his lawyers issued a statement, saying: “Mr Hall deeply and sincerely regrets his actions. He wishes to issue an unreserved apology to the individuals concerned. He now accepts his behaviour and actions were completely wrong and he is very remorseful.

“Mr Hall also wishes to apologise to his family, friends and supportive members of the public for whom he has high regard and respect.

“The last five months have been a strain and an ordeal for his family, who are standing by him. He asks for privacy during the next few weeks and he emphasises that he is contrite and faces punishment with fortitude and remorse.”

The judge granted Hall bail on condition he lives at his home address and has no unsupervised contact with children.

As he ordered pre-sentence reports, he told Hall: “You must understand I have not made up my mind and that all sentencing options, including immediate custody, are open. I genuinely have not made up my mind.”

Lancashire Constabulary thanked Hall’s victims for their “bravery”. Detective chief inspector Neil Esseen said: “They have lived with what happened for a long period of time and it cannot have been easy for them to come forward, especially as, when they did so, they did not know there were others who had also suffered abuse.”

The BBC said it would not be featuring Hall again in its programmes. Its human resources director Lucy Adams said: “Any allegation like the one that came out this morning with Stuart Hall is absolutely sickening and it shakes the BBC to its core.

“There are thousands of people who work with the BBC, whether they be presenters or whether they be staff, who do a fantastic job. But these historical allegations are clearly very, very damaging and are very saddening, primarily for the victims.”

Jon Brown, head of the NSPCC’s sexual abuse programme, said: “These guilty pleas will hopefully encourage more victims of sexual abuse to come forward so they can finally get the justice they deserve. Even where allegations relate to the distant past, they should be thoroughly investigated.”

The case is likely to fuel the debate over whether those accused of sexual offences should be given anonymity unless and until proven guilty. Last night, a ComRes poll found 76 per cent of people believed rape suspects should not be named until they are convicted.

But Bob Satchwell, of the Society of Editors, said: “It is worth noting that if Stuart Hall had not been named when he was arrested, he might never have been brought to court. None of his victims knew one another.

“There is a huge danger of secret justice replacing rights of the public, and indeed defendants, back to Magna Carta.”

‘He had own room at BBC to entertain lady friends’

Stuart Hall had a room set aside at the BBC where he could entertain “lady friends” while waiting to appear on screen, a former colleague has claimed.

Linda McDougall, who was a producer at BBC Manchester in late 1960s and 1970s, said the former presenter’s activities had been widely known about within the organisation.

She said Hall had an “amazing set-up” at the BBC building at Piccadilly in Manchester where the old medical room was reserved for his use.

“Stuart occupied this during the afternoons while we were rehearsing for Look North and he had lady friends who came and went happily on to the BBC premises and kept him occupied during the afternoons,” Ms McDougall told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.

“I can’t say that he was having sex with them there, because I wasn’t ever in the medical room at the same time.

“But I always thought that they weren’t coming for cups of tea at the BBC in the afternoons. But of course everyone else knew. We all made jokes about it. You would have had to have your eyes shut and not been at work at all to not know what was going on.”

Ms McDougall, who is now a political writer, said she had found Hall “a complete nuisance”.

“He was one of those people who had his hands all over you and all over anyone female who came in at any moment he can,” she said.

Despite his behaviour, she said they had remained on friendly terms and that she had been stunned to discover his offences related to children.

“I am shocked, I am really shocked that there were children involved,” she said.

“When I found this out this morning, I felt really sick and unhappy, because I think what on earth was I doing working in a place where this sort of thing is going on.”

‘He tried to force himself on me – I will never forget that voice’

A VICTIM of Stuart Hall believed colleagues at the BBC were aware he was a sexual predator around young girls.

Amy – not her real name – was 17 and working in a hotel when Hall assaulted her during a break in filming of It’s A Knockout. “I went along to the auditions to see if I could take part in it, and I was chosen to be a cheerleader,” she told ITV News.

She said she later walked through the hotel lobby and got to the top of the stairs leading to staff rooms when she heard “this voice behind me”. She said: “It was him, and he started talking to me. Then, as I went to go through to touch the door-handle, he pushed me up against the wall and he tried to force himself on to me. He grabbed hold of me and he started kissing me. I struggled, I tried to push him away, and it was only the fact that there was someone walking along the corridor and the floors creaked that he stopped and I managed to get away.”

She added: “That was 40 years ago and I never told anyone. I will never, ever forget that voice … over the years, every time I’ve heard his voice on the television, on the radio, I just think, ‘How can you do it, how can you be like that in full view of everyone after everything you’ve done?’”

Amy said she thought there was a fair chance colleagues at the BBC knew of his behaviour towards young girls. She said: “Would they have done something about it? You don’t know what groups he moved in – and were they the same?”

Yewtree officers visit Australia

Detectives investigating sex abuse allegations following the Jimmy Savile scandal have visited Australia as part of their inquiries, police have confirmed.

A number of figures from the entertainment industry have been arrested as part of Operation Yewtree, which is being run in three strands: allegations against Savile, allegations involving Savile and others, and allegations involving others.

The Australian TV star Rolf Harris, 83, who performed for the Queen at her Diamond Jubilee concert last year, was interviewed by police in November and arrested on 28 March under the “others” strand.

Profile: Man who found fame thanks to ‘Olympics with custard pies’

Stuart Hall was the exuberant host of TV game show It’s A Knockout, the voice of many football reports on BBC radio and the face of regional news in the north-west of England.

As a broadcaster, he was eccentric and egotistical – a personality who managed to balance light entertainment, sports and serious news.

Born in 1929, he almost became a footballer for Crystal Palace and raced cars as an amateur before joining the BBC as a reporter on Sports Report in 1959.

He married Hazel in 1958 and their first son, Nicholas, was born the following year but died in his father’s arms in a hospital waiting room. The couple went on to have two more children.

Hall hosted local news for 25 years and was seen in the rest of the country during nationwide link-ups. But he was to find fame across the UK with It’s A Knockout – described as “the Olympic Games with custard pies”.

Later, as a sport reporter with Five Live and others, he would pepper his dispatches with Shakespeare and Shelley quotes.

Dropped into the middle of all his tales was a throwaway comment that now appears revealing and sinister.

Hall said: “My first reporting job was Sheffield Wednesday versus Leicester City [formerly Leicester Fosse], and when I went along to Hillsborough, it was shrouded in fog.

“The score was... Sheffield Wednesday 4, Leicester Fosse 4. I didn’t see a goal! I described them all in greatest detail. I didn’t see … nobody saw a thing. It was fog-bound.”

He added: “But I just lied my way through it, and I have been inventing stories ever since.”

SEE ALSO: Stuart Hall in court over sex offences

 

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