Hospitals ‘still to learn from Savile scandal’

NHS hospitals have still not fully learned the lessons of the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal, a damning report into his sordid crimes spanning 50 years has revealed.

Nine informal complaints were made about Jimmy Savile at Stoke Mandeville hospital. Picture: PA
Nine informal complaints were made about Jimmy Savile at Stoke Mandeville hospital. Picture: PA

The depraved former DJ was given “endorsement from the very highest level of society” after then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher appointed him to an official fundraising role at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where he raped or assaulted at least 60 patients, staff and visitors, one of 16 reports released yesterday said.

It also emerged three new investigations have been launched at NHS trusts following fresh allegations about the former BBC star, now known to have been one of the most prolific sex offenders in British history.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Savile was given open access to the Buckinghamshire hospital while volunteering as a porter from 1969. Despite claims about his horrific behaviour being widespread by the early 1970s, senior staff were never told of his wicked crimes, many of them against desperately ill children

Jimmy Savile wears a Stoke Mandeville t-shirt in 1981. Picture: PA

Barrister Kate Lampard, whose review of Savile’s offending across NHS institutions made a series of recommendations, said many volunteer programmes at hospitals still “pose a potential risk to patients” due to inadequate checks, while stricter controls were needed so they were not under threat from celebrity guests.

Investigations into 41 hospitals, a children’s home, ambulance service and a hospice found the access given to Savile had offered him the “opportunity to commit sexual abuses on a grand scale for nearly 50 years”, Ms Lampard said. His status was “enhanced by the endorsement and encouragement he received from politicians, senior civil servants and NHS managers”.

The report into Stoke Mandeville Hospital found that nine informal complaints had been made about Savile, but none was taken seriously or referred to senior management.

One formal complaint about the star was also made, but it was dropped due to the victim’s ill health. That victim yesterday branded the report a “whitewash” and said parts of her evidence had been left out.

“How they can say that those in authority did not know is inconceivable,” the woman, known only as Abigail, said. “The report is nothing but a whitewash.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told MPs the new reports were “extremely distressing”, with a total of 177 men and women having come forward with allegations of abuse covering a period from 1954 to shortly before Savile’s death in 2011.

The youngest victim was aged five, with allegations including rape, assault, indecent assault and inappropriate comments or advances.

“Never again must the power of money or celebrity blind us to repeated clear signals that some extremely vulnerable people were being abused,” Mr Hunt told the House of Commons.

“People were either too dazzled or too intimidated by the nation’s favourite celebrity to confront the evil predator we now know he was.”

He said £40 million would be made available from Savile’s estate and charities to cover compensation claims from his victims.

Liz Dux, a lawyer at Slater and Gordon, which is representing 44 of those preyed on by Savile at Stoke Mandeville, said it “beggars belief” that the report found no evidence of senior staff being aware of the abuse.

But Dr Androulla Johnstone, the lead author of the Stoke Mandeville report, said “Whilst witnesses told us it was an open secret within the hospital that Savile was a lecher and general nuisance, none stated that they knew about his sexual abuse activities.

“Even though we are convinced that the senior top tier didn’t know, we are quite harsh in our criticism that Savile should not have been allowed at Stoke Mandeville in the first place. He should never have been given the run of the hospital.”

Referring to the fundraising role he was given for the hospital’s spinal injuries unit in the 1980s, she confirmed she had been critical of senior politicians, including then-health minister Dr Gerard Vaughan and Department of Health officials.

A dependence on Savile raising money meant he was “able to access a new cohort of victims for his sexual abuse in the guise of young charity fundraisers to the hospital”, Dr Johnstone said.

She admitted that “systems were very weak” at the hospital, where three doctors also abused patients.

Last month, Michael Salmon was found guilty of raping and indecently assaulting girls at Stoke Mandeville during the 1970s and 1980s, although there was no suggestion he was linked to Savile.

“With those other two doctors, they were apprehended very quickly and so, whilst it’s regrettable that that took place in the first place, they were apprehended,” Dr Johnstone said.

Savile’s victims there included children as young as eight, a pregnant mother in her 20s in hospital with her sick son, and a 19-year-old paralysed woman. A third of the victims were patients, while others were staff and visitors, and ten of them were under the age of 12.

She said of Savile, who died in 2011, a year before he was exposed as a paedophile: “His status as a celebrity and a fundraiser, whose presence had been encouraged by senior managers, meant that staff who observed him behaving inappropriately or who received reports of him committing sexual abuses, were reluctant to challenge Savile directly or to escalate matters.”

Other reports released yesterday found he had also behaved inappropriately at high-security Rampton Hospital in Nottinghamshire and Bensham Hospital in Gateshead. Another found it was likely Savile’s older brother, Johnny, had molested and possibly raped women at Springfield Hospital in south London.

Investigations are under way at Humber NHS Trust, Mersey Care NHS Trust and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London.

Thatcher’s backing helped him to gain authority at hospital

Jimmy Savile was able to gain a “position of authority and power” at Stoke Mandeville because of backing from then prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her ministers, the author of the report into his behaviour at the hospital said.

Savile was “sponsored” as lead fundraiser and the commissioning and project manager in 1980 for rebuilding the National Spinal Injuries Centre by the Tory leader, Dr Androulla Johnstone said.

Her report also cites several meetings between the disgraced entertainer and Mrs Thatcher as the development of the centre took shape.

Dr Johnstone said: “Savile’s access as a voluntary porter in the 1970s and his position of authority in the 1980s established him as a powerful and influential figure at Stoke Mandeville Hospital; one who could abuse and one whose victims felt powerless to challenge or report.”

The report states that in a 1980 letter then health minister Dr Gerard Vaughan wrote to Mrs Thatcher, saying that “with your encouragement Jimmy Savile has made an excellent start with his campaign to raise money to rebuild Stoke Mandeville”.