The allegations that Jimmy Savile exploited his fame, wealth and influence to sexually assault children are certainly scandalous enough. But, the real scandal is the emerging evidence of just how many responsible people chose to turn a blind eye.
The ITV Exposure documentary, which was broadcast on Wednesday, has unleashed a flood of news and comment in the media. From this torrent, it is slowly emerging that rumours and gossip about Jimmy Savile's behaviour were rife in certain circles.
The Daily Telegraph reports Rodney Collins, Head of Press for the BBC popular music station, was in 1973 asked by Douglas Muggeridge, then the Controller of Radio 1 and 2, to find out whether or not newspapers were investigating the rumours of Savile's inappropriate behaviour with young girls. According to Mr Collins, Muggeridge said:
‘Look, I have heard things about Jimmy Savile but I need to know whether they’re going to end up in a newspaper. Can you check with some papers for me and let me know?’
All he told me was that there were allegations about a programme called Savile’s Travels that went round the country for Radio 1. Jimmy in a caravan and they used to broadcast from various places and go up to you and say ‘what record would you like us to play?’
There were allegations that there were girls – underage girls – involved, maybe in the caravan.
Mr Collins says that all the tabloids and the London newspapers were aware of the rumours and gossip. However, he adds that they assured him they would not be running that story. Such assurances obviously could not be given by individual journalists on their own authority. If Mr Collins' claims are given credence, the clear implication is very senior people in the BBC and the news media had decided as a matter of policy to ensure that the allegations were never published.
In response to Mr Collins' claims a BBC spokesperson stated:
The comments made by the former press officer reflect a conversation that he says he had in 1973 about allegations that the controller of Radio 1 had heard but he does not refer to any formal complaint having been made.
The BBC has conducted searches of the its files and has not found any record of allegations of misconduct by Jimmy Savile during his time at the BBC.
This is the kind of public relations speak that we have become all too accustomed to. Even if we assume the spokesperson is being entirely truthful, the implication of the claim that there is no record anywhere in the BBC archives of any suggestion of misconduct by Jimmy Savile is that management were careful to ensure there were no written records. Moreover, even this would seem to be challenged by the admission of Lord Grade, a former BBC Controller, that he had heard rumours about Savile's conduct. Moreover, Sue Thompson, a former BBC producer, claims she saw Savile assaulting a young girl in his BBC dressing room.
The implication that the BBC has for decades dealt with the rumours about Jimmy Savile's conduct with an exclusive concern to protect its own reputation is also supported by the row around the decision to "kill" the Newsnight story. As the Guardian reports, journalists, who had interviewed ten alleged victims and were convinced they had a story, were furious when the editor, Peter Rippon, killed the story just before it was due to be broadcast, feeling that the decision was made to save the BBC embarrassment. Indeed, Rippon was initially all in favour of broadcasting the story. However, after discussions with senior managers, he introduced the condition that the allegations had to have been investigated by the police. The journalists discovered that Savile had in fact been investigated by the police in 2007. At this point, Rippon introduced a second condition: why had Savile not been prosecuted? The answer was that the Crown Prosecution Service had decided it was "not in the public interest" and Rippon used this as a justification to pull the piece.
Esther Rantzen, who worked at the BBC at the time and founded ChildLine, has repeatedly claimed that there were many rumours at the BBC of Jimmy Savile sexually assaulting young girls. In an interview with Sky News, she said:
There were always rumours that he behaved very inappropriately, sexually, with children.
She justified the failure to speak out at the time, saying:
You see, one child's word against the word of a television icon, one who was renowned for raising money for charity, who knew everyone from the Prime Minister to Princess Diana, who was knighted by the Queen and the Pope, I think no single complainant dared speak out before.
Paul Gambaccini, a close colleague of Jimmy Savile, said this week he had been waiting 30 years for the allegations to come out. However, other disc jockeys who worked with Savile at the BBC at the time were much less forthcoming. Mike Read, who attended Savile's funeral, claimed not to know him well enough to comment. David Jensen similarly claimed not to know Savile "personally". Dave Lee Travis stuck to the proverbial "No comment" response.
Yet, as the Daily Mail has revealed, West Yorkshire police investigated allegations as early as the 1970s.
In the aftermath of the broadcast of the Exposure documentary, dozens more people have contacted the police to complain of sexual assaults by Savile. The Metropolitan Police has announced that it is taking the national lead in investigating the alleged offences, which occurred over a period of decades.
As the Daily Mail reports, Anne Mann, the Member of Parliament for St Albans, has called for the BBC to be investigated by Lord Leveson's Inquiry. However, the Leveson Inquiry has ceased hearing evidence. Moreover, it is clear that the problem of institutional failure is far wider than merely one corporation. The scandal of the Jimmy Savile allegations goes to the heart of the culture and values of the whole establishment.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com