Thursday 29 September 2016

BBC 'missed string of opportunities to stop Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall'

Published 25/02/2016 | 16:36

Jimmy Savile, who died in October 2011, was named as one of the country's most prolific sex offenders
Jimmy Savile, who died in October 2011, was named as one of the country's most prolific sex offenders

The BBC missed a string of opportunities over five decades to uncover and stop "monstrous" child sex abuse by shamed broadcasters Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall, a long-awaited inquiry has found.

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In a withering attack, Dame Janet Smith said the corporation bred a culture of deference in which celebrities were "untouchable" and "King" Savile and Hall were able to hide in plain sight.

Her 1,220-page report found that Savile "would gratify himself sexually on BBC premises whenever the opportunity arose" and staff missed numerous opportunities to stop him.

Today BBC director general Lord Hall said the findings represented a "dark chapter" in the broadcaster's history and apologised to victims, saying: "The BBC failed you when it should have protected you. I'm deeply sorry for the hurt caused."

But lawyers representing some of Savile's victims branded the £6.5 million report an "expensive whitewash" after Dame Janet found that senior figures at the BBC did not know about the abuse.

Dame Janet's review found there was a culture of "reverence and fear" towards celebrities at the corporation and that "an atmosphere of fear still exists today in the BBC" which prevents some from blowing the whistle on inappropriate behaviour.

When in the 1980s a junior female employee at Television Centre complained to her supervisor that she had been sexually assaulted by Savile, she was told "keep your mouth shut, he is a VIP", the report found.

Dame Janet said: "(Jimmy) Savile and Stuart Hall were serial sexual predators. Savile was a danger to young people, both girls and boys, opportunistic and shameless.

"I have identified 72 BBC victims of Savile, of whom 34 were under the age of 16. His youngest victim was aged eight. His abuse included eight cases of rape, the youngest victim being only 10 years old.

"Stuart Hall targeted and groomed young girls, often plying them with alcohol."

She said Dame Linda Dobbs, who conducted a parallel inquiry into Hall, identified 21 victims of abuse - eight of whom were girls under the age of 16, the youngest being 10.

Dame Janet said: "Both of these men used their fame and positions as BBC celebrities to abuse the vulnerable. They must be condemned for their monstrous behaviour.

"But the culture at the BBC certainly enabled both Savile and Stuart Hall to go undetected for decades. I have identified five occasions where the BBC missed an opportunity to uncover their misconduct."

BBC staff missed chances dating back to the late 1960s to stop Savile, who died in October 2011 aged 84 never having been brought to justice for his crimes and is now believed to be one of Britain's most prolific sex offenders.

Girls who dared to complain about being sexually assaulted were regarded as "a nuisance" and their claims not properly dealt with.

Savile sexually assaulted two teenage girls in front of the cameras in the Top Of The Pops studio on separate occasions in the 1960s and 1970s. But when the girls complained, they were brushed off and one was escorted out of the premises.

He first struck in 1959 when he raped a 13-year-old girl in a room at Lime Grove in Shepherd's Bush, where the BBC had studios. And he was still using his fame to prey on his victims five decades later, sexually assaulting a woman outside the Top Of The Pops studio in 2006.

Dame Janet found that a number of BBC staff were aware of Savile's offending, or had heard rumours, but she cleared the broadcaster as a corporate body of knowing about it.

Her report stated: "In summary, my conclusion is that certain junior and middle-ranking individuals were aware of Savile's inappropriate sexual conduct in connection with his work for the BBC.

"However, I have found no evidence that the BBC, as a corporate body, was aware of Savile's inappropriate sexual conduct in connection with his work for the BBC."

Savile struck in nearly every corner of the BBC, including the BBC Theatre at Shepherd's Bush where Jim'll Fix It and Clunk Click were filmed, Television Centre where Top Of The Pops was filmed, and Broadcasting House.

But women who complained were ordered to "keep your mouth shut, he is a VIP" or told it was "just Jimmy Savile mucking about".

Eight complaints about Savile's behaviour were made to BBC staff as early as the late 1960s, but each time they were brushed off or not escalated up the chain of command.

In the mid-1970s Ian Hampton, bass player with the pop group Sparks, tried to raise the alarm after spotting Savile leaving the Top Of The Pops studio with a young girl amid rumours of his sexual misconduct.

The guitarist alerted a BBC presenter but was simply told not to be silly, while on another occasion he spoke to producer Robin Nash, but was told not to be ridiculous.

Hall was found to have sexually assaulted girls as young as 10. He often took them back to his BBC dressing room in Manchester where he plied them with alcohol and assaulted them.

Dame Janet said there was a culture of not reporting complaints at the BBC and a fear of saying anything that might "rock the boat".

She warned there was a particular fear of whistleblowing at the corporation and "I was told that an atmosphere of fear still exists today in the BBC".

She added: "As I have said, there was a culture of not complaining about anything. The culture of not complaining about a member of the Talent was even stronger.

"Members of the Talent, such as Savile, were to a real degree protected from complaint."

She added: "There was a feeling of reverence for them and a fear that, if a star were crossed, he or she might leave the BBC."

Dame Janet said she could not rule out the possibility that "a predatory child abuser could be lurking in the BBC even today".

She added: "The power of celebrity and the trust we accord it, which show no real sign of diminishing in our society, make detection of a celebrity abuser even more difficult."

Dame Janet's report found that 117 people at the BBC heard rumours about Savile, but ruled the corporation as a corporate body was not told.

This sparked an angry backlash from some victims.

Liz Dux, a specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers, who represents 168 victims, said: "All the Savile and Hall victims have ever wanted from this report is truth and accountability.

"Despite millions having been spent on the inquiry, my clients will feel let down that the truth has still not been unearthed and many will feel it is nothing more than an expensive whitewash."

Dame Janet denied this accusation, saying: "It certainly isn't a whitewash. It is right that 117 witnesses told the review they had heard rumours about Jimmy Savile, as a matter of fact 180 witnesses told me that they had not.

"I did find that a number of people at the BBC, junior people, did know about Savile. They knew from what they saw or realised and drew inferences in their own minds and realised what he was doing.

"They didn't report these matters upwards."

Lord Hall said the BBC bore responsibility for making Savile and Hall famous and the BBC "could have known" about their abuse.

He said: "Just as powerful as the accusation you knew is the legitimate question 'How could you not have known?'"

He added: "Today let us be in no doubt we are hearing the worst, and it is a very sobering day.

"What happened was profoundly wrong, it should never have started, it should certainly have been stopped."

The BBC has paid out hundreds of thousands of pounds to the victims of Savile.

The corporation has settled 36 claims, paying out £526,000 in damages and £381,000 in legal fees, a spokesman said.

A further eight claims were rejected.

Dame Janet highlighted several men who failed to report or take proper action against Savile or Hall.

She said one of the men, Canon Colin Semper , who worked on the regional Speakeasy programme, should have reported his suspicions about Savile to his superiors at the BBC.

The former head of religious programmes at the BBC a pologised following the report's publication and admitted he should have taken "greater care".

He told Sky News said: "I didn't tell anybody of, what you might call, authority.

"I'm very, very sorry that I was so obsessed with my programme and with getting it - as best I could - on to the air waves. I'm very sorry that I got so obsessed and I should have had greater care.

"I am sorry if I had any responsibility for what has happened over the subsequent time."

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