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Sick truth behind the legend

"HOW does anyone know if I am [a paedophile] or if I'm not?" Jimmy Savile said this to Louis Theroux in a clip from a 2000 documentary that featured in Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile.

After this damning programme, presented by Mark Williams-Thomas, a former policeman who now investigates historic child abuse cases, I think everyone knows what Savile was.

This was an exemplary, rock-solid piece of investigative television, albeit one that's come several decades too late, yet it was also sickening to watch.

We'd known what to expect; the details of the allegations featured in the programme have been dissected in the newspapers for the past week.

Yet hearing them laid bare -- by witnesses to Savile's behaviour and the women, mere children at the time, on the receiving end of it -- was shocking in the extreme.

Sue Thompson, a research assistant who worked on Savile's BBC Leeds show Speakeasy in the 1970s, described walking into his dressing room and finding him with a girl of about 14 on his lap.

"He had his left arm up her skirt. He was kissing her as I opened the door. He turned his head. It was his tongue coming out of her mouth that sticks in my head." She told a colleague what she'd witnessed. "He sort of laughed," she said. "Nothing was done."

It was common knowledge among many inside and outside the BBC that Savile liked his girls young. But no one dared expose him, dared challenge him, because of his ratings value to the BBC and his work as a tireless charity fundraiser.

Some stayed quiet out of fear. A former radio producer, Wilfred De'ath, recalled meeting Savile in a Chinese restaurant after he started hosting Top of the Pops in 1964. Savile's companion was a girl no older than 12.

Savile told De'ath he'd picked her up at the TOTP studio. He called it his "happy hunting ground". The next morning, when De'ath phoned Savile at home, Savile said he was in bed with the girl. To prove it, he put her on the phone.

De'ath admitted Savile frightened him. Jimmy, despite the silly hair and the eccentric clothes, was a brawny man, an ex-wrestler. He could handle himself.

The testimonies of the victims -- some speaking to camera, others wishing to remain anonymous -- were even more stomach-churning.

These women had never met, yet the details of their stories so corroborated one another that a consistent pattern of abuse emerged.

Savile would invite 14- and 15-year-old girls to his dressing room, where there was an alcove shielded by a curtain. He'd bundle them in there, fondling their breasts and shoving his hands down their pants.

If not that, he'd take them for drives in his Rolls-Royce or E-type Jaguar and do it there. Sometimes they had to do things for him; do things to him.

Savile was also a regular visitor to an approved school -- a more modern, progressive equivalent of Ireland's old industrial schools -- called Duncroft and would park his camper van in the grounds. A few "lucky" girls were invited to join him there.

Two, now in their 50s, described how he raped them, quickly and brutally. Savile didn't do tender preliminaries. One victim believes he wore those trademark loose- fitting shell suits for a reason: he never needed to undress. There were no zips or buttons to be fumbled with.

It seems pointless at this stage to describe the women's stories as allegations. Esther Rantzen, a BBC contemporary of Savile's to whom children and loving parents owe an eternal debt of gratitude for establishing Childline, watched the interviews and was utterly convinced they were telling the truth.

"The jury is no longer out," she said. Head in hands, her lips trembling and her eyes shining with tears, she concluded Savile "was a child-abuser". No doubts.

By midnight, after 60 gruelling minutes of this, Savile's reputation was utterly destroyed.

The only pity is he wasn't around to see it happen.

exposure: the other side of jimmy savile HHHHI