Saturday 17 March 2018

Report: Culture of fear at the BBC enabled Savile's abuse

Jimmy Savile, pictured in 2008, is thought to have assaulted at least 72 victims (PA)
Jimmy Savile, pictured in 2008, is thought to have assaulted at least 72 victims (PA)
Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC, (left) and Rona Fairhead, Chairman of the BBC Trust, talk to reporters (PA)

Janet Ward

Jimmy Savile assaulted at least 72 girls "in an atmosphere of fear at the BBC" that enabled the disgraced DJ to get away with his crimes, according to a damning report.

BBC staff also failed to report disgraced presenter Stuart Hall for indulging in "inappropriate sexual conduct" partly because he was seen as an "untouchable" celebrity, the report found.

Savile "would gratify himself sexually on BBC premises whenever the opportunity arose" and staff missed numerous opportunities to stop him, the long-awaited report into the scandal has found.

Dame Janet Smith'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".

When 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.

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

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

Ms Smith found a number of BBC staff were aware of Savile's offending, but she cleared the broadcaster as a corporate body of knowing about it.

Her report states: "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."

The report came as veteran DJ Tony Blackburn accused the BBC of making him a "scapegoat" after he was sacked on the eve of its publication.

Blackburn (73) said "all relationships" he had with the BBC were "terminated with immediate effect" this week because his evidence to Ms Smith's review concerning an investigation in 1971 contradicted the BBC's own version of events.

He has pledged to take legal action against the corporation, which he claims is making him a "scapegoat" for the "cover-up" of abuse.

Meanwhile Lesley McLean, manager at the organisation Victim Support, which helped many of the victims said: "It is deeply disturbing to learn of the many missed opportunities by the BBC to stop Savile and Hall's appalling behaviour - these vulnerable victims could and should have been protected.

"The reports highlight how vital it is that victims have the confidence to speak up knowing they will be believed, taken seriously and offered support. It took immense courage for Savile and Hall's victims to come forward. Victim Support is directly helping many of these victims, along with thousands of other victims of sexual abuse. These crimes have a devastating and long-lasting impact on victims' lives."

ChildLine founder Esther Rantzen said children dreaming of stardom need to be warned about the dangers they may face from monsters such as Savile. The campaigner and broadcaster said "celebrity has cast a spell over everyone" and youngsters need to be told "fame isn't a guarantee of virtue".

Speaking after the release of Ms Smith's report, Ms Rantzen said: "I think we live in an age when celebrity has cast a spell over everyone".

"It's not new really, you have had demagogues, leaders, monarchs, all sorts of people who have been like magicians and I'm afraid the media have done this to stars of reality shows, disc jockeys, all sorts of people.

"I don't know quite how you protect people from it. I would suggest that when a child says his or her ambition is to be rich and famous, somebody somewhere needs to point out that sometimes there are feet of clay, and that fame isn't a guarantee of virtue, goodness, [or] kindness.

"The tragedy that someone, somewhere appointed Jimmy Savile to present a programme ['Jim'll Fix It'] in which he was supposed to be humane, good, kind, generous to all the children that came near - that is a terrible irony and it must not be repeated."

Staff at BBC Manchester also knew that Hall, the former 'It's A Knockout' host, was taking women into his dressing room for sex, although not that some of them were under age, a report by former High Court judge Dame Linda Dobbs found.

The report said he had 21 female victims at the BBC, with the youngest aged 10, between 1967 and 1991, but no complaints were passed on to senior management. Hall, now 86, was released in December after serving half of a five-year jail term for historical indecent assaults against girls aged between nine and 17.

In an interview yesterday,'he hit out at his accusers, saying: "To go from being a national treasure to the bottom of the pond has been very difficult.

"The vindictive, malicious people who have impugned me will think again. I'm hoping for fairness from everybody."

The report said people who were interviewed gave various reasons for a failure to report him, including it being nothing to do with them, fears they were too junior to interfere or might lose their job, or that it was up to management to take action.

Summarising Ms Dobbs's report, Ms Smith said: "There were also concerns that management would not deal with it because of Hall's importance to the success of his shows and his celebrity status; he therefore became 'untouchable'."

The reports said Hall's actions had to be seen in the context of the behaviour standards of the time, but added: "It is difficult not to conclude that, in view of the unusual opportunities for the abuse of young girls that some of the BBC's work generated, it should have put in place measures designed to prevent such abuse.

"Whether such measures would have prevented some or all of the especially inappropriate conduct committed by Hall in connection with his work for the BBC is difficult to say. It is likely at the very least that they would have prevented those incidents with which the Hall investigation is primarily concerned, namely those which took place on the BBC's premises in Manchester."

The report said young female visitors to BBC Manchester were jokingly referred to as "Hall's nieces" who had come for "elocution lessons".

It also referred to Hall's "laddish sexuality, characterised by risqué banter and often unwanted tactility".

The report criticised Ray Colley - regional television manager at BBC Manchester in the 1970s, and one of Hall's bosses - saying that while there was no evidence he had known about Hall's activities, he should have done.

Mr Colley, the report said, gave Hall a dressing down about his conduct after the former arrived at BBC Manchester in 1970, suggesting rumours about Hall's sexual activity were circulating even then. However he failed to take any subsequent "positive steps" to check if Hall was behaving.

The report said: "Mr Colley underestimated Hall. Given that Mr Colley was aware that Hall was a womaniser, and he was aware of the real possibility that Hall had been having sex on the premises previously, I would have expected any prudent manager, even in the culture of those days, to follow up to ensure Hall was not conducting himself inappropriately."

In June 2013, Hall was jailed for 15 months after he admitted indecently assaulting 13 girls, before the sentence was doubled by the Court of the Appeal, which ruled it was "inadequate".

(© Daily Telegraph London)

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