Savile abuse linked to BBC's 'reverence' for stars: inquiry

25th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

An inquiry into sexual abuse at the BBC by late British presenter Jimmy Savile published Thursday said a culture of "reverence" for celebrities had helped him rape and molest victims unhindered for decades.

The report found Savile had abused 72 victims -- both male and female and nearly half aged under 16 -- in studios, dressing rooms, lifts and canteens between the late 1960s and the late 1980s.

His youngest victim was aged just eight.

Savile was one of Britain's top celebrities from the 1960s until his death aged 84 in 2011, famous for his shock of white hair, outlandish clothes and charity fundraising activities.

He used his position as host of some of the BBC's most popular programmes, including music chart show Top Of The Pops, to meet young fans and subsequently abuse them.

Abuse allegations against him only became public after his death, prompting police to launch Operation Yewtree, an investigation into Savile and a string of other celebrities from a similar era.

This led to the conviction and imprisonment of five celebrities including children's TV presenter Rolf Harris and 1970s glam rocker Gary Glitter.

Janet Smith, author of the 793-page report into the BBC and Savile which has taken over three years to complete, said the presenter had been "opportunistic and shameless" and that his "preferred target" was teenage girls.

She said some members of BBC staff were "aware" of Savile's abuse but did not report it due to an "atmosphere of fear" about whistleblowing which persists to this day.

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

The BBC's director-general Tony Hall said he accepted the report's conclusions and would launch an independent audit of the organisation's whistleblowing and child protection policies.

"We are listening and we understand," he said, adding that the BBC had been "too hierarchical" and "too self-absorbed".

"We are all committed to creating an open BBC where everyone has the confidence to raise issues and have the confidence that something will be done about them."

- Shut up, he's a VIP -

Savile committed eight rapes, 47 sexual assaults plus 21 other instances of "inappropriate sexual conduct" in connection with his work for the BBC, the report said.

One junior female employee at the BBC's headquarters in west London was told "keep your mouth shut, he is a VIP" when she complained that she had been sexually assaulted by Savile to a supervisor, the report found.

But Smith added that she had found "no evidence that the BBC as a corporate body was aware of Savile's conduct."

The chairman of the BBC's governing body the BBC Trust, Rona Fairhead, admitted the broadcaster had "failed" the victims, adding: "It turned a blind eye where it should have shone a light".

The report is only the latest to highlight the scale of abuse committed by Savile, which is thought to total hundreds of victims over five decades.

Last year, a series of investigations found that 177 people, mainly women or girls, had complained he abused them in hospitals, including one where he was appointed as a fundraiser by Margaret Thatcher's government in 1980.

"People were either too dazzled or too intimidated by the nation's favourite celebrity to confront the evil predator we now know he was," Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told parliament at the time.

As Britain struggles to come to terms with the scale of abuse committed by celebrities and in institutions run by the state during the second half of the 20th century, the biggest investigation has still to report.

That is a judge-led probe into how institutions ranging from churches to local councils failed to protect children from sexual abuse, which will also look at alleged abuse by senior politicians and is due out in 2018.

© 2016 AFP

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