LONDON – The late BBC TV presenter Jimmy Savile was a sexual predator who abused children as young as 8 for more than 50 years, using his fame and eccentricity to hide “in plain sight,” British police said Friday.
A three-month investigation with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) charity found that Savile, one of the biggest TV stars in Britain in the 1970s and ’80s, took every opportunity to abuse young girls, boys and adult women across the country.
Capitalizing on his fame as presenter of BBC TV’s “Top of the Pops” music show and children’s program “Jim’ll Fix It,” he raped and assaulted victims on the broadcaster’s premises, as well as in schools and 13 hospitals where he was welcomed by unwitting fans. One attack took place in a hospice, where Savile sexually assaulted a teen visitor.
The scandal has thrown the BBC into crisis, although police said the public broadcaster should not shoulder the blame for his criminal acts. Peter Watt of the NSPCC said, “It is clear that Savile cunningly built his entire life’s work around gaining access to vulnerable children in order to carry out his abuse.”
He described Savile as “one of the most prolific sex offenders” the NSPCC had ever dealt with, adding, “He hid in plain sight behind a veil of eccentricity, double-bluffing those who challenged him.”
David Gray, head of Scotland Yard’s pedophile unit, said Savile “spent every moment of every waking day thinking about it, and whenever an opportunity came along, he took it.”
The police report was published as Britain’s top prosecutor, Keir Starmer, admitted that action could have been taken against Savile in 2009 if police had taken the victims more seriously. Starmer apologized and said he hoped the Savile case would be seen as a “watershed moment” that changed the authorities’ approach to sexual abuse.
Savile, who died in October 2011 at the age of 84, was a hugely popular but eccentric figure, famed for his shock of white hair, tracksuits and chunky gold jewelry. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990.
There were rumors about his private life but he batted them away with jokes. A year after his death, however, five women went on television to reveal that Savile had abused them when they were girls, opening the floodgates for hundreds of similar allegations.
About 450 people have now come forward with information on Savile, with 214 criminal offenses, including 34 rapes — of which 28 involved children — recorded so far. Three-quarters of the victims were children, mostly girls between ages 13 and 16, but the youngest was an 8-year-old boy. The report said the attacks, which stretched from 1955 to 2009, were “mainly opportunistic sexual assaults.”
In 1960, a 10-year-old boy saw Savile outside a hotel and asked for his autograph. The presenter took the child inside to reception, where he subjected him to a serious penetrative sexual assault. Police said Savile was able to get away with it because of his fame, as well as the shame felt by his victims and their fears they would not be believed.
Cmdr. Peter Spindler, who led Scotland Yard’s investigation into Savile, cautioned against blaming any single institution for the abuse, given the wide variety of locations at which it occurred and Savile’s star power.