LONDON – The BBC will be plunged into fresh crisis with the publication of a damning review, expected next month, that will reveal its staff turned a blind eye to the rape and sexual assault of up to 1,000 girls and boys by Jimmy Savile in the corporation’s changing rooms and studios.
Dame Janet Smith, a former court of appeal judge, who previously led the inquiry into the murders by Dr. Harold Shipman, will say in her report that the true number of victims of Savile’s sexual proclivities may never be known but that his behavior had been recognized by BBC executives who took no action.
Smith’s investigations, which followed the Pollard inquiry into why the BBC shelved a Newsnight program about Savile, will send shock waves through the corporation.
A source close to the inquiry said: “The numbers are shocking. Many hundreds and potentially up to 1,000 people were victims of Savile when he was representing the corporation. The report will overshadow Pollard. It will go right to the heart of how Savile was able to get away with the most heinous of crimes under the very noses of BBC staff for more than 40 years.”
The sheer scale of victims’ testimonies being examined has delayed the publication of Smith’s report by a month.
Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), which has been consulted by Smith’s inquiry, said: “In Savile’s lifetime I wouldn’t doubt [that 1,000 people had been abused by him on BBC property]. The other thing I have found extraordinary, and very sad, is the number of people I have spoken to connected to the BBC, and that is a lot of people, who said: ‘Oh yes, we all knew about him.’ “I was talking to someone at BBC Manchester in Salford who said ‘we knew about Stuart Hall. He had a room where he would take women and young people’. You think: ‘Oh my God, these people were offending almost in open sight and no one thought to intervene.’ “
Liz Dux, a lawyer representing 74 of Savile’s victims, said Smith had been forensic in her examination of witnesses and her report was likely to cause serious concerns for those at the top of the organization.
She said: “Every single opportunity Savile took it. He never had a quiet day basically so these numbers wouldn’t at all surprise me.
“Dame Janet is very widely respected and I am confident she won’t leave any stones unturned. The clients who gave evidence said that they felt they were listened to very sensitively and sympathetically and were able to give their evidence in a lot of detail. This will not be a what-the-BBC-want sort of report.”
A second report on the scale of Savile’s abuse within the U.K. health service (NHS) has also been delayed due to the number of places in which Savile committed crimes and it is not expected until June.
Smith has used a similar methodology to the one employed during the Shipman inquiry, which found the doctor had killed hundreds of patients, not just the 15 for which he received life sentences before committing suicide in his prison cell.
Her team sent letters to every member of BBC staff past and present asking whether they had witnessed criminal acts by Savile in order to piece together his pattern of behavior and establish an understanding of the scale of his crimes.
In three known cases, one of which involved a BBC cameraman who has since died, Savile carried out his abuse with others connected to the corporation, the review has heard.
The report will, however, express frustration that some of those closest to Savile or culpable for allowing him to go unchallenged have refused to cooperate.
His criminality peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, when he was middle-aged and at the pinnacle of his career at the corporation, but continued right up until the last filming of Top of the Pops in 2006 when at the age of 79 he groped a girl aged between 13 and 16.
Smith’s review has been in contact with more than 1,000 witnesses and victims, including the 138 who are pursuing civil claims for compensation, but the scale of those affected by Savile’s crimes dwarfs the number who have so far come forward.
The Observer understands the BBC has provided more than £10,000 ($16,000) in funding, and the assistance of a business consultant, to NAPAC to allow it to increase its help line services. Further money is expected to be made available when the review is published.
Lord Hall, the BBC’s director general, met the charity’s chief executive shortly before Christmas and asked for his support when the Smith report is launched.
Dux hopes the BBC will respond to Smith’s findings by offering further support to the victims, who are due to receive limited compensation through a plan being worked out with the corporation, the NHS and the Jimmy Savile Charitable Trust. Those raped by Savile are unlikely to receive more than £50,000 ($82,000) in compensation.
“What I hope doesn’t happen is that the BBC goes into some sort of navel-gazing period. Rather than look internally, look at how they are behaving and accept some corporate responsibility, which is not what they have done so far,” Dux, head of abuse cases at Slater & Gordon, said.
“I have asked for counselling for my clients who have given statements but the BBC have done nothing; my clients have been left absolutely high and dry.”
A spokesman for Smith’s review declined to comment.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.