‘Serious failings’ at BBC let Jimmy Savile abuse 72 people

“Serious failings” at the BBC allowed Jimmy Savile to sexually abuse 72 people without detection for decades, according to a damning report published on Thursday, which insisted that the corporation still had lessons to learn from the affair.

Dame Janet Smith, who started the independent inquiry in October 2012, found that despite what had happened with Savile, those worked at the BBC were still worried about reporting potential abuse and taking on the broadcaster’s stars.

© Guardian Composite Dame Janet Smith found that although the criminal behaviour was largely the fault of the perpetrators, the BBC could have stopped it but failed to do so.

She concluded that “an atmosphere of fear still exists today in the BBC possibly because obtaining work in the BBC is highly competitive and many people no longer have the security of an employment contract”.

It was incumbent on the BBC to examine its culture today, Smith added, particularly when it came to the continued fear of speaking out and its attitudes towards “the talent”, or on-screen presenters.

In total, Savile sexually assaulted 57 females and 15 boys. Three incidents of rape and attempted rape took place on BBC premises, Smith said, and the youngest victim to whom Smith spoke was eight years old at the time of the offence.

The report, which runs to is 372,400 words, made for “sorry reading” for the BBC, said Smith, a former court of appeal judge.

It examines sexual abuse perpetrated by Savile and Stuart Hall, who was released in December after serving half of a five-year jail term for historical indecent assaults against girls aged between nine and 17.

A “macho culture” of sexism and sexual harassment and an “atmosphere of fear” led many employees to keep quiet about concerns, she wrote. She found BBC staff “more worried about reputation than the safety of children”.

Regarding abuse by stars and others at the BBC, Smith concluded that the criminal behaviour was largely the fault of the perpetrators, the broadcaster could have stopped it but failed to do so.

However, the report ultimately concludes that there is no evidence that the BBC as a corporate body was aware of Savile’s conduct and therefore cannot be convicted of any offence.

It also concludes that BBC staff failed to report Hall indulging in “inappropriate sexual conduct” partly because he was seen as an “untouchable” celebrity, a report found.

Staff at BBC Manchester knew 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 abused 21 female victims at the BBC, with the youngest aged 10, between 1967 and 1991, but no complaints were passed on to senior management.

In conclusion, Smith writes: “The delivery of these reports presents an opportunity for the BBC to take steps to ensure that history cannot repeat itself.”

In a final verdict which may disappoint campaigners for victims, her “overarching recommendation” was that the BBC should carry out a further review and subsequent audit of its current management.

After speaking to more than 800 people, Smith concluded:

  • Cultural factors at the corporation prevented staff from reporting sexual complaints to senior staff – especially when concerning what she calls “the talent”, a problem which she suggests still exists today.
  • Some members of BBC staff – junior and middle-ranking – were aware of Savile’s inappropriate sexual conduct in connection with his work for the BBC but there is no evidence that any senior member of staff was aware of Savile’s conduct.
  • Several “wake-up calls” should have alerted BBC management to Savile’s behaviour as early as 1969 but did not.
  • No complaints were made about Savile to the BBC’s duty office, as would be the appropriate procedure, although there were eight occasions on which complaints were made in other ways.
  • The first complaint was made in the late 1960s and concerned Savile inappropriately kissing a member of staff in Manchester, while subsequent complaints related to sexual assault.
  • There were occasions when senior BBC staff did not find out about things which they ought to have found out about.
  • There was during the period covered by the investigation a culture within the BBC which made it difficult to complain or to “rock the boat”.

Although largely completed a year ago, the report was delayed by the police investigations and sent to the BBC itself a week ago.

In the report, Smith says: “The BBC should examine its attitude towards ‘the talent’. I have reported that the BBC appeared at least in the past to be tolerant of inappropriate conduct by the stars because they were more valuable to the BBC than the BBC’s own values.

“The BBC should leave members of the talent in no doubt as to the standards of the behaviour expected of them.”

“The first reason for this is because of a deference or even adulation which was, and still can be, accorded to celebrity in our society,” she says.

The report found that one complainant was told to “keep your mouth shut; he is a VIP” while talent were “treated with kid gloves and rarely challenged”.

The review found that Savile would “gratify himself whenever the opportunity arose” and in “virtually every one of the BBC premises at which he worked”, which included BBC Television Theatre, Television Centre, Broadcasting House, Egton House, Lime Grove studios and studios in Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow.

“Savile had a voracious sexual appetite,” Smith writes. “He was obsessively interested in sex.”

Smith said Savile’s tactic with young girls was to invite them to watch him perform either on radio or television as a “form of grooming”.

“He used his celebrity status, his entree to the BBC and his connections with other stars as bait with which to draw young girls into his sphere.”

In addition to unnamed supervisors and technical staff who worked on shows like Top of the Pops, Smith lists other examples of people who knew or suspected Savile was behaving inappropriately or illegally.

  • Canon Colin Semper, a producer of Speakeasy, worked with Savile and “clearly did think Savile had sex with a lot of girls, some of whom might have been underage”.
  • Louis Theroux became aware of a credible allegation that in the late 1960s or early 1970s Savile had sex with a 15-year-old. Theroux spoke to David Mortimer, an executive producer at the BBC.
  • Mark Lawson saw Savile assault a female member of Front Row staff. He told Front Row editor John Goudie.
  • Douglas Muggeridge, the controller of Radio 1 and Radio 2 heard rumours about Savile. He held a meeting with Savile, Derek Chinnery, head of programmes for Radio 1 and Doreen Davies, an executive producer.
  • Rodney Collins, a BBC Radio publicity officer, heard rumours too but had no hard evidence.

Source: The Guardian

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