It is now clear that the freakish peroxide conman Jimmy Savile was one of the nastiest and most vicious paedophiles in British history. At present, according to new research commissioned from the NSPCC by BBC’s Panorama, there are more than 500 reports of abuse against him, and that figure is almost certainly an understatement, given the almost complete freedom that Savile enjoyed to do whatever he liked to whomever he liked.
His victims include mental patients at the Broadmoor hospital, children as young as ten to thirteen, including a young girl recovering from a brain operation. And now, just when we thought we’d heard it all, the NSPCC reports that one of his victims was a two-year-year old toddler.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that this activity was conducted over a 40-year period, much of it while Savile was one of the most famous and admired people in the country,whose ghastly vapid zaniness enraptured large sections of the British public, not to mention a powerful coterie of politicians, civil servants, tv and radio executives and producers, hospital and charity directors.
Since the Savile scandal broke, there has been a great deal of anguished questioning and soul-searching about the de facto state of impunity that he appears to have enjoyed over such a long time. Being British, we like to tell ourselves that it was all some kind of mistake or oversight on the part of our well-meaning establishment, something that can be sorted out by a few inquries and a new set of ‘guidelines’, for example, about how and when teenage girls can be allowed backstage to hang out with BBC celebrities.
But there is another, less-comforting view that we might also consider; namely that our establishment is not really very decent or well-meaning at all, and that Savile is the most visible symbol of a more deep-seated moral corruption that pervades some of the most powerful institutions in the country. Consider, for example, Edwina Currie’s incredible performance on yesterday’s BBC Panorama investigation into Savile’s activities at Broadmoor yesterday.
As former Health Minister, Currie approved a request from a ‘senior civil servant’ to make Savile head of a task force at Broadmoor, after staff had taken industrial action regarding overtime. In effect, Savile, a DJ with no qualifications and no knowledge of mental health issues, became de facto director of the largest secure mental health hospital in the country.
According to Currie, Savile was brought in specifically to break the strike. When he promised to undermine the strike by revealing that staff were sub-letting houses, Currie admitted to the Panorama interviewer that this was ‘blackmail’ but nevertheless insisted that ‘ If this meant we could break the strike and help the patients then the ends justified the means.’
How wonderfully Thatcherite of her. We all know how Savile ‘helped the patients’, or rather helped himself to them. And what does La Currie have to say about this? Wait for it: ‘ If I’d have known I would have said ” Jimmy give me the keys,” and it would have stopped.’
Pause and reflect on that statement for a moment, if you will. So even now, knowing everything that she does about Savile’s activities, Currie says that if there had been reports that her appointee was sexually abusing mentally-ill patients, she would simply have taken away ‘the keys’ rather than tell the police and have him arrested.
The interview does not reveal whether she would have done this to save her own or her government’s reputation. But it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that she didn’t – and perhaps still doesn’t – think that his offences were serious enough to arrest him for. And it’s statements like these that reveal, however inadvertently, the climate of impunity that surrounded Savile. It wasn’t just that he was rich and famous – qualities that tend to turn far more intelligent people than Currie goggle-eyed.
What this horrendous case suggests, like so many other high-profile paedophile episodes in recent years, is that once you rise above a certain level of power, fame or wealth in British society, you will have a very good chance of being able to get away with abusing vulnerable children at will, secure in the knowledge that you are surrounded and protected by people who have no interest in or concern with anyone less rich, powerful or famous than you are and will ignore what you do or even cover it up when necessary.
In Savile’s case, this zone of impunity crucially included the police, particularly in his stamping ground of West Yorkshire. In 2013, a retired Leeds police officer told the Telegraph how he had once reported an incident involving Savile and a minor, only to be told: ‘Shut up, son. He’s got friends in high places.’
Savile carefully cultivated a circle of active and retired Leeds police officers, some of whom were members of his ‘Friday morning club’ where he held court at his penthouse flat. One of them was Mick Starkey, a now-retired police officer who acted as Savile’s chauffeur, and who is under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for his alleged involvement in facilitating the ‘soft’ interrogation that Savile received from Surrey police in 2009.
The fact that an active police inspector was acting as the chauffeur and minder of a man now known to be a psycopathic sexual predator ought to raise a number of eyebrows, at the very least, about the cosy relationship that Savile enjoyed with the police and the reasons for it.
Perhaps the IPCC report will shed some light on the matter, but then again maybe not, because we are talking about a weak institution that a parliamentary investigation into the death of Ian Tomlinson at the hands of the Met, concluded ‘has neither the powers nor the resources that it needs to get to the truth when the integrity of the police is in doubt.’
The integrity of the West Yorkshire Police is most certainly in doubt over this particular episode, as is the integrity of so many institutions that protected Savile. But no one should ever underestimate the ability of the British establishment to exonerate and find excuses for itself – particularly in a case as vile as this one in which so many high-profile reputations run the risk of being tarnished.
Few people can be surprised by the fact that a 2013 investigation by West Yorkshire Police concluded that Savile’s contacts with police had not protected him from arrest or prosecution. That may or may not be true, but the police cannot be the ones who decide the matter, and a society that lets this one go without a full investigation is not only paving the way for more Saviles in the future – it is also doing a grave injustice to the people whose lives he wrecked.