LONDON -- The late entertainer Jimmy Savile sexually abused children on an unprecedented scale in Britain over half a century, using his fame and charitable work to deflect accusations of misconduct and to find vulnerable victims, particularly youngsters in hospitals, police said Friday.
A report by Scotland Yard after weeks of investigation painted a sickening portrait of a pedophile who molested hundreds of young people across the country between 1955 and 2009, a period during which he rose to national prominence and received various awards, including from Queen Elizabeth II, for his charity work.
Since launching their investigation late last year, police have identified 214 alleged criminal offenses by Savile, including 34 possible cases of rape. The alleged assaults occurred in hospitals, schools and the studios of the BBC, where Savile was the popular host of a children’s show called “Jim’ll Fix It” and of a pop-music program.
Most of the alleged victims never came forward while Savile was alive; some who did found that their accusations went nowhere. His fame allowed him to “hide in plain sight,” police said, until his death in October 2011.
“Savile’s offending footprint was vast, predatory and opportunistic,” Cmdr. Peter Spindler said in a statement. “He cannot face justice today but we hope this report gives some comfort to his hundreds of victims.”
The wide-ranging investigation was triggered by a television program last year that featured accounts from people who said they were abused by Savile. The program caused an uproar in Britain and a major crisis at the BBC, which had shelved its own investigation into Savile, sparking accusations of a coverup. The broadcaster’s director-general was forced to resign.
The eccentric, floppy-haired Savile, who died a bachelor at the age of 84, has since gone from being one of Britain’s most loved figures to one of its most reviled. He lies buried in an unmarked grave in North Yorkshire, after his family removed his huge tombstone “out of respect for public opinion.”
The 38-page report released Friday said Savile abused children as young as 8 and adults as old as 47, in locations that included a mental hospital and a hospice for the terminally ill. Most of his alleged victims were adolescent girls, and the peak period of the reported offenses was from 1966 to 1976.
His charity work at various hospitals now appears as little more than a way for him to gain access to vulnerable people to kiss, grope and force himself on. At one school, Savile offered girls cigarettes and rides in his car in exchange for sex, the report said.
Most of his alleged victims did not speak out, for fear of not being taken seriously. Those who did found their accounts scoffed at by authority figures such as parents or caregivers.
In a few cases, prosecution might have been possible if officials had not treated the accusations so cautiously or skeptically or if investigators had told alleged victims that other complaints had been lodged against Savile, which could have emboldened them to testify in court, according to a separate report issued Friday by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions for England and Wales, called for a new approach to sexual molestation allegations that balanced sensitivity toward possible victims with the need to establish the allegations’ credibility.
“Taking a cautious approach to all complainants, on the ground that some might be making a false allegation of a sexual offense, can have the consequence that a prosecution for a true complaint may not take place,” Starmer said.
The report by Scotland Yard noted that during the time that Savile was allegedly most active in abusing children, “police investigation of such crimes was more basic and lacked the specialist skills, knowledge and the collaborative approach of later years.”
The report also said there was no evidence that Savile was part of a larger pedophile ring, as some have alleged.
But what Savile is now believed to have done on his own “simply beggars belief,” said Peter Watt of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. “He is without doubt one of the most prolific sex offenders we have ever come across, and every number represents a victim that will never get justice now he is dead.”