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The missed chances to get Jimmy Savile

  • 12 March 2013
  • From the section UK
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Could Jimmy Savile have been stopped if police had acted earlier? Could the UK have been spared the DJ who became probably the most prolific sex offender ever uncovered?

The official report into what police knew - and, critically, failed to do - about Jimmy Savile makes grim reading.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, the watchdog that looks at how the police function, looked for evidence of reports, complaints and intelligence that had been gathered on Savile down the years.

They didn't find a great deal - just seven potentially actionable complaints which emerged during a series of incidents. The inspectorate lists a further series of incidents in which people tried to report Savile and, in effect, failed to get the police to record what they were being told. I've included those "failed complaints" below because it helps to understand how some police officers dealt with allegations and their more general failure to share intelligence.

Some of the evidence uses explicit language.

Incident one: The Cheshire rape complaint

The earliest known complaint about Savile dates from 1963 and it is one of eight complaints that were never registered at the time they were made. This one occurred just as his television career was really beginning to take off. A male victim told his local police officer in Cheshire that Savile had raped him. He made the complaint the day after the assault. The officer told the victim to "forget about it" and that they should "move on".

The officer did not record a report of what the victim had said - and so there was no investigation into the DJ.

There was a similar second incident - this time after the DJ had begun presenting Top of the Pops. A man told the Metropolitan Police that his girlfriend had been assaulted during a recording of the programme. An officer told him that he "could be arrested for making such allegations". No report appears to have been logged.

The HMIC says that, to its knowledge, complainants went to three other forces in England and Wales - Merseyside, the then Royal Ulster Constabulary and West Yorkshire - but failed to get police to take them seriously. The Police Service of Northern Ireland, the RUC's successor, says that it checked all records and could not find any report about Savile.

Jersey Police

A further separate allegation was made in 2009 to police in Jersey. Police there concluded on legal advice they could not charge Savile - and they had no access to the information uncovered below because of the limited way that forces were sharing intelligence.

Incident two: The intelligence "ledger"

In the 1960s, police records and intelligence systems were somewhat ad hoc. Forces used different approaches depending on what worked for them. The Metropolitan Police's then paedophile unit used a paper ledger system for recording intelligence on suspects and lines of inquiry.

In 1964, an officer with the unit recorded information in this ledger about the DJ - information which the HMIC says could have been further investigated.

This is what the record said:

"BATTERSEA BRIDGE ROAD... - 4 older girls & youth [name redacted] (? Homosexual) live at - Jimmy SAVILLE (sic) well known disc jockey frequents - used by absconders from DUNCROFT APP SCHOOL"

So the Metropolitan Police had a record of the DJ which connected him with a location that officers suspected was used to commit sexual offences. Critically, the ledger names the Duncroft Approved School in Surrey which events have now shown became one of his main targets for victims.

The author of the intelligence entry knew of concerns about organised offenders targeting the school:

"DUNCROFT APP SCHOOL - Absconders - Vice Ring. [Name] ....living on (sic) immoral earnings of [names of two females identified as DUNCROFT girls]."

The HMIC found no evidence to suggest that the Met acted on this intelligence to get to the bottom of whether Savile was either a suspect working on his own or linked to an organised group of offenders. Crucially, the ledger entry was not recorded in a way that made it accessible to other forces or investigators as police later modernised their approach to sharing intelligence.

Incident three: The anonymous letter

We go forward 30 years now to the late 1990s, where the inspectorate found a computerised version of an anonymous letter about Savile. The letter, dated July 1998, was sent to the Scotland Yard vice squad. This is an edited version of what it said:

"I supply here information which if looked into by one of your officers will yield a secret life.

"The image that JIMMY SAVILE has tried to portray over the years is someone who is deeply concerned with his fellow man; however, the thrust of this is entirely the opposite.

"His fund-raising activities are not out of altruistic motives, but purely for selfish advancement and an easy living. He has slimed his way in wherever possible. He has tried to hide his homosexuality, which in any event is an open secret with those who know; but did you know that he is also a deeply committed paedophile.

"An incident that happened some years ago (not that long) was when he was involved with a young 'rent boy'. This rent boy followed him to [location named]. JIMMY SAVILE foolishly gave this rent boy his Leeds telephone number [set out in the text] which he has now subsequently changed; this was because he was having threatening calls from this rent boy, who was going to go to the press and expose him for his paedophilia, if he did not give him more money.

"I know at the time he was extremely angry and frightened. How it ended, I really do not know. What cannot be acceptable and must be stopped is JIMMY SAVILE's paedophilia."

The anonymous correspondent tells the police that Savile would be quite open about seeking out rent boys in Leeds after taking part in charity runs.

"He thinks he is untouchable because of the people he mixes with, and again I know from personal experience, that they find him amusing and the butt of many jokes," the letter continues.

"When JIMMY SAVILE fails, and sooner or later he will, a lot of well-known personalities and past politicians are going to fall with him.

"I have done my duty, my conscience is clear, you have the power, time, and resources at Scotland Yard to wheedle him out, and expose him for what he really is."

Uncorroborated intelligence is the hardest type of intelligence to act on. If you don't know the source then how can you check it? In this case, it would not have been so hard because it includes a number of possible lines of inquiry - not least whether or not Savile had changed his phone number. There would also be the possibility that West Yorkshire Police would have street sources who may know if Savile sought out male prostitutes.

The intelligence was indeed passed to that force, as well as the Met's own paedophile unit. What West Yorkshire did with it remains unclear. But the Met, internally, marked the intelligence as "sensitive". That meant that any officer who sought it out would need to know what they were looking for before they could have access to the material. An investigator couldn't just happen upon it as part of a general trawl for allegations against Savile.

Incident four: The 2003 Met report

On this occasion, a woman told the Met Police she had been sexually assaulted by Savile in 1973 when she was 15 and had attended a recording of Top of the Pops. He had touched her and when she told him to stop he retorted: "I thought that's what you came here for".

The woman said she would provide a witness statement but said she only wanted to see a prosecution if other victims were subsequently identified. Officers recorded the allegations but nobody interviewed Savile.

But here's the really interesting bit. The record was marked "restricted" - presumably because of Savile's celebrity status.

The HMIC report says: "This classification was to have a profound effect - it rendered the record invisible to investigating officers in Surrey... in 2007 following a separate allegation made to them about Savile. This prevented those later officers from identifying a potential pattern in Savile's behaviour which may have been relevant to their enquiry.

"It also prevented any possibility that the 2003 victim could be told that another allegation had been made against Savile with a view to finding out whether that caused her to change her mind about further assisting the police with a view to mounting a prosecution."

The cumulative effect was that the Met was incapable of seeing the wood for the trees - it had over the course of 30-odd years both complaints and intelligence about Savile but no way to connect them.

Incident five: Three Duncroft complaints

In May 2007, a former resident of Duncroft - the school linked to Savile's suspected offending in 1964 - told Surrey police that she had seen the DJ assault a fellow pupil. This time, detectives began a proper investigation.

They carried out proper searches on the Police National Computer - the main system for recording crimes - and the then interim system for sharing intelligence short of a provable offence. This appears to be the first time that a record that was searchable by another force was created.

Surrey tracked down the victim who reluctantly confirmed the allegation but asked for the police to leave it. The force however pressed on and contacted 21 other pupils from the same year group. Two further victims were identified. Again, police found victims reluctant to help a prosecution.

Although Surrey felt it was struggling to get sufficient evidence for a charge, it interviewed Savile. He denied the allegations and referred to the fact that he knew senior officers in West Yorkshire.

Surrey's investigation ultimately came to nothing after the Crown Prosecution Service concluded there was insufficient evidence. But throughout the investigation, the detectives had no access to the intelligence already held by the Met.

Incident six: The Worthing victim

In March 2008 Sussex Police received a complaint of sexual assault against Savile which took place in Worthing in 1970. The investigating officer discovered the information held by Surrey and the two forces talked.

The HMIC says that officers alerted each other to the "reluctance of their respective victims and both decided that neither was able to support the other.

"As a result, opportunities for mutual support were lost. A copy of the Sussex crime report was faxed to the Surrey officers."

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