April 17, 2024

Shield of Celebrity Let Jimmy Savile Escape Scrutiny for Decades

The confidential file, compiled from 2007 to 2009, contained witness statements and “significant and solid evidence,” according to a former senior officer with the Surrey Police, a force outside London that conducted a two-year investigation into Mr. Savile. Recently, amid allegations by hundreds of women and at least two men that Mr. Savile used his fame and influence as a shield to abuse them as children, Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement that the case was dropped because a crucial witness declined to testify and because there was “insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.”

But at the Surrey Police headquarters, the former senior officer said, those who investigated the case felt that prosecutors were hesitant to confront a man who had spent decades building a cult of celebrity in Britain that few could match. Mr. Savile’s popularity and power rested on his blend of flashy showmanship on top-rated prime-time BBC programs, working-class chumminess and charitable endeavors that attracted powerful friends and patrons in royal palaces, Parliament and the highest ranks of the police.

“Really, it came down to this: do we really want to take on this man, Saint Jimmy, who does all of this fund-raising and knows all of these people?” the officer said.

Despite widespread suspicion about Mr. Savile’s behavior over decades, and Mr. Savile’s acknowledgment in his autobiography that he had a predilection for young girls, the prosecution that was halted in 2009 was one of a number of missteps and missed signals that allowed Mr. Savile to escape legal scrutiny for most of his career, according to accounts from police officers, victims and those who knew and worked with him.

Seven police investigations were begun into Mr. Savile’s sexual activities before he died last year just shy of his 85th birthday, according to British news reports, but officers have said that separate police forces across Britain were unable to connect the dots, partly because a national crime database did not come into full operation until 2010. Mr. Savile’s connections and fame made pursuing sometimes hazy allegations against him unpalatable, others familiar with those investigations said. Newspapers, afraid of Britain’s strict libel laws, decided not to publish their suspicions, although several had conducted their own investigations over the years.

Along the way, Mr. Savile cultivated police officers he met at corporate functions or community events, meeting regularly with many of them at his penthouse apartment in Leeds, the northern industrial city that was his hometown, according to an account in The Times of London.

“Most of the officers who attended the ‘club’ at Savile’s home were from the West Yorkshire Police, the force now investigating claims that Savile abused vulnerable children while working as a volunteer at Leeds General Infirmary,” the newspaper said.

Mr. Savile’s behavior continued despite a series of publicly known sexual episodes and other warning signs involving young people, including one occasion when he groped a girl on live television. A new police investigation, a review by the Prosecution Service of the file it set aside in 2009, hearings by a parliamentary committee, and three inquiries at the BBC, as well as new investigations by the schools, hospitals and mental institutions  Mr. Savile frequented on his charitable rounds, are now asking the same question as many Britons: how did one of the nation’s best-loved entertainers, a household name, get away with so much for so long?

Mr. Savile’s autobiography, “As It Happens,” published in 1974, when Mr. Savile was 48, did not seek to hide his appetites. Years before he became a famous television host, Mr. Savile recounted, a police officer asked him to look out for a young girl who had run away from a home for juvenile offenders.

Mr. Savile told the officer that if she went to the nightclub in the north of England that he ran at the time he would hand her over to the authorities, “but I’ll keep her all night first as my reward.” The girl did go to his nightclub and did spend the night with Mr. Savile, he wrote. A police officer was alarmed, but he said he dissuaded her from bringing charges against him.

Sandy Macaskill and Lark Turner contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/world/europe/shield-of-celebrity-protectec-savile-for-decades.html?partner=rss&emc=rss