Jimmy Savile: Former BBC Trust chairman criticises ‘hysteria’
The BBC has been the victim of “hysteria” over the Jimmy Savile scandal, according to a former head of its governing body, as the number of girls abused by the disgraced presenter approached 100.
Sir Michael Lyons said the child sex abuse committed by the late TV and radio star, which is now feared to have gone on for six decades without anyone stopping it, was a problem for a larger number of institutions than just the BBC.
He said he would be “surprised” if Newsnight had dropped a planned expose of Savile after his death because of pressure from on high, and insisted that the new Director-General of the corporation had been “pretty well faultless” in his handling of the growing furore.
His comments came as Mark Williams-Thomas, the criminologist who worked on the ITV documentary that disclosed the first victims’ testimony, predicted: “By next week the number of allegations of child sexual abuse against [Savile] will be into three figures. I am continuing to receive info.”
At the weekend Scotland Yard, which is collating reports from 14 other police forces around Britain, said there were already 60 likely victims with allegations spanning six decades from 1959 to 2006, and is pursuing 340 lines of inquiry.
Gwent Police became the latest force to receive a report of historic abuse by Savile. A woman said the star had attacked her in the 1970s, when she was 16.
A Welsh singer, Meic Stevens, said that the DJ and Top of the Pops presenter did not hide the fact that he preyed on underage girls, and Savile had asked him “do you want one” as they travelled in his Rolls-Royce.
He said he never reported his behaviour as it was “rife” among pop stars in the 1960s, but that he considered Savile “a dirty old man”.
Derek Chinnery, the Controller of Radio 1 between 1978 and 1985, admitted that he did challenge Savile directly about the rumours.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House: “I asked, ‘what’s all this, these rumours we hear about you Jimmy?’
“And he said, ‘that’s all nonsense’. There was no reason to disbelieve him.”
But Sir Michael, who was chairman of the BBC Trust between 2007 and last year, told Sky News’s Murnaghan programme that the scandal extended well beyond the public service broadcaster.
As well as abusing girls in his dressing room at Television Centre, Savile used his position as a celebrity and charity fundraiser to find victims in NHS hospitals, children’s homes and approved schools.
Sir Michael said: “There is no doubt about the seriousness of the allegations against Jimmy Savile and they need to be taken seriously and quite properly.
“It clearly has consequences for the BBC but frankly I think the consequences spread well beyond the BBC.
“There may well be lessons here to learn about the way that we tolerate the behaviour of predatory men, particularly when they are in powerful positions and there may be lessons to learn, I’m sure there are, about the licence that we sometimes collectively allow to celebrities.”
He said he understood why there would be an “intense focus” on the “national broadcaster” but added: “As you know there is a degree of hysteria in the extent to which it is focused exclusively on the BBC rather than being seen as something of much wider consequence.
Sir Michael said he would be surprised if it transpired that BBC2’s Newsnight had scrapped its investigation into Savile because another arm of the corporation was planning a tribute after he died age 84 last year.
But Sir Michael added: “If somebody intervened to stop it because it would be an embarrassment at the time that they were promoting an entertainment programme on Savile, that would be I think offensive and I am sure there will be actions following up on that.”