The sex-abuse allegations against the late British television
presenter Jimmy Savile have raised disturbing questions about
who knew what and when - and why nothing was done.
Police are following more than 400 lines of inquiry regarding
about 300 potential victims of Savile over 40 years, which
would make him one of Britain's worst sex offenders. The
investigation has widened, and former 1970s pop star Gary
Glitter (68), who has served jail terms for child pornography
and child sex offences, was arrested and released on bail
last week in relation to it. British comedian Freddie Starr
has also been arrested by police investigating sexual abuse
allegations against Savile, according to media reports.
BBC presenter Savile was one of the most famous faces on
British television for decades. He also raised tens of
millions of pounds for charity. It was only after his death
in October last year, aged 84, that allegations he molested
under-age girls began to surface publicly. But it appears
some allegations were made while he was alive and some
members of his family, the police, the publicly-funded BBC
and hospitals might have been among those aware of them.
Revelations last week by Metropolitan Police Commissioner
Bernard Hogan-Howe that a number of separate abuse
allegations had been made but not acted on and never
connected by police and other organisations are chilling in
hindsight. It also emerged Savile was barred from any
involvement with the BBC's Children In Need charity, with the
former BBC governor Roger Jones saying "I think we all
recognised he was a pretty creepy sort of character".
The original abuse claims came to light in an ITV
documentary, which spurred dozens more claims to police. The
allegations included one by a great-niece of Savile.
Revelations an investigation by Newsnight, the BBC's flagship
television news show, was shelved last December have
increased the heat on BBC management. Former BBC director
Mark Thompson is denying he was told about the allegations
twice, in May and September, and says he knew nothing about
the Newsnight investigation and had no involvement in the
decision to axe it. New BBC director-general George Entwistle
has been accused of lacking knowledge about the situation and
not taking charge of the crisis. Chris Patten, chairman of
the BBC Trust, which oversees the broadcaster, has promised
full co-operation while the BBC conducts its own
investigations into the scandal, acknowledging its
"reputation is on the line".
Further allegations emerged at the end of the week that
Savile was regularly allowed to take young women into the
nurses' home at Leeds General Infirmary, that he had abused a
patient at the secure hospital Broadmoor, and that his
behaviour towards young female staff on visits to Prince
Charles' residence, St James's Palace, had aroused "concern
There are certainly many questions to be answered,
particularly why such apparently wide-scale abuse could take
place with no-one knowing or doing anything about it.
The only possible answers can lie in Savile's fame and power
and in the context of the era. It appears the alleged abuse
began at a time when such actions and attitudes - towards the
children, women and the mentally ill - were often viewed
differently by many in society, which is not to say they
should ever have been tolerated.
Thankfully, however, such abuses are now publicly - and
legally - deemed unacceptable. Of course, in private,
horrific acts are still perpetrated.
While the allegations in question are of a historic nature,
we cannot pretend such abuses do not still happen - and New
Zealand is certainly not immune.
Our record of child abuse is shameful, and Social Development
Minister Paula Bennett's recent decision not to make
reporting of child abuse mandatory is questionable.
Such abuse does not happen in a vacuum and silence fosters an
environment in which criminal behaviour breeds. There is a
moral obligation for the public to report such behaviour -
and for authorities to act on the information.
While it is appalling to think such crimes might have been
committed, and to so many, it is a relief the alleged British
victims are at least now finding a voice - and the
authorities are finally listening.