BBC culture of 'fear' helped cloak presenter Jimmy Savile's sex abuse: Inquiry

Jimmy Savile was one of Britain's top celebrities from the 1960s until his death aged 84 in 2011.
Jimmy Savile was one of Britain's top celebrities from the 1960s until his death aged 84 in 2011.PHOTO: EPA

LONDON (AFP) - An inquiry into sexual abuse at Britain's BBC by late presenter Jimmy Savile Thursday (Feb 25) found a culture of "fear" around whistleblowing that helped him hide his crimes for decades and persists to this day.

The report found Savile had abused 72 people - both male and female and nearly half aged under 16 - in studios, dressing rooms, lifts and canteens between 1959 and 2006.

His youngest victim was aged just eight.

Savile was one of Britain's top celebrities from the 1960s until his death aged 84 in 2011, famous for his shock of white hair, outlandish clothes and charity fundraising activities.

He used his position as host of some of the BBC's most popular programmes, including music chart show Top Of The Pops, to meet young fans and subsequently abuse them.

The allegations against him only became public after his death, prompting police to launch Operation Yewtree, an investigation into Savile and a string of other celebrities from a similar era.

This led to the conviction and imprisonment of five celebrities including children's TV presenter Rolf Harris and 1970s glam rocker Gary Glitter.

Thursday's 793-page report is only the latest to highlight the scale of abuse committed by Savile, which is thought to total hundreds of victims.

Janet Smith, the former High Court judge who led the inquiry, said the presenter had been "opportunistic and shameless" and that his "preferred target" was teenage girls.

She said some members of BBC staff were "aware" of Savile's abuse but did not report it due to an "atmosphere of fear" about whistleblowing at the broadcaster which persists to this day.

There was "a culture within the BBC which made it difficult to complain or to say anything to the management which might 'rock the boat,'" the report said.

"I was told that an atmosphere of fear still exists today in the BBC, possibly because obtaining work in the BBC is highly competitive".

Smith's investigation is only the latest to highlight the scale of abuse committed by Savile.

The BBC's director-general, Tony Hall, said he accepted the report's conclusions and would launch an independent audit of the organisation's whistleblowing and child protection policies.

He added that the BBC had been "too hierarchical, too self-absorbed" and had had a "macho culture".

"We are all committed to creating an open BBC where everyone has the confidence to raise issues and have the confidence that something will be done about them," Hall said.

But a lawyer for some of Savile's victims labelled the report "an expensive whitewash".

"What's apparent is that the senior managers only had to scratch at the very surface and a lot of Savile's offending would have been revealed," Liz Dux of Slater and Gordon said.

"There is real concern that the culture of fear and oppression referred to might have prevented more from speaking out more candidly and still exists today."

Savile committed eight rapes, 47 sexual assaults and 21 other acts of "inappropriate sexual conduct" in connection with his work for the BBC, the Smith report said.

One junior female employee at the BBC's headquarters in west London was told "keep your mouth shut, he is a VIP" when she complained that she had been sexually assaulted by Savile to a supervisor, the report found.

A total of 117 witnesses who worked at the BBC told the inquiry they had heard "rumours and stories" about Savile's sexual conduct.

But Smith added that she had found "no evidence that the BBC as a corporate body was aware of Savile's conduct." With Britain struggling to come to terms with the scale of abuse committed by celebrities and overseen by state-run institutions during the second half of the 20th century, the biggest investigation has still to report.

That is a judge-led probe into how bodies ranging from churches to local councils failed to protect children from sexual abuse.

It will also look at alleged abuse by senior politicians and is due out in 2018.