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Jimmy Savile and the silence of the innocents

THE joint report by the Metropolitan Police and the NSPCC into sexual abuse allegations against BBC presenter Jimmy Savile paints a picture of a man who shamelessly used his celebrity status to gain access to vulnerable children and adults.

The scale and scope of his activities across six decades were truly horrifying. As Scotland Yard spokesman Peter Spinder put it: "He groomed the nation."

His youngest victim was eight, the oldest 46. Of the 34 people he raped, 28 were children. Though mostly not known to each other, the weight of repetition in the accounts of those who have come forward corroborate each other to the extent that the report's authors use the term "victims" rather than "complainants".

Because this vile man is dead and there is no prospect of justice for the hundreds he abused, it is right that this report has been published in full, even if it makes for extremely unpleasant reading. It is important because it finally gives his victims a voice.

However, this investigation will have been a worthless exercise if the Savile case is written off as unique and he is dismissed as a sexual predator whose monstrous excesses could never be repeated in the current climate. The presenter certainly enjoyed unusually free access to children, even by the standards of his time. In fact, he probably built his career with the specific aim of gaining such access. This week Sandra Brown repeated her belief that her father, bus driver and convicted paedophile Alexander Gartshore, abducted and murdered schoolgirl Moira Anderson and was "in the same mould as Jimmy Savile".

The biggest tragedy behind the Savile saga is that so many of his victims have never spoken about their experiences because they feared not being believed or even thought such behaviour was normal. Much has changed in the decades since the height of his abuse. In the wake of the Soham murders, child protection legislation was extended to include individuals that had been the subject of complaints to the police even if they were not prosecuted. Today any individual who seeks unsupervised access to children would be obliged to undertake an enhanced disclosure check. Even so, it is worth noting that as recently as 2009. Jimmy Savile was interviewed by Surrey police and dismissed the sex assault complaints against him as "invented" and an "occupational hazard". Paedophiles are devious and skilled at covering their tracks.

Shockingly low rate of convictions for rape are a reminder of the challenge of achieving a guilty verdict in cases that come down to one person's word against another, especially when witnesses lack confidence and some jurors still regard young teenagers in short skirts as temptresses rather than child victims. Nevertheless, the number of those abused in childhood, who have been prepared to share their experiences since the Savile allegations hit the headlines, is encouraging. There will be other Saviles but they can no longer rely on their victims' silence.

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