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2012 REVIEW: SAVILE AND THE BBC

THE lavish tombstone was predicted to become a tourist attraction when it was unveiled this year.

Flowers mark the grave of Jimmy Savile after the headstone was removed
Flowers mark the grave of Jimmy Savile after the headstone was removed

"I dare say soon there will be a ice cream stall and someone selling Jim'll Fix It badges," one relative said. Instead, the gravestone on Jimmy Savile's final resting place in Scarborough was hastily removed three weeks later after his image as an eccentric TV personality and tireless charity fundraiser was rapidly replaced by a horrifying picture of a predatory sex abuser.

Few could have foreseen the scale of the scandal triggered by an ITV documentary broadcast in October, in which several women told how they had been abused as teenagers by the late BBC presenter and DJ. It sparked a huge inquiry into claims that Savile sexually assaulted under-age girls over four decades.

About 589 people have since come forward with information relating to Savile and others linked to the presenter during Scotland Yard's Operation Yewtree investigation. Police and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) are compiling a report, expected to be published in the new year, to provide an overview of Savile's activities.

The nation's disgust was reflected in hasty efforts to wipe out any reminders of Savile, who died in 2011 aged 84. Plaques were taken down, buildings renamed and two charities named after him closed.

However, the fallout from the scandal has not been so easy to erase. Charities which assist sexual abuse victims witnessed an immediate impact, with an increase in people coming forward to seek help – not just in relation to abuse by Savile.

Peter Saunders, chief executive and founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), said its phone helpline had "not stopped ringing" for weeks.

"I think people who perhaps would have thought 'there is no way anyone would believe me' are now realising that society is starting to accept these nasty crimes have taken place on a huge scale," he said. "In the case of Savile, the man is dead. But if there is a legacy of such a vile man, it is that society at long last is facing up to the reality of child abuse and its devastating consequences."

Matt Forde, national head of service for NSPCC Scotland, said he hoped the scandal would prove a "watershed" moment in dealing with the issue of child sex abuse. "The scale [of abuse] which the investigation has unearthed is unprecedented and there could be a historic opportunity to learn from this and to make a difference to protect children today," he said.

"It is a crime which is usually only witnessed by the abuser and victim, and therefore the huge majority of it is unreported, not detected, not prosecuted and not known about. The Savile case has shone a light on that: victims have come forward, some of whom have been living with this for decades, and spoken out about it."

However, Forde stressed it was not just a historical issue, with "huge numbers" of children still experiencing abuse today: "It underlines that, if we want to stop it happening, it is vital that we actually listen to children and take them seriously."

Some of the abuse carried out by Savile is said to have taken place on BBC premises, as well as at children's homes and in hospitals. In response, the corporation launched an investigation into culture and practices during Savile's career.

The BBC found itself further mired in the scandal after claims a Newsnight probe into the allegations against Savile had been dropped to protect tribute shows to the late presenter broadcast during Christmas 2011. A report scrutinising that decision, published on December 19, gave a damning verdict on "chaos and confusion" among BBC management, although it concluded there was no cover-up.

In November, the corporation's woes deepened when a Newsnight film led to former Conservative treasurer Lord McAlpine being wrongly linked to child sex abuse allegations. While the programme did not identify him, his name was subsequently circulated widely – and incorrectly – on Twitter as an abuser.

This episode subsequently led to the resignation of BBC director general George Entwistle and the corporation paying out £185,000 in libel damages to Lord McAlpine.

A poll published during October suggested that the Savile scandal had damaged the BBC's reputation. It found that 45% agreed the corporation was "trustworthy", compared with 62% of those quizzed in a similar survey in 2009. Another recent survey found that 49% of respondents trust the BBC less than they did before the Savile abuse scandal and Newsnight child abuse report.

However, Professor Neil Blain, head of film, media and journalism at Stirling University, does not believe the BBC will sustain lasting damage. "This story was mainly about Jimmy Savile and child abuse," he said. "The scale of Savile's wrongdoing was such that it would have been beyond the reach of any organisation. In some ways, as far as the initial discoveries about Savile go, I don't think it was ever desirable that the story would become about the BBC rather than him. There is an enduring problem in the country of abuse and part of the story possibly got sidelined."

He added: "I think you have to take this episode in the context of a very long history of engagement with the BBC and also that people engage with the BBC in very different ways. Some people listen to the music, some people watch television and some people like Radio 4 – I think in a sense it is too large a factor in people's lives for this to have inflicted sustained damage."

Blain said the main damage had been to the reputation of BBC management rather than the corporation's journalism.

He said: "One advantage will be for the BBC to review its management structure, because a lot of people have felt for a long time that for one person to occupy the role of director general and editor-in-chief was always going to be very challenging."

Eight people have been questioned so far in relation to the sex abuse scandal, with seven arrests. No-one has yet been charged.

High-profile names linked to the Yewtree investigation – many of which are not linked to Savile – include PR consultant Max Clifford, comedian Freddie Starr, DJ Dave Lee Travis, former TV producer Wilfred De'Ath, one-time pop star and convicted paedophile Gary Glitter and former BBC Radio One producer Ted Beston. All have spoken out to deny the allegations, except Glitter who has yet to make a statement.

The scandal has resulted in much reflection and debate about the nature of the entertainment industry 40 years ago and sexism in the society of the time.

However, Alwyn Turner, author of Crisis, What Crisis? Britain In The 1970s, pointed out that Savile's behaviour – such as assaults carried out at children's homes – would not have been acceptable then. "That would have destroyed his career at the time, had he been charged," said Turner. "Standards haven't changed in that sense, what he was doing was known to be wrong. It is just that he wasn't uncovered."

Turner added that the scandal could potentially influence the lasting perception of the 1970s, but added it was "odd" that it was being mainly associated with that decade, while the abuse allegations spanned a much wider time period.

"Culturally, the 1970s was a fantastic decade, but it does seem to be the one that has been singled out," he said.

"It has always been one of those decades that has been seen as a sort of transition. It has not really got its own feel and value. It gets a bit lost in there somewhere and is maybe an easy one to target.

"But there is a danger it might go down as the decade of scandal."

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