The Reckoning, the BBC1 drama about Jimmy Savile, had a launch like no other.

When the project was announced three years ago there was uproar. Why was the BBC, who employed Savile for decades, giving this now dead criminal any airtime at all?

Time passed. The drama was finished but there was no bells and whistles launch. Finally, at 6am last Monday, The Reckoning materialised on the BBC iPlayer. The ghost no-one wanted to be reminded of had reappeared, trailing his foul stink.

Anyone who tuned in for the first episode, shown on BBC1 at 9pm on Monday, will know why The Reckoning was regarded by many as toxic. I have seen all four episodes and it does not get any less harrowing.

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Whether you watched or not I think it is worth exploring why this particular drama based on a true crime has been so controversial. Does it let the BBC off the hook, as some of the corporation’s critics claim? And at a time when the true crime industry is booming, via podcasts, blogs, radio, books, television, cinema, is The Reckoning proof that we are losing the plot?

First things first, is The Reckoning too easy on the BBC? Yes it is. There is a scene near the start when Savile is invited to meet BBC executives. His discos for teenagers are a huge hit in the north of England and dusty old Auntie wants to attract the same demographic (nothing changes).

The men in the room are fawning over Savile while the only woman, described as the head of gramophone, regards him with obvious contempt. She has heard all about Savile, she tells the men after the DJ has gone. He’s an “absolute ****” and not to be touched with a bargepole. Ah, but those are just rumours, say the men, there’s no proof. So a pattern is established in which someone, usually a middle-aged woman, shouts about Savile but is ignored. The BBC is portrayed as weak and naive at best, and at worst willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for the sake of the ratings. The matter of who knew what and when simply isn’t investigated by the drama.

There was one part of the BBC that did do its job: Newsnight. A team led by reporter Liz Mackean had been looking into Savile and had interviews with some of his victims. But management shelved the investigation. McKean and her colleagues were treated appallingly, and The Reckoning is not much better. After four hours of television, all the Newsnight team gets is a caption stating what happened.

The makers could have started with Newsnight and used it to explain how Savile got away with his crimes for so long. How could the establishment, from charities and the BBC to politicians and royalty, not see what was going on? Why were allegations ignored or silenced?

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One thing The Reckoning does right is to give some of Savile’s victims their voice. Each episode starts and closes with them. They were in with the bricks of the drama from the start, their concerns heeded and experiences treated with respect. It is the same process used by the writer Neil McKay and producer Jeff Pope in previous works, among them Appropriate Adult (dealing with Fred and Rose West) and See No Evil: the Moors Murders.

Placing victims or survivors, whatever they wish to be called, front and centre is the only way to go when dramatising a true crime. Gone are the days of providing no context, of tailoring a story to be titillating. Today, crimes are mostly suggested rather than shown, and the police are placed under scrutiny in a way they were not before.

Progress has been made, cases are now looked at in a new light and handled with greater sensitivity. Not always, but it would be a foolish writer, director, commissioning editor or actor who took any other approach. But is this enough?

I used to think so. True crime, if it does nothing else, shines a light into the darkness. Tries to explain the seemingly inexplicable. If not for television dramas and books and podcasts these stories would be forgotten. Society would not learn anything from the experience, increasing the risk that the crime could happen again.

I’m no longer so sure about that. Why? Because the same things keep happening. We think we are so clever, that we would have sussed Savile from the start, spotted the predator and blown the whistle. But then another louse comes along and it is like we have learned nothing. More victims are ignored. So who are we kidding here that true crime functions as a depositary of wisdom to be drawn on? No matter how liberal and informed the approach, isn’t it all just degrees of exploitation? Using other people’s misery for entertainment?

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I left The Reckoning feeling angry for the same reason his victims are angry - because Savile got away with it. He never, like them, endured sleepless nights and flashbacks. His life was not ruined. As one survivor says, “This never stops for any of us.” Savile died tucked up in a hospital bed at the age of 84.

This may be why The Reckoning has provoked such a strong reaction. It is a reminder of gross failure, that justice was never done. Whose fault was that? People are right to be angry with the BBC, and everyone else who could have stopped Savile, but only up to a point.

It is not the job of the BBC, or some podcaster or novelist, to bring about justice for victims of crime. They have a part to play in exposing wrongdoing but they cannot prosecute it.

Survivors should not have to rely on being a “good story”, or the “right” kind of victim before people take notice. If Savile’s victims had been believed from the start, if people felt they would be listened to, he could have been stopped. Why weren’t they believed? The drama has a go at explaining this, with one character saying people did not want to think too much about Savile for fear of what they might find out.

Steve Coogan’s portrayal of Savile is eerily brilliant. But no drama can make up for justice denied. No single work could ever tell the whole story, or explain everything that went on while Savile was alive. Only a criminal trial could have come close to achieving those ends, and the old toerag dodged that.