Jimmy Savile: Police watchdog criticises 'failures'

jimmy savile
Image caption Sexual abuse allegations against Jimmy Savile emerged after his death

Police forces mishandled complaints and missed opportunities to apprehend Jimmy Savile, a critical report says.

The Inspectorate of Constabulary said forces did not understand the depth of the late DJ's sexual offending.

The earliest known complaint was in 1963. HM Inspector of Constabulary Drusilla Sharpling said she was "shocked" by the extent of his crimes.

Sir Peter Fahy, of Greater Manchester Police, warned weaknesses in the system meant such failings could happen again.

The report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabularly (HMIC) - which was commissioned by the home secretary to find out how much police knew about Savile before he was exposed as a sex offender in 2012 - also warned that failures to share intelligence on a prolific offender could happen again.

Ms Sharpling told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Savile's celebrity status had played a part.

"It's clear that because of Savile's celebrity status, people were looking for that extra piece of evidence, behaving with an extra sense of caution because of the power he wielded," she said.

The former presenter of the BBC's Top of the Pops and Jim'll Fix It, who also worked as a Radio 1 DJ and received a knighthood in 1990, died aged 84 in October 2011 - a year before the allegations were broadcast for the first time in an ITV documentary.

'Acting with impunity'

The police watchdog said it had found five reports made to the police about Savile prior to his death and two pieces of intelligence, all of which had been mishandled in different ways.

Sir Peter warned that having 43 separate police forces in England and Wales and no national headquarters for policing made achieving consistent national standards "all the more difficult".

"We can continue to criticise individual members of staff for individual failings but this ignores the complexity of these issues and the way that our system of criminal justice affects the victims of sexual offences," he said.

"There is little public support for a national police force as is being created in Scotland but while localism has many strengths it does make it more difficult when cases cross boundaries and when we are trying to achieve national standards."

In the wake of last year’s revelations, police received about 450 allegations spanning several decades. Operation Yewtree assessed 214 of them as being definite crimes, including 32 of rape.

A joint police and NSPCC report released in January outlined offences committed by Savile over 50 years at a number of venues, including BBC premises, schools and hospitals.

The allegations uncovered by HMIC include:

  • A missed opportunity to investigate Savile in 1963 when a male victim reported to Cheshire police that he had been raped by Savile. An officer told the victim to “forget about it”. Cheshire Police says it can find no record of the allegation.
  • A man who reported to police in London that his girlfriend had been assaulted at a recording of Top of the Pops and was warned that he "could be arrested for making such allegations" and sent away
  • In 1964 intelligence about Savile was entered into a ledger used by the Met’s paedophile unit. It said the DJ had visited an address used by girls who had absconded from Duncroft Approved School in Surrey. There is no record of any investigation
  • Anonymous allegations sent to the Met in 1998 in a letter that described Savile as a "deeply committed paedophile"
  • In 2003, the Met also compiled a crime report relating to a complaint about a 1970s incident
  • In 2007, Surrey Police compiled a report after complaints from three victims and the following year a Sussex report focused on a complaint from one victim.
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Media captionHM Inspector of Constabulary Drusilla Sharpling said she was "shocked"

The HMIC report said: “Both officers (from Sussex and Surrey) appear to have alerted each other to the reluctance of their respective victims and both decided that neither was able to support the other. As a result, opportunities for mutual support were lost.”

The watchdog said that police had systems and processes to enable forces to “join the dots” and to spot patterns, but these had been either used incorrectly or not at all.

Mrs Sharpling said it would be wrong to claim the same failures could not happen again.

“Clearly there were mistakes in how the police handled the allegations made against Savile during his lifetime,” she said.

“However, an equally profound problem is that victims felt unable to come forward and report crimes of sexual abuse.”

She told the BBC that it must become an obligation on professionals of all kinds to report child abuse, and the use of the police database had to be "slicker" and "more comprehensive".

'Lessons to be learned'

Home Secretary Theresa May, who commissioned the report, said it had brought into "sharp focus police failings that allowed Savile to act with impunity over five decades".

"The public rightly want answers to how victims' voices were ignored for so long. While we can never right this wrong, we must learn the lessons to prevent the same from ever happening again."

In a statement, the Met Police said: "Although we are satisfied our officers followed the correct procedures in place at the time, HMIC have rightly highlighted the complexities of managing police information nationally."

Cheshire Police said it would be working with colleagues in the Metropolitan Police "who are progressing enquiries relating to allegations which fall under Operation Yewtree".