By Charlotte Cross: ITV News reporter
Serial child abusers and sexual offenders Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall were allowed to operate within the BBC with impunity, a damning report has found.
Dame Janet Smith today published a 1,448-page report after a lengthy, two and a half-year investigation into the corporation’s handling of complaints, highlighting “serious failings” in the BBC’s culture and management systems.
But the report stops short of identifying anyone who should be held accountable for failing to protect young people and women from harm – attributing many of the shortcomings to the attitude of society at large during the 60s, 70s and 80s rather than to the actions of individuals.
Dame Janet found there was an “atmosphere of fear” within the BBC which “still exists today” – with many people who filed complaints or raised concerns relating to sexual misconduct being warned that pursuing their report would damage their careers.
One junior employee in the late 1980s, upon complaining that Savile had put his hand up her skirt, was told: “Keep your mouth shut, he is a VIP.”
Some witnesses from the BBC would not even speak to her before being reassured their names would not be published, for fear of reprisals, she said.
BBC stars – referred to as ‘the Talent’ – were “treated with kid gloves and rarely challenged”, the report found. Dame Janet spoke to one consultant, Peter Scott-Morgan, who worked for the BBC after Savile had left, who said bosses treated the Talent as “more valuable than the values”.
One young girl who was assaulted during a filming of Top of the Pops in 1976 was told it was “just Jimmy Savile mucking about” – while another 16-year-old girl had the presenter put his hands down her shorts after she was asked to stand next to him on a podium in 1969. When she complained, she was escorted off the premises.
Dame Janet said the floor staff to whom the girl spoke had most likely seen such conduct as “harmless good fun”, and regarded a girl who complained about it as “a nuisance”.
This attitude meant complaints or concerns were ignored or dismissed – and while she found “junior or middle-ranking” BBC staff were aware of issues relating to Savile, and of his interest in teenage girls, there was “no evidence” that anyone senior at the BBC were aware of his behaviour.
Savile abused boys, girls and women – with the report finding his preferred target was teenage girls.
The BBC appeared more concerned about protecting itself from accusations of corruption than about protecting young people, Dame Janet said.
In 1971, the News of the World reported that resident Top of the Pops stills photographer Harry Goodwin took pornographic photographs and showed porn films in his dressing room, as well as detailing sexual encounters with audience members to undercover journalists.
Despite this, his contract was renewed – the only detailed investigation carried out was into allegations that radio DJs were accepting bribes to play certain songs.
“The BBC appears to have been much more concerned about its reputation and the possibility of adverse comment in the media than in actually focusing on the need to protect vulnerable young audiences,” she said.
Why has nobody been held accountable?
The report found that children “were not protected as they should have been”, with complaints too often “disbelieved, disregarded or covered up” – but attributes that to factors which were “general in society” at the time.
Dame Janet criticised the BBC’s culture of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment, but added: “Even in relation to these failings, the point can legitimately be made that they were, at the time, probably common throughout business, industry and the professions.”
Had the BBC addressed concerns raised at the time, she said, it was possible that Savile could have been stopped.
However, she found that there was “no evidence” that any senior members of staff were aware of concerns relating to Savile’s sexual conduct.
One overarching recommendation came from the report, demanding that the BBC should set out its official response within six months.
This should include:
* Publishing and explaining its rules and policies regarding the failings outlined in the report, including the protection of children and young people; investigating complaints; and the handling of whistle-blowers.
* Commission an independent audit of each of these policies, and give a timeframe for this to happen
* A period of “self-examination”.
This ‘self-examination’ should include tackling the means of communication within the corporation, and the hierarchical structure – aiming for a culture in which management is “respected but not feared”.
The BBC should also examine its attitude towards ‘the Talent’, with high standards of behaviour expected and enforced.
In detail: Jimmy Savile
In total, the report found Savile carried out 76 attacks on 72 people between the 1950s and the 2000s, with the majority carried out in the 70s and 80s.
These included eight rapes – two of which involved male victims – and 47 indecent assaults, including one against a girl aged as young as eight and one attack on a nine-year-old boy.
While many of them took place at his home or in his campervan, his work at the BBC was involved in all of them, Dame Janet said – with his favoured method reportedly to invite his victims on to whatever show he was working on before inviting them to join him elsewhere.
Top of the Pops was implicated in 19 of the cases, the report states, while 17 were linked to Jim’ll Fix It.
Two attacks happened when he was working on a charity appeal programme.
In detail: Stuart Hall
Retired judge Dame Linda Dobbs conducted the review into Stuart Hall.
She found that 21 victims were attacked between the 1960s and the 1990s, with some victims attacked a number of times.
Many of the attacks happened in his dressing room at BBC Manchester, but almost all were linked to his work for the corporation, the report found.
Hall was convicted and jailed for abusing 13 girls, one as young as nine, in 2013.
Could there still be child abusers at the BBC today?
Dame Janet said that the possibility of whether a predatory child abuser could still be “lurking in the BBC” today was one of the questions she had been asked to consider.
“My answer is that I do not think there is any organization that can be completely confident that it does not harbour a child abuser,” she said.
“It must be recognized that child sex abusers can be highly intelligent, articulate and charismatic but manipulative people. Stuart Hall is an example. Savile too was intelligent, charismatic and extremely manipulative, even if not always very articulate. Any organisation could be duped by such an individual.”
The power of celebrity makes organisations which employ them – such as the BBC – particularly open to this, she added.
“The power of celebrity and the trust we accord it, which shows no real sign of diminishing in our society, make detection of a celebrity abuser even more difficult,” she said.
“Until a complaint is made, such people are likely to enjoy the confidence and approval of all those around them.”