Complicity followed by incompetence in the Savile case landed the BBC in deep waters, to the delight of those who wish to undermine public broadcasting and to the chagrin of the taxpayer who foots the bill.
But let’s not take our eye off the ball and forget all those others who are culpable. Eileen Fairweather is right to be sceptical of Home Secretary Theresa May’s inquiry into North Wales care homes; and Tom Watson MP has already dismissed it as “the next stage of a cover-up”. As Keith Gregory, one of the survivors, pointed out: “It’s police investigating police and a judge investigating a judge. Will it be any different or do they all stick together?”
From Bloody Sunday to Steven Lawrence to Hillsborough, it is not inquiries but the determination of families and survivors which finally won the truth out, and some convictions.
Years of ignoring the crimes of Jimmy Savile – and related allegations of child abuse (i.e. rape, sexual assault and other violence against children) from Jersey to North Wales – prove that the priority was not to prevent or even stop the rapes, but to shield the criminal and his connections in high places so as not to disturb the status quo.
It is now clear that Savile’s criminality was well known. Former West Yorkshire Police detective John Stainthorpe said that Savile was one of the suspects put forward by the public in the Yorkshire Ripper case, and that the person who gave police the anonymous tip-off was ”aiming in the right direction . . . Child perverts soon become child killers.”
Former Radio 1 DJ Paul Gambaccini whose BBC studio was next door to Savile’s, said that he targeted not only children but children who were “institutionalised, hospitalised”. From Leeds General Infirmary, Stoke Mandeville Hospital and the high-security psychiatric Broadmoor Hospital, there seem to have been nurses and others who witnessed Savile assault patients who were brain-damaged or recovering from an operation; some were told to pretend to be asleep when Savile visited so he wouldn’t interfere with them.
But only a few in positions of authority spoke out and are speaking out today. Alison Taylor, head of a home in Gwynedd, demanded action against the violence children from Nefyn Dodd and other homes were reporting to her. It took dedication and persistence: “The pattern seemed to be that if I made a complaint then something would happen to me – it was like having a sniper behind the wall.” She was suspended in January 1987. In 2000 the Waterhouse Inquiry into the North Wales sex crimes finally admitted that without Taylor there would not have been an inquiry and that “in general terms, she has been vindicated”. John Allen, head of the Bryn Alyn home, and deputy head Peter Howarth, were jailed.
But those who came in the “posh chauffeur driven cars” are still at large. In 1994 Clwyd County Council commissioned a report which stated that “At least 12 young people are dead [most of them having committed suicide] …” Will those who drove them to suicide finally be convicted? The report was never published; although copies were said to have been pulped, some have been found in the Council’s archives. Will it now see the light of day? Or will fear of lawsuits, such as those initiated by Lord MacAlpine after being wrongly accused of child abuse, be used as an excuse to censor the truth once more?
That many institutions gave Savile (and how many others connected and not connected to him?) free rein to assault the children in their care is shocking but not new. Many similar allegations have been made before. All should be reopened: not only Wales but Jersey. Police chief Graham Power claimed that politicians had interfered with the police investigation into the rape and even the deaths of children at Haut de la Garenne, and “closed ranks” with civil servants. He was suspended in what one politician called “a coup d’état”. The investigation was closed, the authorities eventually accepted they had failed some children “in a serious way”, and paid compensation to about 90 victims. But only eight out of 151 named abusers were prosecuted.
It augurs badly for the present inquiries that some charities seem to be turning the Savile scandal into a bid for funding rather than for justice and change. Yet charities, schools and hospitals did not defend victims from Savile – he was raising money for them! A former Children in Need chairman said they barred Savile from their charity. But unlike Alison Taylor they didn’t take as their brief to stop him.
Charities have written to the government offering to counsel Savile’s victims, but we don’t hear them pressing for justice or compensation. Counselling does not stop rape; it may help victims but it also puts the onus on them to “get over it”. Can you “move on” knowing your attackers are free to attack others? Rape victims go through the trauma of reporting to get recognition and to protect others – their fight for justice is a public service. And we know from experience that winning justice is the best healer.
Why is that so much to ask? The problem is not just that rape victims aren’t believed, some are. But believed or not, they are dismissed. Karin Ward, one of Savile’s BBC victims and a former resident at Duncroft school for girls, where Savile was allowed to roam, said that she sensed “That’s what we were for.” (Panorama 22 October 2012) Duncroft’s retired head Margaret Jones dismissed the claims of her former pupils as “wild allegations by well-known delinquents.” They were, after all, only plebs.
The same happened more recently in Rochdale, where girls from working class backgrounds were raped for years despite repeatedly reporting to police and social services. One desperate mother put her daughter in care for protection after the police refused to act – the violence only increased. While some of the rapists have been convicted, what about those police, social workers and others in positions of authority who allowed it to go on? Are they not just as culpable? Police claimed they didn’t arrest the men, who happen to be men of colour, because they were worried they would be accused of racism. Yet they have no qualms carrying out thousands of stop and search on men of colour who haven’t been accused of anything. And why was the head of social services able to resign without facing charges?
Something akin happens to asylum seekers at our Women’s Centre. Having fled rape and murder many are refused protection and reduced to destitution, again easy prey to rapists. Raped again in Britain they cannot afford to report for fear of deportation. One woman who reported after winning the right to stay was initially dismissed – police assumed they didn’t need to bother as she wouldn’t be in Britain for long.
If the welfare cap and cuts limiting child benefits to the first two children go through, many more women and children will face similar destitution, unable to feed our children (one in five mothers is already skipping meals to feed hers) or to leave violent relationships; more children will be taken into care or foster homes. We now know what happens to the unprotected – children with least social power are considered to be sexually available and disposable. Does the government care that their cuts undermine women’s and children’s ability to escape rape, or is that part of the policy’s attraction?
Getting justice for victims and stopping cuts that would add to vulnerability, could begin to stop this rape cancer at the heart of the establishment. It would encourage those police and social workers who want to act against rape rather than those who back it. We want to know: Who knew? What did they know? When did they know it? Whom did they tell? How many individuals and institutions were involved in covering up what crimes? We want “lessons to be learnt” – by rapists and their associates being arrested, prosecuted and convicted. Without justice the only lesson ever learnt is how to get away with it.