Janet Smith’s report on Jimmy Savile has found no evidence that senior managers knew of his crimes.
Of course, this is not the same as saying they didn’t know, only that they left no trail leading back to themselves, but it’s still enough to give the BBC some comfort. Today’s senior managers must be chortling over their port and stilton at their decision to pay only £1 million to Saville’s victims while reserving £6.5 million for the lawyers who operated the inquiry. Money well spent.
By a simple process of reductio ad absurdum, we can reason as follows. If senior managers really didn’t know what Jimmy Savile was up to then the BBC was run by the most incompetent buffoons in the history of broadcasting. But of course the BBC is probably the best operation of its kind in the world. Ergo, it was not run by fools and therefore yes, of course they bloody-well knew, just as the Catholic bishops knew.
They all knew.
Everyone, inside the BBC and outside was well aware of Savile’s proclivities. Everyone from the janitor to the Director-General must have had at least an inkling that a violent sexual predator was at large on their many premises. A rapist with untrammelled access to vulnerable young people, facilitated by a culture of deference very similar indeed to the obsequious forelock-tugging once enjoyed by Catholic priests in Ireland.
The parallels with the Catholic church are astonishing both in the way the BBC allowed the abuser to continue for so long, and also in the way the establishment has prioritised its own survival over the rights of the victims and the demands of natural justice.
Imagine having an inquiry that is not allowed to compel senior managers to give evidence. What is the point of such an inquiry? What precisely is the difference between the aloof distance of these functionaries and the haughty disdain of the Roman Catholic bishops when first confronted with the reality of what their priests had been up to? Remember Cardinal Cathal Daly’s flaccid defence that he had no authority over Brendan Smyth and therefore no right to intervene.
Of course, Janet Smith’s report isn’t entirely without merit. One thing that comes out very clearly is the amount of fear that existed in the BBC. Fear of angering an abuser so well established he had the power to destroy people’s careers. Fear of disturbing the equilibrium of the princes of the BBC church. Fear of being disbelieved. Fear, perhaps, of physical assault by Savile who in his younger days was not only a rapist and a psychopath but also a violent thug. Fear of being charged by the very police Savile had in his pocket.
Calling the report a whitewash, a lawyer representing 168 of Savile’s victims pointed out that the BBC bishops only had to scratch at the surface to find out the truth. Savile attacked children from 10 years of age in every single BBC building he visited. Many well-known presenters including Terry Wogan and Esther Rantzen reported their concerns but BBC bosses did nothing because they had no hard evidence, thus violating one of the fundamental rules of child protection. They applied a legalistic standard of proof, just as the Catholic bishops did, instead of intervening to protect the children by severing all relations with Savile.
Just like the bishops, the BBC placed children in danger.
The obvious question is still unanswered. Was Jimmy Savile part of a paedophile ring in the BBC? Were other members of such a ring protecting him? Do members of any such ring still remain in senior BBC positions?
The BBC needs to learn from the experience of the Irish Catholic church, whose credibility has been utterly demolished by its evasions, its failures to confront the truth but most importantly its assumption that people are fools. If they had any sense, they would immediately appoint an independent person to examine all of their operations because if they don’t, this thing will continue to haunt them. All they need to is phone the Archbishop of Dublin if they want to know the dismal truth.
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