Jimmy Savile given free rein to sexually abuse 60 people, report finds
Damning reports point finger at politicians, civil servants and senior NHS staff but stop short of holding anyone accountable
Sandra Laville and Josh Halliday
Thursday 26 February 2015 19.28 GMT
Politicians, civil servants and NHS managers gave Jimmy Savile free rein to sexually abuse 60 people, including children as young as eight, over two decades at Stoke Mandeville hospital, two damning reports have concluded.
Savile’s celebrity status, his connections with the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and with royalty, and his role as a fundraiser allowed him unfettered access to patients, staff and visitors at the Buckinghamshire hospital. Over 20 years he brazenly used that power and access to rape, sexually abuse, harass, intimidate and silence his victims who ranged in age from eight and 40.
A report into Savile’s activities at Stoke Mandeville by Dr Androulla Johnstone and Christine Dent said the BBC celebrity’s reputation as a sexual predator was an “open secret” yet he was able to go about his business not only unchallenged but also with the perception of sanction from the senior hierarchy. The report stopped short, however, of holding senior managers accountable, saying there was no evidence they were aware of Savile’s behaviour, despite junior staff saying it was widely known.
On 10 occasions, vulnerable patients complained about his sexual abuse to staff, their parents and to teachers, but they were either not believed or ignored, the report said. A supervisor tried to raise concerns to higher management but was reprimanded, patients who complained to nurses were told to stay silent, and one victim who told his headteacher was laughed at.
Kate Lampard, who carried out an independent review of Savile’s activities across the NHS, said in her report, also published on Thursday: “Savile’s status and influence … was enhanced by the endorsement and encouragement he received from politicians, senior civil servants and NHS managers. His access within NHS hospitals gave Savile the opportunity to commit sexual abuses on a grand scale for nearly 50 years.”
Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, said in a statement to the Commons that the power of celebrity or money must never again blind people to repeated clear signs that vulnerable individuals were being abused.
He said people were “too dazzled or too intimidated by the nation’s favourite celebrity to confront the evil predator we now know he was”.
However, Liz Dux, a lawyer at Slater and Gordon who represents 44 of Savile’s victims, said the report had been met with “crushing disappointment” because it held no one accountable.
“It beggars belief that a report which has revealed Savile was widely known as a sex pest at Stoke Mandeville can find no evidence of management responsibility,” Dux said.
“Ten victims had reported their assaults to nursing staff on the ward, including one complaint being made to management, yet still his deviant and sickening behaviour continued.”
She said the revelation in the report that three other doctors had committed serious sexual offences at the hospital in the past four decades suggested “something seriously amiss”.
Savile abused victims as soon as he started frequenting Stoke Mandeville in 1968, the report said. He became a porter at the hospital, having been invited in by a fellow porter who had worked with Savile at Leeds General Infirmary, where the DJ had also abused patients.
“He was a nightmare … he was vile,” a staff nurse told the inquiry. Others described how, when he turned up in a ward, a “Jimmy Savile alert would go out and we’d all disappear”.
Savile’s victims at Stoke Mandeville included an eight-year-old boy, and a girl, also eight, who was raped at least 10 times by Savile when she visited relatives there. One victim was systematically abused in the chapel by Savile, who was often accompanied by another, unnamed man. “Every time I went in that room I just knew he would touch me wherever he wanted to touch me,” she said.
A 12-year-old girl was raped by Savile in the television room. She returned to her ward and told a nurse that a porter, Savile, had “hurt me, down there”. She was told not to say anything, otherwise the nurse would get into trouble. Later that night Savile appeared at the girl’s bedside and sexually assaulted her again. Alone in her room afterwards, the child tore a page from a Bible in the room and wrote two notes asking for her father.
She posted them into a red post box in a corridor outside the ward, hoping someone would contact him; no one did.
In 1980 a clinical supervisor tried to escalate the concerns of students who had told her of sexually inappropriate behaviour by Savile at their accommodation block. But the supervisor was “reprimanded for interfering”.
Between 1972 and 1985 nine informal verbal complaints and one formal report were made about Savile by his victims. Johnstone found that none of the complaints were “either taken seriously or escalated to senior management”.
The formal complaint in 1977 came from the father of an 11-year-old girl who was sexually abused by Savile in a treatment room. The girl screamed hysterically, and a senior nurse arrived but told her to be quiet, saying Savile would not do such a dreadful thing and he raised a great deal of money for the hospital.
The incident “was serious and should have led to Savile’s suspension from the hospital and a formal police report being made”, Johnstone said. “There can be no excuses made in relation to ‘what was acceptable at the time’ or ‘how children were perceived’. This was a serious allegation and should have been investigated fully as it was reported to a hospital manager.”
The report revealed how Savile’s charitable work and status within the hospital were boosted by Thatcher, who in 1980 sponsored him as the lead fundraiser and commissioning project manager for a £10m campaign to rebuild the spinal injuries unit (NSIC) – a move which gave him “virtually uncontested authority and control”. Savile flattered Thatcher during several meetings, including trips to Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence.
In one letter to Thatcher, he wrote: “Dear PM I waited a week before writing to thank you for my lunch invitation because I had such a superb time … My girl patients pretended to be madly jealous and wanted to know what you wore. All the paralysed lads called me Sir James, they all love you, me too!!”
He was also supported in his new position by Dr Gerard Vaughan, a health minister at the time, who rode roughshod over concerns and policies to give Savile free rein, the report said.
“No member of parliament or the Department of Health and Social Services, to our knowledge, knew about Savile’s sexual abuse activities,” but there were major consequences of their actions.
“First there was an ongoing dependence on Savile’s charitable funds which ensured his continued position of power and influence at the hospital which was often detrimental to service management,” she said. “Second, Savile was able to access a new cohort of victims for his sexual abuse in the guise of young charity fundraisers to the hospital.”
David Clay, who was made general manager of the NSIC in 1983, said Savile acted as if he was God. “It was Jimmy Savile’s kingdom.”
By the time Ken Cunningham was appointed in 1991 as unit general manager at the hospital he was shocked by the power wielded by Savile, who by then had a bedroom/office installed with a Berber carpet, a flip-down bed, a large leather sofa and a gold letter box.
“This was a man who had the ear of royalty, prime ministers … It worried me that there was someone who could buy the loyalty and friendship of senior staff,” he said.
In 1993, when Stoke Mandeville became an NHS trust, Savile’s rule began to be challenged and the inquiry said his sexual abuse stopped around 1992. But the patients he attacked were left to deal with abuse which was not believed and continues to scar their adult lives.
“I didn’t know what had happened,” said one victim. “I didn’t understand what had happened. I knew it felt wrong and I felt dirty and I wanted to clean myself and I just wanted to wash myself again and again … I did not understand … I could not even explain to myself what had happened.”
PROLIFIC sex offender Jimmy Savile was able to gain a “position of authority and power” at Stoke Mandeville Hospital due to the backing of Margaret Thatcher and her ministers, a damning new report found yesterday. Savile was “sponsored” in his role as lead fundraiser and project manager in the 1980 rebuilding of the hospital’s national spinal injuries centre by the Tory leader, report author Dr Androulla Johnstone said: here.