UK: 300 potential Savile abuse victims emerge
LONDON (AP) — Disgraced BBC entertainer Jimmy Savile was investigated in the 1980s over an allegation of indecent assault, police said Thursday as they announced that 300 potential victims had come forward so far with abuse accusations against the late TV host.
The twin announcements showed how a sex abuse scandal that is engulfing one of Britain's most venerable news organizations was showing no signs of abating.
Officers have interviewed 130 of the 300 potential victims so far and even more are expected to contact authorities, Commander Peter Spindler, leader of the Scotland Yard inquiry, said Thursday.
The well-known children's television and radio presenter is accused of using his fame to coerce vulnerable teens into having sex with him in his car, in his camper van, and even in dressing rooms on BBC premises.
The police commander acknowledged he had been stunned by the volume of abuse allegations reported to his team of 30 officers in the three weeks since details about Savile's activities first came to public attention.
"It is quite staggering, the number of women ... and this is primarily women, we have only got two men in the system so far," Spindler said.
Spindler said Savile, who died last October at age 84, was "undoubtedly" one of the worst sex offenders in recent British history.
Since the allegations aired on British television this month, London police have received three times the usual number of calls about allegations of past sexual abuse. The NSPCC, a leading British children's charity, said it had received 60 percent more calls about abuse cases.
"I have no doubt that we are in a watershed moment for child abuse investigations," Spindler said.
Previously feted for his charity work at hospitals and homes for children, Savile is alleged to have deliberately supported such causes to target troubled youths whose credibility would be questioned if they reported the alleged sexual abuse.
Spindler said although the majority of cases related to Savile alone, some involved the former television presenter and other unidentified suspects acting together. In addition, some potential victims who had reported abuse by Savile also told police about separate allegations against the unidentified men that did not involve the BBC entertainer.
He confirmed that police could seek to prosecute any suspects who are still living but said no one has been arrested or questioned so far.
Spindler also disclosed for the first time that a retired London police officer had contacted Scotland Yard to confirm that he investigated Savile in the 1980s after a young woman alleged he indecently assaulted her inside his trailer while it was parked on BBC premises. The ex-officer explained there hadn't been sufficient evidence to prosecute Savile at the time, Spindler said.
Police have also discovered that a woman contacted Scotland Yard in 2003 to allege Savile had touched her inappropriately in the 1970s but did not seek to press charges. Surrey Police also have acknowledged they questioned Savile in 2007 over an allegation tied to the Duncroft school but prosecutors declined to bring charges.
The Savile scandal has rocked the BBC and prompted disbelief that the presenter's crimes could have gone unnoticed or unreported by colleagues or managers.
Executives are facing sharp questions about what they knew and an internal inquiry is reviewing why a posthumous BBC investigation about Savile's sex crimes was shelved. The report was scrapped weeks before the broadcaster aired a series of tribute shows.
Mark Thompson, BBC director-general from 2004 until last month who is now the incoming CEO of the New York Times, is among those facing questions from U.K. lawmakers. Thompson has insisted that he never met Savile, was unaware of rumors about his behavior and had little knowledge of the cancelled expose.
In a letter to The New York Times staff Thursday, chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger said Thompson had thoroughly explained his handling of the issue.
"Mark has provided a detailed account of that matter, and I am satisfied that he played no role in the cancellation of the segment," Sulzberger wrote.
"Our opinion was then and remains now that he possesses high ethical standards and is the ideal person to lead our company," the letter said.
Savile was the original presenter of the music countdown program "Top of the Pops," which ran on BBC television from 1964 to 2006, featuring performances by everyone from The Rolling Stones to the Sex Pistols. For almost 20 years from 1975, Savile also made children's dreams come true on "Jim'll Fix It," a TV show.
Savile championed a host of good causes, frequently running marathons to raise money. He helped to collect millions for the creation of a national spinal injuries center at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in southern England and bequeathed money for a heart unit at Leeds infirmary named the Savile Institute.
He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to charity and entertainment and received a papal knighthood from the Vatican.
Prince Charles was among those who paid tribute when Savile died last year.
David Caruso in New York contributed to this story.