British TV entertainer used his celebrity to 'groom a nation' and become 'prolific sex predator'
LONDON — Patients in hospital beds; star-struck teenagers in a TV show audience; pupils at a school for troubled girls; a 10-year-old autograph hunter.
All fell victim to the late British entertainer Jimmy Savile, police said, describing him Friday as a sexual predator who used his fame to find victims and deliberately targeted individuals who would not speak out against him.
A three-month police investigation yielded a staggering litany of sexual crimes: 214 offenses, including 34 rapes, over more than half a century, the majority of the victims under 18. Police say they expect the number of offenses to rise as more allegations are investigated.
A police report published Friday describes a “prolific, predatory sex offender” whose celebrity unlocked the doors of institutions across Britain, from hospitals where he served as a charity fundraiser to schools whose pupils eagerly watched his television programs — and even to the prime minister's country house, where he dined with Margaret Thatcher.
“It could be said that he groomed a nation,” said Cmdr. Peter Spindler, head of the Metropolitan Police specialist crimes unit. “He was hiding in plain sight, but none of us were able to do anything about it.”
The catalog of abuse provides the fullest accounting yet of the allegations against Savile, a cigar-chomping, platinum-haired TV and radio personality who died in October 2011 at age 84. Savile's elaborate funeral reflected his status as a popular entertainer and tireless charity worker, but a documentary broadcast late last year pulled the mask away, claiming that he was a serial sex offender who traded on his celebrity to prey on vulnerable children.
The subsequent police investigation more than bore out those allegations. Detectives initially believed there were between 20 and 25 victims. So far, 450 have come forward with claims against Savile — a scale of abuse police called “unprecedented in the U.K.”
Child welfare experts say Savile's fame helped him achieve that grim distinction.
“Savile cunningly built his entire life around gaining access to vulnerable children,” said Peter Watt of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Savile set himself up as a sinister Pied Piper; children came to him. He hosted the long-running BBC music show “Top of the Pops,” which saw everyone from the Rolling Stones to the Sex Pistols perform before an audience of excited young people. Police say victims were assaulted in dressing rooms or groped during filming breaks. One victim was a teenager who said she was assaulted at the last-ever recording of the show in 2006, when Savile was nearly 80.
Savile also hosted “Jim'll Fix It,” a BBC TV show on which he granted the wishes of young viewers who wrote in with cherished plans. Police said Savile would sometimes visit the letter-writers' schools, and some of the offenses took place there.
“He could do anything he wanted,” said Detective Supt. David Gray, who led the police investigation. “He could turn up at a school and say ‘Is anyone interested in meeting me?'”