Watchdog: Jimmy Savile's Fame Kept U.K. Police From Probing Abuse Allegations

2012-41 REP Jimmy Savile H

The late BBC host Jimmy Savile is believed to have sexually abused young people decades ago.

A report on police shortcoming argues the former BBC host could have been stopped in the 1960s, but his celebrity status made officers reluctant to investigate.

LONDON - British police could have stopped Jimmy Savile from abusing young people in the 1960s, but were reluctant to properly investigate the late former BBC TV host because of his celebrity status, according to a police watchdog.

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The so-called Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary probed the police's handling of abuse allegations against the former host of the Top of the Pops music-chart show.

Its 61-page report highlighted failures by various police forces in the country to share information. It also said officials mishandled evidence amid a "cultural mistrust" of evidence from children, and victims at times were simply dismissed. It concluded that Savile, who died in Oct. 2011, could have been stopped as early as 1964.

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Only five allegations of sexual abuse were recorded against Savile in his lifetime, according to the report. That compares with about 600 made since October, when the Savile scandal first erupted and the police started an investigation.

"It is clear that because of Savile's celebrity status and the power, maybe people do look for that extra piece of evidence, behaving with an extra sense of caution, because of the power he wielded," HMIC expert Drusilla Sharpling told a BBC radio program Tuesday.

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The HMIC report cited examples of how Savile's celebrity status interfered with abuse reports. In 1963, a police officer told a man reporting a rape allegation to "forget about it" and "move on," according to the report.

And a man who wanted to report an assault on his girlfriend during a Top of the Pops taping was told he "could be arrested for making such allegations" and dismissed.

Sharpling warned that police could fail to prevent a similar abuse scandal. "Victims felt unable to come forward and report crimes of sexual abuse," and police didn't handle evidence properly, she said.

The report recommended that police officials who become aware of child abuse allegations should in the future notify others. It also suggested that the police's information management become "slicker and more comprehensive."

Twitter: @georgszalai