Nearly three-and-a-half years after it was commissioned, Dame Janet Smith’s inquiry into the BBC culture and practices that enabled Jimmy Savile to carry on decades of sexual abuse while in the broadcaster’s employ was published today. Smith’s report found that the BBC as a corporate body was not aware of Savile’s conduct, and thus can’t be convicted of a crime. But there were “serious failings” in communication, management and investigation, she wrote, that allowed Savile to sexually abuse 72 women and children throughout his time there. Although the criminal behavior was the act of the perpetrators (including Stuart Hall whose predatory crimes were also part of the inquiry), the BBC could have stopped it, yet failed to do so.
The late Savile, who hosted various shows for the BBC including music chart staple Top Of The Pops, was posthumously found to have sexually abused 57 women or girls and 15 boys at the BBC, dating back to 1959 when he raped a 13-year-old girl. The last known incident was in 2006 at a Top Of The Pops recording.
Much of the abuse has been documented prior to today, with police investigations mounted and inquiries and parliamentary committees convened since Savile’s crimes first became widely known to the public in 2012. The revelations at the time led to the resignation of then BBC Director General George Entwistle and tainted the corporation with scandal for months following. Smith’s report is viewed as the most comprehensive study of the historical atmosphere at the BBC that enabled such behavior.
Smith said today at a press conference that there was a “culture of not complaining” that led abuses to go undetected. “BBC staff felt, and were sometimes told, that it was not in their best interest to pursue a complaint.” Those problems were “compounded” in the case of talent. Celebrities, she said, “were handled with kid gloves” and were “virtually untouchable.” Smith urged the broadcaster to take a look at today’s culture.
The BBC has six months to respond to Smith, who also recommended that the executive board immediately review its policies and procedures on child protection, complaints, whistleblowing, and investigations.
Rona Fairhead, chair of the BBC Trust, released a statement this morning saying she is “saddened and appalled” by the events recounted in the report. Fairhead was named to her current post in 2014, after the initial impact of the scandals. She said today, “No one reading the reports can be in any doubt that the BBC failed (the victims). It failed, not just them, but the public, its audiences and its staff. It turned a blind eye, where it should have shone a light. And it did not protect those who put their trust in it. On behalf of the BBC and its staff past and present, I want to apologize to the survivors for all they have suffered. I also want to commit to them directly, that we will ensure the BBC does everything it possibly can to prevent any such events in the future.”