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Mistakes in Savile case 'could happen all over again'

A review of allegations made against Jimmy Savile during his lifetime found mistakes were made by the police between 1964 and 2012.

Image: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire/Press Association Images

A TOP POLICE official in England has warned the failings identified in the Jimmy Savile inquiry “could happen all over again”.

Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police Sir Peter Fahy laid blame on the fact that England and Wales have 43 separate police with no national headquarters.

The claims come after the police inspectorate issued a report outlining the mistakes made by police in relation to allegations made against the later television personality between 1964 and 2012.

The HMIC report “raised serious concerns over why so many victims felt unable to come forward and report what had happened to authorities”.

Since ITV broadcast a documentary into Savile last year, more than 600 people have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse. But in the decades preceding that, police recorded just five allegations of criminal conduct and two pieces of intelligence information.

“It is of serious concern that so few victims of abuse felt able to go to the police at the time in the knowledge that action would be taken,” the report says.

“HMIC found that a child reporting sexual abuse today is likely to be better treated than 50 years ago. But there is still more to do if children are to receive the full protection of the changes that have been introduced since then.”

With regard to the two pieces of information and five allegations handled by police in Surrey, Sussex and London, the inspector said mistakes were made and the ‘dots not joined’.

While there were systems and processes available that could have enabled the three forces involved to ‘join the dots’ and spot patterns, these were used either incorrectly, or not at all.

“This resulted in a series of failings: to understand the potential depth of Savile’s criminality; to encourage (given what the report refers to as the ‘Yewtree effect’) other victims to come forward; and to bring about an appropriate prosecution.”

The inspection also found that each person who did come forward felt a sense of isolation, stemming from the erroneous belief that Savile had not abused anyone else.

“The findings in this report are of deep concern, and clearly there were mistakes in how the police handled the allegations made against Savile during his lifetime,” commented HM Inspector of Constabulary Drusilla Sharpling on the publication of the report.

“However, an equally profound problem is that victims felt unable to come forward and report crimes of sexual abuse. It is imperative that all those charged with protecting these victims do more to encourage reporting, taking the right action to bring perpetrators to justice.”

The HMIC said it will be reviewing national guidance and the police’s handling and use of information in a summer 2013 review into child sexual abuse.

Scotland Yard welcomed the publication of the review’s findings, stating it was “vital” that lessons are learned from the “landmark case”.

It also noted how much was achieved through Operation Yewtree, the inquiry launched in 2012 into allegations of abuse against Savile.

“Although we are satisfied our officers followed the correct procedures in place at the time, HMIC have rightly highlighted the complexities of managing police information nationally,” the Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement.

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“There is a balance to be struck around ensuring sensitive information can be retrieved by investigating officers without compromising an individual’s privacy and we continue to develop processes to ensure this can happen.”

The three pieces of information held by the MPS included:

  • A 1964 ledger making passing reference to Savile frequenting a premises. No additional supporting documents have been traced but MPS says it clearly states that an investigation took place and two men were charged (one convicted).
  • A 1998 letter detailed Savile’s “secret life”, describing him as a “deeply committed paedophile”. MPS said it was “uncorroborated and anonymous information” that related to issues in Leeds, adding it was properly recorded and disseminated to West Yorkshire Police for further consideration. It was uploaded to the national database in 2011 when it became secure enough for sensitive and restricted information.
  • The 2003 investigation into a sexual assault by Savile in 1973. Officers retained information about the allegation but never questioned the DJ.

The classification of the last two pieces of information as either restricted or classified had a “profound effect” as the record became invisible to investigating officers in other forces when they carried out checks in later years, thus preventing the identification of a potential patter of behaviour which may have led to a full inquiry.

Sir Fahy noted that there is no “exact science” for dealing with intelligence.

“There is always a difficult balance between the need to record suspicions and uncorroborated information and the rights of the subject.”

He said that the many reports and comments made on this and other cases of serial sexual offenders are not addressing some of the fundamental underlying issues and rather seek individual members of staff to blame.

“We can continue to criticise individual members of staff for individual failings but this ignores the complexity of these issues and the way that our system of criminal justice affects the victims of sexual offences. There is little public support for a national police force as is being created in Scotland but while localism has many strengths it does make it more difficult when cases cross boundaries and when we are trying to achieve national standards.”

Download the full HMIC report here>

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