JIMMY Savile duped just about everyone – and the tragedy is that those who knew the truth were either disbelieved, ignored or feared too much for the consequences to speak out against him.
It seems astonishing now that the DJ and Top of the Pops presenter was able to commit the catalogue of depravity laid bare by the official report into his conduct at several of the nation’s hospitals, most notably at Leeds General Infirmary.
It has been said that the 1960s and 1970s – when the bulk of these incidents took place – was a different era; attitudes and moralities have long since changed.
That is undoubtedly true, but it still beggars belief that any individual, even one who enjoyed the level of celebrity that Savile did at the time – could have been presented with the access and opportunity upon which he gratefully seized.
Much has been made of the fact that Savile was able to work as a porter and secure widespread access to patient areas without background checks first being carried out.
Yet what would these have revealed? Surely one of the most terrifying aspects of his offending is that in spite of the now documented rumours and reports concerning his conduct, no police action was taken against him while he was alive.
He was shielded by his charitable work, outrageous persona and cosy relationships with everyone from senior police officers to members of the Royal family. His resourcefulness and talent for manipulation were also undoubtedly assets.
The idea, however, that any individual can become all but untouchable and be given free rein, unwittingly or otherwise, to prey upon the young and the vulnerable within the bounds of a public institution – as he also did at Broadmoor secure hospital – chills to the bone.
Savile was canny. He cultivated contacts with porters and frontline staff through gifts and banter, cutting senior managers out of the loop. The current management at Leeds General Infirmary insists that these were a “unique” set of circumstances that modern security systems ensure could never be repeated.
Yet questions must surely remain as to how much was known, or at least suspected, in regard to what was happening when Savile’s offending was at its most prevalent.
As Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt noted, it is shameful that even when victims did speak out, they were ignored by staff who either did not believe them or were afraid of the power Savile was able to wield.
The systems in place to protect them were either too weak or were ignored. People and institutions turned a blind eye.
Though his £3.3m estate will now be used to provide compensation to his victims, for those whose lives were deeply affected by the indignities visited upon them the uncomfortable truth is that justice can never be done. Savile went to the grave without his sordid secrets being exposed.
So if there is to be any legacy of this awful chapter it must be that the culture of transparency which the Leeds NHS Trust’s chief executive Julian Hartley referred to yesterday is now embraced, with staff and patients being able to express concerns knowing that they will be taken seriously and investigated fully.
Anything less would amount to another grievous betrayal of those who suffered at Savile’s hands.