POLICE fear Jimmy Savile claimed more than 200 victims during an “unprecedented” campaign of child sex abuse spanning six decades.
Scotland Yard yesterday also revealed its inquiry into the late showbusiness star had become a formal criminal investigation.
Detectives said their probe had been upgraded from a basic assessment of allegations because lines of inquiry had been found involving “living people that require formal investigation”.
Metropolitan Police Commander Peter Spindler said: “The public’s response to this issue has been astounding.
“We are dealing with alleged abuse on an unprecedented scale.
“The profile of this operation has empowered a staggering number of victims to come forward to report the sexual exploitation which occurred during their childhood.
“I am pleased that victims feel confident enough to speak out about the abuse they suffered and would like to reassure the public that we take all these cases very seriously and they will be investigated with the utmost sensitivity.”
The NSPCC yesterday said that Savile may have been “one of the most prolific sex offenders” it had ever encountered.
Peter Watt, head of the charity’s helpline service, said: “We have received over 136 calls directly relating to allegations against him which we’ve passed to the police.
“It’s important we recognise the brave step victims have taken in coming forward and we urge any other victims to do the same.”
Scotland Yard was handed the national lead on the Savile case after a documentary aired by ITV earlier this month unleashed a flood of claims about his alleged crimes.
Complaints have been referred to the Met from a string of police forces, with some offences said to have taken place in the BBC TV and radio presenter’s home county of Yorkshire.
Detectives originally said Savile may have claimed 25 victims before revising their estimate to 60 at the start of this week.
Yesterday’s announcement of a still higher possible toll followed the examination of more than 400 lines of inquiry.
The police probe – codenamed Operation Yewtree – is running parallel to a Department of Health investigation into Savile’s behaviour at hospitals including Leeds General Infirmary, where he worked as a volunteer porter.
BBC bosses have also launched two inquiries into the case, amid claims that the Jim’ll Fix It host carried out attacks on its premises.
Rumours about his conduct with teenage girls are reported to have been rife within the corporation when he was at the height of his fame in the 1970s.
The BBC was also facing questions yesterday over its decision to axe an investigation into Savile by its Newsnight programme shortly after his death aged 84 last October.
Newsnight’s editor, Peter Rippon, has previously said the story his journalists were pursuing had been weakened because they had been unable to establish any “institutional failure” by the police or Crown Prosecution Service with regard to Savile.
But now a leaked email has indicated that the Newsnight team was focusing on “allegations of abuse” rather than possible lapses by the criminal justice system.
The email was obtained by Rob Wilson, the Conservative MP for Reading East, who said yesterday: “We need a full explanation of why the focus of the Newsnight exposé of Jimmy Savile was abruptly changed at the last minute.”
Surrey Police investigated Leeds-born Savile in 2007 over abuse claims but dropped the case due to a lack of evidence.
Police in Sussex have also confirmed that in 2008 a woman reported she had been indecently assaulted by the star in Worthing in 1970.
However, the woman said she did not wish to co-operate with any inquiry or prosecution.