Health Secretary says sorry for Savile’s ‘sickening’ sexual abuse

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has apologised on behalf of the Government and the NHS for letting down the victims of Jimmy Savile after a series of investigations found the disgraced presenter subjected patients in hospitals across the country to “sickening” sexual abuse.

I thought I was the chosen one - one of Savile’s Leeds hospital victims

Jimmy Savile

Jimmy Savile

They just laughed at us: Savile’s 60 victims at Leeds Infirmary

Jimmy Savile subjected patients in hospitals across the country, including Leeds General Infirmary and the high-security hospital Broadmoor in Berkshire, to “truly awful” sexual abuse for more than four decades, a series of chilling reports have revealed.

As well as his victims at Leeds General Infirmary, Savile sexually abused at least five individuals at Broadmoor Hospital, including two patients who were subjected to repeated assaults.

Reports were also issued into his abuse at Pinderfields in Wakefield, the former De La Pole hospital in Hull, the former Whitby Memorial Hospital, Dewsbury and District Hospital and High Royds Hospital, the former psychiatric hospital at Menston, near Leeds.

Speaking today in the House of Commons, Mr Hunt said the revelations painted a “terrible picture” of victims being repeatedly ignored as people and institutions “turned a blind eye”.

The Health Secretary said: “Today’s reports will shake this House and our country to the core. Savile was a callous, opportunistic, wicked predator who abused and raped individuals, many of them patients and young people who expected and had a right to expect to be safe.

“His actions span five decades, from the 1960s to 2010. The family favourite loved by millions courted popularity and used it to perpetrate and cover up his own evil acts.

“I, and I’m sure the whole House, will want to pay tribute to all the victims who came forward to talk about their experiences. It took great courage for them to relive their often extremely distressing and disturbing experiences.

“These reports paint a terrible picture as time and again victims were ignored or if they were not, little or no action was taken. The systems in place to protect people were either to weak or were ignored. People and institutions turned a blind eye.”

Julian Hartley, chief executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, said he wanted to “offer a sincere apology to each and every one of Savile’s victims, and thank them for being courageous enough to tell their stories. I recognise how difficult this must have been and I respect and thank them for coming forward.”

He added: “My first reaction when reading this report is one of tremendous sadness that this was allowed to happen, huge sympathy for the victims, as well as anger that this individual used the NHS and his celebrity status to exploit and abuse our patients, staff and public.

“As a Leeds citizen and a well-known celebrity for more than six decades it is perhaps understandable that Savile would have had some involvement with hospitals in the city. This report, however, paints a grim picture of an individual with a very dark side who used his role as volunteer and fundraiser, combined with his national fame, to mask a range of dreadful acts he perpetrated on children and adults alike over a prolonged period of time.

“As an individual, Savile’s activities, as we know, were not confined to the hospitals in Leeds, and it is fair to say that we were by no means the only institution he deceived.

“Although I was not in post here in Leeds during Savile’s lifetime, I grew up in West Yorkshire in the 1970s and share the collective reaction among our staff of shock, revulsion and horror. Many of my colleagues have been bewildered by what happened and feel personally betrayed by him - a famous man they took too much on trust.

“Of course, hindsight is a gift we are now blessed with, and looking through this report it is clear to see that through the years there were individuals very discomfited by Savile’s behaviour. What was lacking at the time was the escalation of these concerns to senior figures in the Trust to act upon.

“The report is clear that there is no one person at the hospital who is to blame for what happened, other than Jimmy Savile.

“However, it is also absolutely clear that there should have been far more scrutiny of him and what he was doing at our hospitals over the years and more robust safeguards and internal controls in place to protect our staff and patients in our care. The lack of visibility of senior managers across the Trust during this time and the lack of questioning and curiosity about Savile’s role and presence in our hospitals over the years is certainly a lesson for all NHS Boards and one that we are addressing in Leeds.”

Investigators found “clear failings” in the way access to wards in Broadmoor was controlled, as Savile had keys allowing him unrestricted access to ward areas within the security perimeter.

At Broadmoor, investigators found sexual relationships between staff and patients were tolerated in what was a “clear, repeated failure of safeguarding standards”.

There was an atmosphere within the hospital that tolerated inappropriate behaviour and discouraged reporting, the probe said.

Savile’s “often flamboyantly inappropriate” attitude towards women was seen as part of his public act, “just Jimmy”, the report found.

In a disturbing finding, it was noted that Savile sometimes watched as female patients undressed for baths in the wards, and at other times looked through doorways while making inappropriate comments.

A joint statement from NHS chiefs described the findings of the investigations as “truly awful”, while both current chief executives of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and West London Mental Health NHS Trust, which covers Broadmoor, apologised to victims.

While fewer assaults were reported to have taken place at Broadmoor than other hospitals, the inquiry concluded that Savile was “an opportunistic sexual predator” throughout the time he was associated with the institution and attributed the smaller number of complaints to an atmosphere of fear among staff as to what might happen if they did report incidents.

Investigator Dr Bill Kirkup said the report’s findings are “likely to represent an underestimate of the true picture”.

Reports detailing how Jimmy Savile sexually abused patients in hospitals across the country for more than four decades show that hospital staff “didn’t want to hear or believe” what his young victims were saying.

Peter Watt, national services director at the NSPCC, said: “To hear that some hospital staff may have actively facilitated Savile’s abuse of children is sickening and takes the scandal of his crimes to yet another abhorrent level.

“Savile was a manipulative, arrogant and controlling sexual predator who exerted an incredible level of influence and power within these hospitals.

“But it’s clear from these chilling reports that a culture of turning a blind eye to Savile’s abuse of children was almost endemic among some staff at Leeds General Infirmary and Broadmoor hospital.

“When victims spoke up or staff raised concerns they were dismissed out of hand, allowing Savile to operate in a perverse personal fiefdom within these institutions. It’s hard to believe senior staff could be so blind to what was happening at ward level. And we need to question further how much senior staff actually knew and why they allowed a culture where abuse was ignored to exist.

“Savile escaped justice because people didn’t want to hear or believe what children were saying. Ministers now need to be satisfied that this could never happen again and that children and vulnerable adults in hospitals or any government facility are safe today.

“What we have learned today underlines the importance of full and comprehensive investigations into non-recent abuse cases, because these individuals may still be committing offences today and the loopholes and culture and practice that allowed it to happen may still exist.”

Tracey Storey, of law firm Irwin Mitchell, which is representing some of Savile’s victims, said: “Today’s report confirms what many have feared for a long time, that Jimmy Savile was given inappropriate access to medical facilities, opportunities to stop him abusing were missed and warning signs were ignored.

“The victims have suffered massively because of Savile’s abuse of power. He went unchallenged for so many years and it appears that his actions were an ‘open secret’.

“But we must remember that most victims of abuse were not abused by celebrities and may still struggle to get their voices heard. The most common complaints are from people abused by others in positions of power such as teachers, doctors, youth workers or religious leaders.”