Last week the true horror of the Jimmy Savile story was finally brought into the open when police revealed that the former DJ may have committed 214 sex crimes, including 34 rapes.
But for Miles Goslett, the freelance journalist who was instrumental in breaking the wall of silence over the accusations, allegations of a cover-up at the BBC are just as significant as Savile’s crimes.
Goslett, who aired many of the claims against Savile in a piece for The Oldie eight months before it was widely reported, says that the fact the BBC dropped its Savile report in December 2011 is “at least as interesting as were the claims about Savile abusing children”.
Although Goslett’s piece appeared in February last year, the story did not gain momentum until the ITV documentary “The other side of Jimmy Savile” in October. As the extent of Savile’s alleged crimes snowballed, so have the criticisms of the BBC over its handling of the initial Newsnight report.
Goslett also feels the BBC angle of the story is equally important “for the simple reason that you can’t pursue a dead man”. He says: “Without in any way wishing to sound insensitive, you can’t really do much about that. Obviously what you can do something about is a broadcaster that has been presented with a whole load of claims and hasn’t acted on them.
“The relevant thing here being that it wasn’t just Savile that Newsnight had been told about. It was living people as well and of course I always thought that the BBC had a duty to inform the police about these people and all of it was buried. That seemed strange to me.”
Goslett, who won scoop of the year at the 2009 British Press Awards, pitched his story to seven national newspapers before it was taken up by The Oldie and published on 10 February 2012. He has since publicly blamed the Leveson Inquiry for making editors unnecessarily “cautious”.
Did he doubt the significance of his story at the time, though? “Yes – I did definitely at one point think to myself, am I barking up the wrong tree completely here? Have I misunderstood the significance of this?
“But the more I thought about it I just thought, no, I’m not. I did briefly doubt myself but then I thought, no – I can’t see on any level it is acceptable what the BBC has done here. There was a brief moment – but it didn’t last long.”
That doubt turned to frustration as he struggled to find an outlet to carry the piece. Then, in early January, Goslett was “dismayed” to see a version of the Savile story emerge in the Sunday Mirror – after he had had it for weeks.
“Except it was a very watered-down version of the same story, because they’d missed out the name of the school, they didn’t allude to the ages of these people at all – and the significance was that the victims were underage – and they didn’t have any of the details on BBC premises. They didn’t seem to have much to go on at all.
“Although I was dismayed when I saw their story, I thought, well, hang on, I know a lot more than they do about this story or they would have published it. So that’s why I persisted and carried on with The Oldie piece.”
When Goslett approached The Oldie, editor Richard Ingrams “didn’t bat an eyelid”.
“I thought that, having been around for as long as he had, he might have heard rumours about Savile,” Goslett says.
“He seemed to have potentially some knowledge of rumours about Savile – as a lot of people probably did – and without hesitation he told me to write the piece as soon as I could.”
But it goes without saying that a national newspaper would have been a bigger platform for Goslett’s story.
“Of course I was very disappointed and surprised that none of the newspapers would run it. I still think it’s quite extraordinary when I look back at the level of detail I had that none of these newspapers wanted to touch it,” he says.
“I have suggested that Leveson might have had something to do with it – and I can’t really imagine what else it could have been.”
Although the Oldie piece, which brought a number of facts to light, was followed up by the Telegraph the next day, it still didn’t entice the rest of the British press.
“What seemed utterly bizarre to me was that nobody really went digging after that,” Goslett says.
“Although it had a lot of information in it it’s not like any newspaper said: ‘This is bizarre and the BBC hasn’t really explained itself properly.’ So, again, I think, why did nobody want to be seen to be picking a fight with the BBC at the time? And I can’t answer that question.
“On so many counts the BBC had got questions to answer and normally newspapers love asking questions of the BBC because, let’s face it, it has a massive online presence that eats into the revenues of newspapers and is publicly funded. So newspapers have every reason to scrutinise the BBC.”
The story didn’t feature on the news agenda until October, when Mark Williams-Thomas’ documentary aired on ITV. After that the story continued to dominate the media for much of the autumn and early winter.
“I don’t think anybody realised it was going to generate this level of response,” says Goslett.
“It probably shows that television is hugely powerful because you read The Oldie and the Telegraph and nothing much happens. But then you put together a well-made documentary with women speaking on the record about their experiences and of course that is what encourages people to come forward and say, ‘it happened to me as well’.
“People feel emboldened. They respond when they can see and hear other people talking about it. So I think this demonstrates the huge power of television.”l
What Goslett said in February 2012 Oldie article
The BBC has serious questions to answer. The Newsnight investigation uncovered information of which Surrey Police was not aware, and moreover allegations were made about living people. Surely the BBC had a duty to inform the police about these disclosures?
Yet there is no indication that it has done so, and the BBC has refused to answer questions about this. Furthermore, given that Savile was on the BBC’s payroll for more than 25 years, and along with the other celebrities who are still alive, is alleged to have abused minors on BBC premises, shouldn’t the Corporation have launched an in-house inquiry?
When asked if BBC Director-General Mark Thompson knew of the Newsnight report, the BBC refused to comment. But a source has told me that Thompson was tackled about the axing of the report at a pre-Christmas drinks party, so he cannot claim to be ignorant of it.
The BBC should be aware that the matter is not at an end. Many of Savile’s other victims – and those of other celebrities with whom he mixed in the 1960s and 70s – are preparing to speak out.
Savile scandal timeline
29 October 2011
Jimmy Savile dies aged 83.
BBC Newsnight shelves an investigation into claims Jimmy Savile abused young girls at a care home including on the record quotes from victims.
Miles Goslett is the first journalist to publish extensive allegations about Jimmy Savile, child abuse and the BBC in The Oldie magazine.
17 September 2012
George Entwistle becomes director general of the BBC.
2 October 2012
Ahead of an ITV programme on Jimmy Savile the BBC Newsnight editor Peter Rippon blogs that the Savile story was dropped because “we had not established any institutional failure” on the part of the Crown Prosecution Service.
3 October 2012
ITV airs Exposure, The Other Side of Jimmy Savile in which several women claim the former DJ abused them as teenagers.
22 October 2012
Rippon steps aside.
2 November 2012
The BBC airs a report on Newsnight claiming that a senior political figure from the Thatcher era was a child molestor.
9 November 2012
Lord McAlpine issues a denial after he is identified as the figure referred to in the BBC report and the BBC issues an apology after its source retracts his statement.
10 November 2012
George Entwistle resigns as BBC director general .
11 January 2013
Police on Operation Yewtree reveal extent of the allegations against Savile: 214 offences over 28 police forces including 34 allegations of rape.