Why is there so much momentum behind the Jimmy Saville investigation?

Posted by Malcolm Johnson on

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The answer is that firstly, there is nothing unusual about this phenomenon. It is played over time and time again in child abuse investigations.  

In a recent blog, I referred to a case where I acted for a number of children abused by a disc jockey working for a local authority. The abuser in that case was questioned by the police around 2003 in relation to allegations made by at least three children, but for some reason the case was not taken forward. Later on, someone else (who had no knowledge whatsoever of this investigation) came forward and this time, the police took the step of publicising the allegations in the local newspaper.

The effect was dramatic and in time, about 15 or so people came forward to give evidence against the man. Saville had been questioned about certain allegations in 2007, and it may even turn out that there were earlier police investigations against him. However the Crown Prosecution Service has to balance the likelihood of a successful prosecution against the real possibility that the case may fail in the criminal courts. Clearly in 2007, something made them stop and think.  The second answer is that, during this life, Saville had shown himself well prepared to litigate against anyone who impugned his reputation, and he did so successfully on at least one occasion.

It is often mistakenly thought that newspapers can well afford libel actions, but in reality this kind of claim hits an organisation very hard indeed, particularly in the past when damages were very much larger than they are today. Therefore a newspaper presented with allegations from witnesses would have had weigh up the risk of complainants suddenly retracting their stories, or not being believed. It should be remembered that Saville exerted a very tight grip on publicity. He was after all a man who had devoted much of his life to drumming up news on his various charitable efforts, and he was well able to "front it out".  These allegations should all be investigated, because they involve the question of what public institutions with the care of children (such as the BBC) knew, should have known and crucially should have done not just now but later on, when the weight of the evidence against Saville became overwhelming.

The defence of living under "the culture of the seventies" is nonsense, once one realises that paedophiles were regularly convicted in the criminal courts at that time.  The other reason for a full and thorough investigation is that, according to the media other persons have been alleged to be perpetrators. The matter cannot be left at Jimmy Saville, if there is a case to answer.

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Malcolm is an Senior Associate in our London office, with nearly twenty years' experience.

Malcolm Johnson
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