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Jimmy Savile – the Feeding Frenzy

October 28, 2012

In Britain we watch a feeding frenzy over the alleged paedophile Jimmy Savile, who died last year

For those not familiar with the story, Savile was BBC disc jockey who, over a 40 year career, appears to have successfully avoided attention as a serial paedophile. Under cover of his charitable activities on behalf of hospitals and schools, and at numerous BBC events, he is now accused of having preyed on underage girls, including patients at hospitals where he worked as a volunteer. He had many rich and famous friends. He spent eleven Christmases with Margaret Thatcher.

Today, he is a dead man convicted without trial. His gravestone has been removed. There have been calls to rescind his papal knighthood. Three hundred people have contacted the police to inform them of Savile’s abuse. A witch-hunt in the BBC to find out those responsible for covering up Savile’s crimes. Others who took advantage of the libidinous climate of the 60s and 70s quaking with fear at the possibility of being named and shamed. Rumours of a paedophile ring in Number 10, Downing Street. Even suspicions of necrophilia on Savile’s part.

I say “alleged” not because I have any doubt that the guy was a paedophile both by the standards of the time and those of today. I lived through those times. So did Roman Polanski, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jonathan King. For a period, I was involved with the music business. I saw enough in the 70s to convince me that there are a number of famous people in that business still alive who will be looking back nervously at stuff they did in those days.

But the paradox is that if three people come forward with accusations about Rock Star X, who happens to be still alive, the burden of proof will be far greater in a court of law than it would be if that person was dead. Already, the late Jimmy Savile is condemned as the worst paedophile of our times, on the basis of three hundred complaints to the police, most of which have not yet seen the light of day. Of one thing you can be sure. There will be no barristers lining up to defend Savile’s reputation with writs and extensive investigations designed to discredit the witnesses.

So where will it end? Apologies? Handouts? Compensation? Heads rolling in the BBC and the police? Famous men disgraced? And then what? A political imperative to do something, no doubt. New legislation that fixes what was perceived to be broken forty years ago, and in the process introduces yet another layer of regulation to be used for purposes way beyond the stated intention? Just as the anti-terrorist legislation introduced after the London Tube bombings opened the door for council officials to spy on citizens in the hope of catching them chucking baked bean cans in the wrong wheelie bin?

The Savile scandal will ruin reputations and cost people jobs. There will probably be some form of public inquiry. Among other things, it will ask whether people in high places chose to ignore Savile’s “peccadilloes” because the £40 million he raised for charity was an overriding greater good. As public inquiries often do to justify the fees of the participants, it will probably recommend changes in legislation.

But the way I see it is that the fix is not to create another law, but to enforce the law that exists. In the Middle East we have a word that describes the use of undue influence. It’s called wasta. One man’s wasta is another man’s corruption. In the West, we look sanctimoniously on the application of wasta in the Middle East, China, India – in fact almost everywhere except in the West. And we British look at the goings on in Greece, Italy and other hotbeds of financial crisis, and comfort ourselves in the knowledge that when we find such practices we act to stamp them out.

That a seedy jerk like Jimmy Savile managed to avoid prosecution for forty years should cause us to think again. There’s no point in having laws unless you’re prepared to enforce them.

From → Social, UK

  1. Andrew Morton permalink

    I am reminded of the quotation attributed to Macaulay -“We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.” It’s a mystery to me that while everyone knew that Savile was a deeply suspect character, almost no one was prepared to take the essential step of doing something about him, which is why the whole present fuss seems somewhat ridiculous. No doubt something to do with “wasta” as you say.

  2. Indeed, and many like him, I suspect. S

  3. Paul O'Brien permalink

    A well-measured and well-considered piece – thank you. And to continue Andy’s theme, the geat British failing is letting an obviously wrong situation fester until it merits a fit of morality.

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