Starr groped girl, 15, judge rules
Comedian Freddie Starr groped and humiliated a 15-year-old girl at a Jimmy Savile TV show 41 years ago, the High Court has ruled.
Mr Justice Nicol, who dismissed the 72-year-old comedian's claims for slander and libel today, said that Karin Ward had proved the truth of her allegations.
Starr, who now faces a costs bill unofficially estimated at about £1 million, said that he did not at first remember appearing on Clunk Click in March 1974, until footage showed him in the studio, with the teenager in the audience behind him.
He insisted it was not in his "moral compass" to have groped her and called her a "t**less wonder".
Faithfully married to the second of his four wives at the time, he had never groped anyone in his life and it was untrue he had "wandering hands".
Starr sued over interviews given to the BBC and ITV in October 2012 and statements on a website and in an eBook - and claimed he has lost £300,000 because of shows cancelled as a result of the allegations.
Ms Ward, 57, who relied on the defences of justification and public interest, told the court that she was sexually abused by her stepfather from the age of four and Starr's "extremely unpleasant" smell reminded her of him.
The mother of seven, a pupil at Duncroft Approved School at the time, said she had performed a sexual act on Savile more than once in return for going to BBC Television Centre in London for his Clunk Click show.
She was given lithium at the school, which had affected her memory, but "very vividly" remembered that Starr stank of alcohol and cologne.
Starr, who attended last month's trial in London in a wheelchair but was not in court for the ruling, said in evidence that he did not drink, and never had done.
Questioned about sexual attitudes in the 70s, he said he was not a bottom pincher but would lightly slap a young woman's bottom: "It wasn't anything sexual. It didn't mean anything. It just meant she had a lovely bum.
"I'm sorry about the 70s. That's the way it was. If someone reacted adversely, I would apologise immediately."
He said that Ms Ward and the other two women who made allegations about him that night had stayed in touch over 40 years: "They all went to the same school, wore the same school tie and they are all telling lies, and that's the truth of the matter. This whole thing is ridiculous."
The police undertook a full investigation into the allegation made by Ms Ward and a further 13 additional complainants who put forward allegations, and the Crown Prosecution Service decided that no charges would be brought, he added.
Ms Ward said she did not think that any of the girls at the school realised they were being abused: "We just used to refer to Jimmy Savile as a dirty old man and we would giggle about it."
Challenged by Starr's counsel that the comedian had not touched her, Ward said: "Oh he did - but he behaved in the same way that every red-blooded male behaved in 1974 when it was perfectly acceptable. That wasn't what I objected to.
"I didn't like the way he smelt, reminiscent of my stepfather, and I would have preferred him to stay away from me but I wasn't really bothered.
"It wasn't a bottom pinch or a slap. It was known back then as a 'goose', when a man would put his hand under a girl's buttocks and give it a squeeze and usually say 'goose' and, at the same time, reach for her breasts and say 'honk, honk'. That was supposed to be funny.
"He got as far as the 'goose' and I recoiled because, while I expected that kind of behaviour from all men and was used to it, I was distressed because the smell reminded me of my stepfather.
"I have never complained about it because it was acceptable at the time. The only thing I complained about was that he called me a 't**less wonder' in a room full of people."
She added: "He didn't touch my breasts. He didn't get a chance. I didn't have any breasts anyway. He would have done if I hadn't gone mental. I freaked out and made a complete fool of myself.
"He called me a 't**less wonder'. I carried that phrase with me all my life and it certainly helped to wreck three marriages."
Ms Ward said that she was not calling Starr a paedophile - and never had done.
"He behaved in exactly the same way that would be expected of any red-blooded man in 1974, anyone surrounded by pretty girls all clamouring around him.
"He didn't do anything wrong. I am not objecting to the fact that he goosed me. That is fine. I couldn't number the amount of men who have done that to me."
Ms Ward said she had no idea that what she had written about her life was going to be spread all over the globe.
"Had I ever, ever anticipated that anything like this might possibly happen - I am very very naive, I am very silly, I am a complete technophobe."
When she was contacted by the BBC in 2011 for a Newsnight interview about Savile, she was reluctant as she was having treatment for advanced bowel cancer.
She felt pressured to do the interview - in which she included the words complained of by Starr but did not identify him by name - but was convinced that the BBC would never air it and, as she felt she would not survive, did not think she was exposing herself to a great risk.
When the Newsnight programme did not go ahead, she had no control over the use the BBC made of the interview and never imagined that other programme makers would take the footage.
She said that when she spoke about Starr for the ITV interview about Savile to a journalist, who said he was building up a dossier, she did not know or intend that her words would be broadcast.
Dismissing the case, the judge said: "She (Ward) has proved that it was true that he groped her - an under-age schoolgirl - and humiliated her by calling her a 't**less wonder'.
"His behaviour and smell also frightened her because it reminded her of her stepfather who had sexually abused her as a child. Because her words were true, this claim fails."
The judge said that, in truth, Starr had no recollection of what actually happened on that evening.
An extract from one of his performances, in which two women were called on stage, showed that he felt free to raise a laugh at another person's embarrassment about her body.
And, despite Starr's evidence that he kept away from women younger than 22 or 23, the independent evidence of two other 15-year-olds about his behaviour at the Clunk Click show, contradicted that and supported Ms Ward's account that his interest in women included girls of her age.
Afterwards, Ms Ward, said she was "relieved" at the decision.
"For anyone who hasn't yet dared to come forward, I say: do not take this case as a reason not to do so. Stand tall, it wasn't your fault, and you have a right to be heard without fear or threat of not being believed.
"You may have had no voice and no choice when you were younger, but now you do. Don't give in to bullies."