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Can tidal wave of rumours drown out truth forever?


Beeb boss: George Entwhistle

Beeb boss: George Entwhistle

Steve Parsons

Beeb boss: George Entwhistle

What lessons can be learned from the Jimmy Savile controversy? Quite a lot, I fear. First of all, the man is dead and can't defend himself.

He was not found guilty in any court and so his reputation is officially intact. In theory, anyway.

Back on planet Earth, the stench grows stronger by the day. Women are waiving their anonymity to document the horror they say was inflicted on them.

There are reports that Gary Glitter and an unnamed TV 'star' abused young girls in Savile's BBC dressing room.

There are reports continually emerging that many, many people knew of rumours about Jimmy Savile and his inappropriate behaviour with underage girls.

Many in the BBC and in the wider showbiz world knew about the rumours, it is alleged.

Certainly, the rumours about Savile were widespread. In the 1980s, a woman who worked at Stoke Mandeville hospital told me he was infamous as a bit of a sex-pest around the nurses.

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According to common currency in the hospital, he would offer bits of his gold jewellery for a good time, it was said. Apparently, he didn't get many offers.

Now, gauche and boorish behaviour with adults is a long way from child abuse. But the story goes to show the ocean of rumour which swirled around Savile.

Perhaps it was that very tidal wave of uncorroborated accusations that meant that BBC bosses didn't listen, or couldn't see a clear path through the swamp.

Or perhaps they didn't want to know that their idol - the Beeb refers to its top presenters as talent, which I find degrading to all other employees - had feet of clay, or worse.

In these iconoclastic days, where pillars of society keep toppling on a regular basis - Church, MPs and Press, to name but a few - we are more open to questioning established value structures.

Certainly, new BBC boss George Entwhistle, who visited Belfast last week, must have been surprised by the speed with which his first controversy greeted him. He hardly had his feet stretched out under his desk when the Savile issue hit him between the eyes.

The question is, was Savile guilty of the crime of paedophilia? Were the rumours, or even actual complaints, swept under the carpet? Is there a Catholic Church-style refusal to admit the truth, or even cover-up, at the BBC?

More recently, was the BBC Newsnight investigation into Savile's activities pulled because of political concerns, or an element of self-censorship?

On a wider level for the media and civil society, were journalists hampered from exposing the concerns about Savile by the UK's tough libel laws?

Time will, hopefully, seek out answers to these questions.