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Silence and Compliance: The BBC, Savile and Child Abuse

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It's hard to write an up to date article about the Jimmy Savile case as there are new twists every single day. As I type this Freddie Starr and Gary Glitter have been arrested, the Savile estate has been frozen, Jonathan Dimbleby has attacked what he sees as a 'witch hunt', Max Clifford has been approached by a number of worried celebrities and Newsnight has been forced not to broadcast the name of a senior political figure in connection with allegations of child abuse. By the time this has been published there will almost certainly have been more developments and possibly more arrests.

Regarding the allegations against the former politician, the BBC was threatened with legal action before the broadcast so the name had to be dropped. The feature was actually very powerful, and the film-makers deserve credit for their work, but the cautious approach of the producers means that when the name does come out they may look weak for not releasing it. The seeds for speculation were sewn a few hours before the broadcast by a Tweet from Iain Overton of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism who indicated that Newsnight was on the verge of naming a prominent political figure in relation to the North Wales children's homes inquiries of the 1990s.

The events that took place in the North Wales children's homes were despicable, and if the allegations are true then there is still at least one prolific abuser who is evading justice. The witness reports from the inquiries are sickening and paint a picture of an organised ring of carers, social workers and powerful people systematically exploiting, abusing and humiliating some of the most vulnerable. There were hundreds of children affected by what happened, but the perpetrators of these crimes were protected for years by an all too common wall of silence.

One of the main reasons why such terrible crimes often go unpunished is because all too often when victims are brave enough to speak up they're ignored, and those who can help often choose not to. During the ITV documentry we saw a range of former BBC officials admitting that they had an idea of what was going on, and yet they opted to do nothing. Wilfred De'Ath, a former radio producer, said that he once had a conversation with Savile while he was in bed with a 12 year old girl, but he didn't report it as he found it 'demeaning' to have to speak to her. On Question Time and This Morning Janet Street Porter acknowledged that she had her suspicions but didn't do anything about them because she was too junior, but that reasoning should have stopped applying when she became the editor of a national newspaper. Now that Savile is dead there is no shortage of people who are happy to talk about what they knew, but not one of them is doing a shred of the social worth that they would have if they had come forward while he was still alive.

If the high profile political figure from Newsnight is arrested then it won't go any way towards erasing the crimes that have taken place, but it will be deserved, and may hopefully provide some form of comfort or closure for those who have suffered. Tom Watson MP, who raised the question in parliament, has suggested that there are more names in the Westminster bubble that are still to come out, in which case we may be looking at a full-blown political crisis by the end of it. Unfortunately many of us expect politicians to lie, deceive and take part in cover-ups from time to time, but not over something like this.

Some people have expressed their discomfort at the nature of what can feel like a tabloid driven free-for-all campaign against Savile, the BBC, and anyone who was famous at the time, and I have some reservations about aspects of it too. However, if the end result is that more abusers, past and present, are punished for their crimes then it will be worth it. Sadly there are individuals across the country who have committed equally appalling acts, individuals who rely on the same collusion but will likely never be exposed. Hopefully this case will help to change people's attitudes, and if the authorities can send out the message that no-one is untouchable in the eyes of the law then the victims may get a step closer to the justice that they deserve.