In the year 897, in one of the maddest moments of the medieval period, the Catholic Church dug up the dead body of Pope Formosus and put it on trial for perjury. It was known as the Cadaver Trial. Now, more than a millennium later, we have another Cadaver Trial, though metaphorical rather than literal, in the shape of the posthumous pummelling of Jimmy Savile.
The weird, yodelling, late light entertainer is likewise being subjected to a post-mortem trial. He's accused of sexually assaulting girls, with everyone from ITV to the scandal-thirsty Twitterati pointing a massive collective finger at this man who cannot defend himself while yelling: "PAEDOPHILE."
The plaque on Savile's former Scarborough home was defaced with the words "paedophile" and "rapist", and security was stepped up at his grave lest any vandals were considering graffiting his gravestone. What madness is this?
The savaging of Savile is spinning out of control. It is starting to smell like some of the crazed witch-hunts of old, from the Salem trials of the 1690s to the more recent hounding of families suspected of being engaged in Satanic ritual abuse. In all those cases, the thrill and kick that came from collectively denouncing the "evil" in our midst overrode any normal need to provide hard evidence and prove a case against said evil people. So it has been with Savile.
In all the metres of commentary that was devoted to branding him a pervert and a sicko in the run-up to this week's ITV documentary Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, no one stopped to say: "Hold on. It has not been proven in a court of law that Savile sexually assaulted or raped girls." And no one has pointed out that it never will be, on account of the fact that Savile is dead, and dead people can't physically be put on trial like they were in 897. So we are dealing in allegations, claims, rumours. In a civilised society, that should never be enough to find someone guilty and have him forever branded a pervert.
The anti-Savile campaign, which has been championed vociferously by commentators on the liberal broadsheets, is really just a more upmarket version of the sort of paedophile-hunting the late News of the World used to go in for. When that paper tried to stir up panic about paedos, giving rise to protests outside suspected child abusers' homes and, notoriously, to the daubing of the word "Paedo" on a paediatrician's front door, the chattering classes went mad. How vulgar of this tabloid to unleash a mob mentality against people who, in some cases, hadn't even been found guilty of committing sex crimes, they said.
Yet now, those chattering classes are doing the same thing with Jimmy Savile, insisting without the benefit of a court case that he's guilty and whipping up such a climate of Savile-hating hysteria that his old home has been daubed with the word "paedophile". Where the News of the World sought to depict certain council estates and poor parts of Britain as being stalked by paedos, the right-on Savile-bashers claim the music and light-entertainment worlds are packed with sexual predators. In both cases, fearmongering elbows aside rational analysis.
If anything, the current Savile row is worse than what the News of the World did - for the simple reason that Savile is dead and therefore cannot defend himself against his accusers. What sort of media and society gets off on seeing a dead man, a voiceless, non-existent, long-buried bloke, having his name dragged through the mud?
Some people have said it is brave of the women who claim to have been assaulted by Savile to come forward and tell their stories. I'm sorry, but it isn't. Making serious accusations against a dead person who is in no position to fight back or plead or prove his innocence, 30 or 40 years after the alleged incidents occurred, is the very opposite of brave - it's cowardly.