LONDON (Reuters) - British police made numerous mistakes that let the late BBC TV presenter Jimmy Savile get away with unprecedented numbers of sex attacks over six decades, and such failings could be repeated, a report by inspectors said on Tuesday.
Savile was one of Britain’s biggest TV stars in the 1970s and 1980s, but revelations after his death in November 2011 about his activities stunned Britons and destroyed his reputation as an eccentric charity fundraiser.
Police say he took advantage of his fame to commit 214 offenses, including 34 rapes or serious sexual assaults, beginning as long ago as 1955.
Despite the extent of his crimes, the body which carries out independent inspections of police forces said errors by officers meant he was never prosecuted.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said just five official allegations were recorded against Savile along with two pieces of intelligence about him.
The earlier of those dated back to 1964, when an entry was made on an intelligence ledger held by London Metropolitan Police’s pedophile unit.
In the second case, an anonymous letter sent to the Met in 1998 was classified as “sensitive” because of Savile’s celebrity status, meaning other detectives did not have access to it.
Five complaints came forward during the 2000s but officers failed to “join the dots”, and eight other victims said they had tried unsuccessfully to report incidents to police.
One male victim tried to tell police about an alleged rape in 1963 but a police officer told him to “forget about it”.
Another man tried to report an assault on his girlfriend at a recording of the “Top of the Pops” music show which made Savile famous. An officer told him he could be “arrested for making such allegations.”
“The findings in this report are of deep concern, and clearly there were mistakes in how the police handled the allegations made against Savile during his lifetime,” said HM Inspector of Constabulary Drusilla Sharpling.
“However, an equally profound problem is that victims felt unable to come forward and report crimes of sexual abuse,” she added.
The report warned that unless the force rectified mistakes, such as the failure to share intelligence or take complaints seriously, “there is a distinct possibility that such failures could be repeated”.
The Association of Police Chief Officers accepted improvements were needed and said it had commissioned a report into the effectiveness of the Police National Database which was created in 2011 to ensure better sharing of intelligence.
A one-time professional wrestler, the cigar-chomping Savile became famous as a pioneering DJ in the 1960s before becoming a regular fixture on TV, hosting prime-time pop and children’s shows.
He ran about 200 marathons for charity, raising tens of millions of pounds (dollars) for the health service, which led some to give him keys to hospital rooms where victims now allege they were abused. He was knighted by both Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and the late Pope John Paul II.
Police said most of his victims were aged under 18. The last of Savile’s suspected offenses took place just two years before his death, when he was 84.
Editing by Andrew Heavens