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UK police knew of Savile abuse from early 1960s, inquiry finds

Findings raise new questions about the conduct of police in the Savile case as well as how abuse cases are handled today. Omar Karmi reports from London

LONDON // Police knew of allegations of abuse against Jimmy Savile as far back as the early 1960s when British law enforcement might have put an early end to what became five decades of sexual abuse of young people by the disgraced former BBC presenter.

The conclusion was reached in an official inquiry into 50 years of Savile abuse allegations.

Released on Monday, the findings by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, HMIC, the government watchdog that regulates police forces in England and Wales, raise new questions about the conduct of police in the Savile case as well as how abuse cases are handled to this day.

The review, found only a spotty paper trail of allegations made against Savile.

Savile's name was first mentioned in police records in 1964 with a ledger entry in the paedophile unit of London's Metropolitan Police Service, MPS.

The next, however, appears in 1998, in the form of an anonymous letter alleging abuse, also with the MPS.

In all, the 61-page review of the allegations against Savile - entitled Mistakes Were Made - found just seven files, of which five were abuse complaints. Hundreds of allegations came to light after his death.

Even so, HMIC said there was enough evidence to "join the dots and spot patterns". A lack of information sharing among Britain's police forces and a general mishandling of evidence, however, meant the necessary conclusions were not drawn.

"The findings in this report are of deep concern and clearly there were mistakes in how the police handled the allegations against Savile during his lifetime," said Drusilla Sharpling, an HMIC official, in a statement released on Monday.

The children's entertainer died in 2011. It was only after his death that five victims came forward in a TV documentary precipitating a flood of subsequent allegations - more than 600 to date.

That just four per cent of Savile's victims actually came forward to report abuse when it happened is a cause for "wider concern", the report concluded, and "an equally profound problem" as police mishandling of evidence, said Ms Sharpling.

Sexual abuse crimes are generally underreported. In the UK, just 15 per cent of victims say they report abuse to the police when it happens. That is significantly less did so in the case of Savile, however, might in some cases have to do with how police handled such complaints.

HMIC unearthed eight instances of victims who said they tried to report their complaints at the time but were dismissed or ignored.

The report revealed details of two attempt to file complaints against Savile.

In 1963, a male victim reported an allegation of rape to a local police officer in the Manchester area in north-west England but was told to "forget about it". In the second, a man tried to report an assault on his girlfriend at a London recording of the BBC's Top of the Pops show, which Savile hosted for many years. He was told he "could be arrested for making such allegations" and ushered away.

HMIC said its findings raised "wider issues" about whether national guidelines on child abuse and sexual abuse cases are given "full effect" in all forces even now, thus encouraging victims of abuse to come forward.

The watchdog offered five recommendations based on their findings, including finding ways to improve the reporting rate of sexual abuse, systematic checks to ensure that procedures are carried out and policies abided by all agencies involved in child sex abuse cases, as well as guidelines for how to investigate allegations of abuse after a perpetrator's death.

okarmi@thenational.ae