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Thursday, April 30, 2015 

A return to Savile row.

All but buried by election coverage and the news from Nepal, yesterday saw the publication of the long-awaited report (PDF) into the allegations of sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile at the Duncroft approved school.  As you probably won't remember, Duncroft was where it all began: it was the investigation by Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean into Savile's visits to Duncroft for Newsnight, a report that editor Peter Rippon spiked for lack of evidence, that eventually led to ITV's Exposure documentary helmed by Mark William-Thomas.  Everything that has followed since, Operation Yewtree, the claims about Bryn Estyn, the Elm Guest House, Dolphin Square etc essentially began with Duncroft.

It might then surprise you that the report detailing Operation Outreach's investigation amounts to a whole 17 pages; some of the reports into a single allegation of abuse by Savile have been longer.  It might equally surprise you the report confirms that Savile did not start visiting Duncroft until 1974, a mere 9 years after one of the women claiming to have been abused by Savile said she was attacked.  Indeed, the report in effect makes clear that the vast majority if not all of the allegations against Savile that would have been featured in Newsnight's pitched investigation are unsubstantiated.

The report does however set out the allegations made about Savile after 1974, up until 1979 when he stopped visiting.  Except these are not allegations; per the report from the NSPCC and the Metropolitan police, Giving Victims a Voice, Surrey police have not so much investigated the accounts given to them but accepted the information provided in interviews and statements as fact, or rather "not unproven allegations".  This is despite their now accepting that the allegations made to Operation Yewtree about Savile at Duncroft prior to 1974 were, for whatever reason, false.

It also stands in contrast to the account provided to the Anna Raccoon blog by Susan, the girl who effectively introduced Savile to Duncroft.  Susan was 15 at the time, and met Savile while helping her mother at a party just before Christmas 1973.  She maintains that as soon as she informed Savile she was 15, rather than 18 as he believed, as well as how she had taken a small amount of LSD prior to meeting him on her own for the first time, he immediately put a halt to the way their meet-up was progressing.  Anna Raccoon was herself a pupil at Duncroft in 1965, at the same time as Savile was meant to have visited and abused a fellow pupil, and it was her incredulity at the allegations and apparent failure of memory over this celebrity visitor that led her to question so much of what was being presented as fact.

There are further reasons to doubt some of the accounts given about Savile at Duncroft post-1974.  Karin Ward, who while not featured in the Exposure documentary was in the BBC's Panorama on Savile and Newsnight, is being sued by Freddie Starr over the allegations she made about him.  According to Anna Raccoon, Ward made contact with a group of women on Friends Reunited who helped to jog her memory on what went on at Duncroft.  Ward's subsequent online account of abuse, which named one of her attackers as "JS", is likely to have been one of the threads picked up on by Meiron Jones.  Also of note is the forged letter, supposedly from Surrey police, which claimed the investigation into Savile had been dropped because of his "ill health and senility".  This was in the possession of Fiona, featured in the Exposure documentary.  How this letter came into existence is a mystery.  The CPS for its part, as the report itself sets out, decided not to proceed with a prosecution against two of the Duncroft staff some of the victims said they had informed of their abuse.  This was not though as a result of the police or CPS coming to the conclusion anyone had "given a false account of offences" against them.

Jimmy Savile was without question a serial sex abuser.  The real quandary remains over just how prolific he was, and whether there are any lessons to be learned from how he so successfully exploited the power and authority he gained from his position at the BBC and at Stoke Mandeville hospital to name but two institutions where the allegations against him have been substantiated.  Accepting every allegation made as "not unproven", regardless of its veracity, as the various inquiries into Savile have so far done is not the way to go about doing so.  Yesterday's report proves without doubt that for whatever reason, and it is not necessarily because the people in question have lied, not every account of abuse can be accepted at face value.  Some of the girls at Duncroft were without doubt damaged further by their time there, while others like Anna Raccoon say it in fact helped them put their life back together.  Memory plays tricks, and trauma can be such, as we saw with Steve Messham, that mistakes can be made.  

While it is certainly the case that many historic allegations of abuse cannot be proven to the standards required by a court of law when the accused is dead, or in case of Lord Janner, incapacitated, to accept every accusation as essentially true is not just to besmirch the reputation of the dead, it affects their surviving friends and relatives also.  The last few years have demonstrated that victims have at times been ignored or wrongly had their complaints rejected, yet to go wholly in the other direction purely because the person accused can no longer answer for themselves goes too far also.  Whether a balance will be found by the Goddard inquiry remains to be seen.

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