Janet Smith’s review: victims at broadcaster had to put up with star’s conduct or leave
BBC employees were too afraid to report to managers Sir Jimmy Savile’s predatory sexual behaviour even when they were the victims themselves.
In her conclusions, Smith writes: “Savile was not only a child abuser, he was also a sexual predator of young women, including young woman working for the BBC.”
“She was almost raped by Savile… but, after having discussed the matter with colleagues, decided not to make any complaint” – Dame Janet Smith, review report
Some aspects of BBC culture at the time, she says, “made it difficult for such young women to complain about anything, and about sexual misconduct or harassment in particular.”
In a damning chapter on the BBC’s management culture, Smith tells how a production assistant at the World Service between 1981 and 1984 complained of a sexual assault by a colleague. The personnel department told the assistant that making a complaint would be, says Smith, “not making the right decision”.
“It was dropped, and she was later assaulted again and decided that is was not worth making a complaint.”
Another witness who worked at the BBC for 30 years, mainly in the promotions department, complained of an assault by a male director, says Smith. The personnel department told the witness that the BBC could do nothing because he was freelance.
“If it was difficult in the BBC to make a complaint about another member of staff, it is not hard to imagine how much more difficult it must have been to make a complaint about a member of the ‘talent’ such as Savile.”
“Several people who suffered at Savile’s hands were not prepared to make any complaint. Perhaps the most stark example is [unnamed witness].” She was 19. “She was almost raped by Savile in his caravan, but, after having discussed the matter with colleagues, decided not to make any complaint either to the police or to the BBC.
“She did not want her parents to know what had happened, and she feared that a complaint might damage her career in the BBC.”
A radio studio manager told her supervisor that Savile had touched her breasts. “The response was that the supervisor would have been more surprised if he had not, and that this was not unusual conduct for a disc-jockey.”
“I have concluded that, during the Savile years, the culture in the BBC and the BBC’s management style did not encourage the reporting of complaints or concerns.
“Given the hierarchical structure, the impracticability of complaining to anyone other than a line manager and the weakness of the personnel department, the only option for a victim of inappropriate behaviour during the Savile years was to put up with it or leave. By and large, they chose to stay because, in many respects, the BBC was a wonderful place to work.”
Savile indecently assaulted an underage girl on the set of Top of the Pops in 1969, says Smith. The girl told a member of floor staff, who ejected her from the building.
Savile assaulted a 17-year-old girl on camera on Top of the Pops in 1976. She complained to floor staff. “Her complaint was brushed aside with the explanation that that was ‘just Jimmy fooling about’,” writes Smith.
She concludes: “There is no evidence that anyone in a position of authority at the BBC heard or knew of a complaint or concern about Savile but refused to investigate it.”
BBC culture and its “silo mentality” hindered sharing concerns between departments or sections of the corporation and “vertically with a more senior person”.
“I do not think that the BBC can be criticised for failing to uncover Savile’s sexual deviancy. Nobody in a senior position at the BBC was ever aware of information that could have led to or assisted in the prosecution of Savile.”
“In my judgement, the BBC can be criticised for its failure to examine Savile’s personality critically in the context of his suitability for some of the programmes he was appearing on. In that failure, the BBC was risking its own reputation, but was not significantly increasing the risk of sexual abuse to young people. The BBC was far too reactive about the risks to its reputation.”
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