Janet Smith’s review: PM pressed to make him ‘Sir Jimmy’ despite his ‘confessions’
“It is interesting that the prime minister, apparently aware of the nature of Savile’s confessions, thought that it was appropriate that he should be honoured”
– Dame Janet Smith, review report
Dame Janet Smith takes a swipe at Lady Thatcher for persisting as prime minister in recommending a knighthood for Jimmy Savile despite long-running objections.
In the draft report of Smith’s “review” of the late Savile’s sexual attacks at the BBC, which has been leaked to Exaro, the retired judge recounts how the honours committee initially advised against it because of “lurid details” about him revealed in an interview that he gave to The Sun in 1983.
The honours committee was worried about the three damning articles in The Sun even if senior management at the BBC were oblivious to them.
Drawing on documents disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Smith says that Thatcher, who died in 2013, proposed Savile for a knighthood in the early 1980’s. Thatcher cited his charitable work, in particular his fund-raising for Stoke Mandeville hospital.
Smith writes: “The honours committee recommended that his knighthood should be delayed until completion of the Stoke Mandeville project, expected in 1983. Then, in April 1983, came The Sun articles.”
When considering the New Year’s honours list for 1984, the honours committee’s minutes record that it “did not feel that sufficient time had elapsed since Mr Savile’s unfortunate revelations in the popular Press in April of this year. He is much in the public eye and it is unlikely that the lurid details of his story will have been forgotten.”
Smith says: “I find it surprising that the committee was apparently willing to recommend Savile when the ‘lurid details’ would have been forgotten. If his lifestyle made him unsuitable for a knighthood, I cannot see how the lapse of public memory would make him any more acceptable.
“The prime minister ‘regretfully’ decided to defer recommendation. However, she suggested that Savile be considered for the birthday honours list of June 1984.”
The honours committee advised against it again.
Sir Robert, now Lord, Armstrong, then cabinet secretary, endorsed its view.
Smith continues: “The prime minister did not give up. In October 1984, she once again raised Savile’s name for consideration. She expressed the view that the Press reports of some time ago had by now been generally forgotten and that it would now be appropriate to recognise his work for Stoke Mandeville.
“Again the committee objected, and the prime minister reluctantly accepted that advice.”
Her office raised it against in April 1986.
“In November 1986, the prime minister was ‘most disappointed’ that Savile was not recommended for the New Year’s list of 1987.”
She pressed again, but “was again met with refusal.”
“The gist of the decision to refuse was that Savile was a strange and complex man, who deserved praise for his good works. But he had made no attempt to deny the accounts of his earlier life published in the Press in 1983.”
Sir Robin, now Lord, Butler, Armstrong’s successor, and the honours committee again advised against in April 1988.
Smith notes that the FOIA papers do not show why Savile received a knighthood in 1990.
She says: “Members of the honours committee were plainly of the view that Savile’s self-confessed way of life ruled him out of consideration for some time, although not permanently. It is interesting that the prime minister, apparently aware of the nature of Savile’s confessions, thought that it was appropriate that he should be honoured, regardless of those revelations.
“If the prime minister and members of the honours committee did not think that Savile’s promiscuous lifestyle put him beyond the pale, it tells us a great deal about the indulgent attitudes towards celebrity of that time. I do not think that it means that people held similarly indulgent attitudes towards people in other walks of life.
“I should add that when Savile received his knighthood in 1990, the news was received with general approbation.”
In this fourth package of pieces, Exaro today reveals how Smith’s draft report also condemns society’s attitudes for helping to allow Savile to abuse freely. We also publish the extracts from the chapter in Smith report’s on society’s attitudes and sexual mores.
In a further package of pieces today, Exaro’s disclosures from the report shows that the BBC has known of Smith’s devastating criticisms for over a year.
Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread