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Lewis Whyld/PA/The Associated Press file photo 2008
The Philanthropist Paedophile
The "prodigious philanthropist" was found to be a sexual predator who had preyed upon many of the sick children he so publicly hugged and laughed with in front of the cameras

When he died in 2011, hundreds of fans gathered in Leeds city centre to pay their respects as the gold coloured coffin of Sir Jimmy Savile, the centrepiece of a typically garish celebration of the flamboyant and eccentric presenter's life, trundled past.

The funeral cortege drove past the BBC TV and radio star’s childhood home and Leeds General Infirmary, where he had committed so much of his time helping sick children. It was the final show in the life of one of Britain's great showman of the past half century. But as with so many showman, they always want one last turn in the spotlight.

One year later film crews gathered at the presenter's grave in Scarborough, Yorkshire; not to film anniversary reports or discuss the state of the flowers at his final resting place, but because Savile's own family said the tombstone would be smashed into pieces.

Within 12 months, the reputation of the man described straight after his death as “one of broadcasting's most unique and colourful characters” by the British culture secretary, was a national disgrace and lightning rod for accusations of predatory sexual behaviour among celebrities in the 1970s and 80s.

What caused such dramatic change of reputation?

Savile, it seems, was a paedophile and sexual predator who had preyed upon many of the sick children he so publicly hugged and laughed with in front of the cameras. Rumours had circulated in British police stations and Fleet Street for years, most agreed that there was something odd about the television star, but under the weight of his immense popularity and the sheer volume of money he raised for charity-- no one knows exactly but estimates run between £40m - £60m, a staggering amount for any one person -- they were put down to envy, muckraking or plain old inaccuracy.

The turning point came when it transpired that the investigative BBC programme Newsnight had actually been planning an expose on Savile’s activities but the star’s death meant the show was shelved. Newsnight said it was for editorial reasons, but when the details emerged on a rival channel a year later, everyone immediately suspected a cover up by the state broadcaster. Allegations that would eventually dwarf that specific programme and be levelled at the BBC for covering up Savile’s sexual mores over a 40-year period.

Within days of the ITV expose on Savile, police were investigating 120 claims of sexual assault by Savile. Within weeks it had grown to nearly 400. Most complaints came from people who had been children when they had encountered Savile-- many of them residing in care homes or hospitals that the star had visited. Many said they had complained at the time, back in the 60s or 70s, but were told by teachers, police officers, even their own parents, to not invent tales and how dare they say something about about that nice man who does so much good work for charity.

Under a public clamour to get to the bottom of the affair, the Metropolitan police initiated Operation Yewtree to look into sexual abuse by Savile, and any of his circle. A series of high profile arrests followed in the next few months: most high-profile BBC presenters from the 70s and 80s, who were favourites among children. Some have still not come to trial a year later, but that Savile himself was a manipulative and vindictive paedophile has been left in little doubt.

The sheer numbers of people coming forward prompted Commander Peter Spindler of the Met to call the case “staggering". It became a sick joke-- how on earth did Savile find any time to run marathons and do any TV presenting when his schedule was seemingly filled with appointments to abuse children?

The investigation goes on into others but the British public feel repulsed at having been taken in by such a depraved individual for so long. And if his antics are anything to go by, his fall from favour will see him not so much turning in his grave as spinning in twisted delight.

This piece appears as a web-special.

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