Oct 11, 2022
4 mins read
I haven’t yet watched the Jimmy Savile documentary on Netflix, mostly because I often spend large portions of the working day thinking about the practice and effects of paedophilia, and would rather stick hot needles in my eyes than spend my downtime thinking about it too. My day job is as a freelance researcher and writer for a company who assist adult victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Having said all that, if you’re interested in the subject and have the stomach for it, then I can recommend Savile’s biography, ‘In Plain Sight’ by Dan Davies. Davies had the good journalistic fortune to be writing Savile’s biography when the old ghoul was still alive and rumours of his depravities were just that — rumours which, had you expressed them publicly, he would have sued you for defamation and won, even though you would have been telling the truth.
Anyway, to Davies’s initial disappointment, Savile dropped dead halfway through the writing of the book and what was to have been an encomium on the life of a national treasure turned into something much more interesting and profound: a brutal expose of one of Britain’s most prolific sexual predators and the people who enabled him. Part of the book’s power lies in the author’s prior relationship with Savile, who Davies initially liked despite finding him a bit odd, his access to Savile and then — like the rest of the nation — his fascination and admiration turning to horror as the truth was revealed.
Maybe the documentary covers it too, but Davies — who turns from local journalist with a lucky gig into Bob Woodward almost overnight — reveals the thing that sickens and disturbs me as much, if not more, than the crimes themselves, and that is the complicity and complacency of what you might call ‘the system’. Politicians all the way up the line from simple parish counsellors to Margaret Thatcher herself, were prepared to turn a blind eye because of Savile’s celebrity, the skilful evasions redolent of a true predator and, in Thatcher’s case, Savile’s astonishing fundraising efforts, which filled a critical gap at a time of big government cutbacks in healthcare funding.
The complicity and complacency of what you might call ‘the system’
MI5, who John le Carre once described as ‘omniscient’, and he wasn’t being flippant, were reduced to advising the Prime Minister to, at the very least, not have her photograph taken with Savile. There’s a particularly telling scene where the Yorkshire police, presented with compelling evidence of sexual assault on a victim brave enough to report it, giving her a hostile and sneering grilling in the interview, whilst Savile — the accused — is laughed along with, indulged and immediately believed, where a more detailed interrogation would have quickly revealed that he was lying. They even asked him for his autograph. There are many, many more examples of this kind of either calculating or idle-minded cover ups that run through the book like a dark thread of pure evil.
At the heart of Davies’s book is, for me, the truly sickening reality of child abuse. It is an awful fact of life that we will never be able to stop some people wanting to hurt children. Why they do it is almost beyond explanation, a thing that lies so deep in the psyche and that is so socially taboo that it can probably never be explained, let alone stopped.
This is no conspiracy theory
But there is something we can stop and can take action to make sure it either never happens again or is severely restricted, and that is the tendency of some — many, in fact and often those in power — to cover up, disbelieve or turn away from the most appalling thing that one human being can do to another. And this is no conspiracy theory, but a documented, proven and well-established tendency of people in the know, choosing not to say anything. I have no explanation or mercy in my soul for paedophiles, although I do believe we would all profit from trying to understand their behaviour better. But the people who cover it up or turn a blind eye, should be hunted down, exposed, and hounded to their graves. If anything, ‘In Plain Sight’ has more to say about our society than it does a depraved celebrity, and what it says is more disturbing than anything I’ve ever encountered or thought about in my life. A crime happens in plain sight because it is committed by a skillful practitioner. It happens time and time again, because of the widespread tendency, much more common than we realise, to see it happening and then look the other way and never breathe a word of it again.
Until that tendency is addressed and dealt with as harshly as the crime itself, our children — the most vulnerable and precious people in our society — are at more risk than we can ever dare imagine.
If you’ve been affected by child abuse and need support, in Australia you can call the Voice of a Survivor on 1300 863 509, or visit them here.
If you need someone to talk to right now call Lifeline on 13 11 14
If you’ve been affected in other countries, call any of these numbers, and they will direct you to the right people in your area.
Image of Jimmy Savile, courtesy Radio Times.