Savile abuse claims 'were not taken seriously enough'

 

A chance to convict Jimmy Savile for sex offences against three victims when he was alive was missed because police and prosecutors did not take claims seriously enough, a report has found.

Details of a review of the decision not to prosecute Savile in 2009 by Alison Levitt QC, legal adviser to the director of public prosecutions (DPP), were disclosed today.

She found that "had the police and prosecutors taken a different approach" prosecutions could have been possible in relation to three victims.

Ms Levitt said that there was nothing to suggest the victims had colluded in their stories, or that they were unreliable.

Police and prosecutors treated their claims "with a degree of caution which was neither justified nor required", she said.

Surrey Police received an allegation in May 2007 that Savile had sexually assaulted a teenage girl at Duncroft Children's Home in the late 1970s.

In the investigation that followed, two more allegations emerged - the first that in about 1973 Jimmy Savile had sexually assaulted a girl aged about 14 outside Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

The second was that in the 1970s Jimmy Savile had suggested to a girl aged about 17, again at Duncroft, that she perform oral sex on him.

In March 2008, Sussex Police received a complaint that Savile had sexually assaulted a woman in her early twenties in a caravan in Sussex in about 1970.

Surrey Police consulted with the CPS about all four allegations, and in October 2009 it was decided that no prosecution could be brought because the alleged victims would not support police action.

Ms Levitt found that Surrey Police did not tell each alleged victim that other complaints had been made, Sussex told the complainant that corroboration was needed and the prosecutor did not question why victims would not support court action or seek to build a case.

The victims told Ms Levitt that if they had known that other people were making complaints, they probably would have been prepared to give evidence in court.

Surrey Police assistant chief constable Jerry Kirkby said: "It is important the actions taken by the investigation team are viewed in context. This should take into account what information was known about Jimmy Savile in 2007 and the necessary consideration given by police to the impact of their actions on securing successful court action against him.

"At the time, there was nothing to suggest the level of offending now being reported on a national scale. In July 2007, Surrey Police used national systems to conduct intelligence checks with every other police force in England and Wales. These checks found no record of any police intelligence or prior allegations relating to Jimmy Savile."

DPP Keir Starmer said he wanted the case to be "a watershed moment".

"In my view, these cases do not simply reflect errors of judgment by individual officers or prosecutors on the facts before them," he said. "If that were the case, they would, in many respects, be easier to deal with. These were errors of judgment by experienced and committed police officers and a prosecuting lawyer acting in good faith and attempting to apply the correct principles. That makes the findings of Ms Levitt's report more profound and calls for a more robust response."

He drew parallels with a damning report on the investigation of a grooming gang in Rochdale.

Mr Starmer said police and prosecutors have approached sex offence allegations "with a degree of caution which is not generally justified".

He said guidance will be drawn up on prosecuting child sexual exploitation cases to underline that "the credibility of the complainant's account has to be seen in its proper context".

An agreement has been drawn up with the Association of Chief Police Officers that:

:: The approach of police and prosecutors to credibility in sexual assault cases must change, with testing the suspect's account and actively building cases being treated as importantly as testing the alleged victim's story.

:: More support should be given to those who make allegations, and the number of times vulnerable victims can be cross-examined in court will be reconsidered.

:: Victims who have made allegations in the past that they feel have not been properly dealt with will have the chance to ask for their cases to be looked at again by joint police and CPSpanels.

Mr Starmer also said that information on cases where a complaint has been made but a prosecution cannot be brought will be shared more fully with police and other relevant agencies.

Deputy Chief Constable Giles York from Sussex Police said: "We welcome the DPP's statement, including the finding that the Sussex Police case was handled by experienced and committed officers, who acted in good faith, seeking to apply the correct principles.

"We also recognise that we could have done better and are committed to honest reflection and learning lessons for the future."

The force has held its own internal review into what happened and said the victim remains "positive" about the support she was given.

However in a statement Sussex Police admitted: "We understand the conclusion the DPP has drawn, that our officers may have inadvertently dissuaded the victim from supporting any prosecution. It can be difficult in such circumstances to achieve the balance between supporting and reassuring a victim, whilst providing honest advice about the prosecution process and standard of evidence needed."

PA

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