Savile's behaviour was 'an open secret'

Allegations of girls being procured for sexual assault at the BBC emerge as more than 40 women come forward to tell their stories

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The Independent Online

It was a open, dirty secret, say some. Regardless of who knew, almost nobody actually did – or even said – anything about it. Now the BBC – mired in sordid allegations surrounding Jimmy Savile – faces a crisis that threatens to prove as profound as the Iraq "dodgy dossier" affair.

The corporation has until now denied it knew about any misbehaviour and said it had not received any complaints – from the public or internally – about Savile's behaviour.

But, in less than two weeks since ITV screened a documentary detailing some allegations, more than 40 of the presenter's alleged victims have contacted police to claim that they were molested by the DJ and TV personality. The fallout has destroyed the reputation of the presenter of Jim'll Fix It who raised money for charities by regularly running marathons. It has also embroiled the BBC in claims that Savile's assistants lined up young girls to visit him in his dressing room.

One national newspaper has alleged that a former BBC employee was given the task of "procuring" girls for Savile and others to molest. A woman has claimed she was raped by the procurer on BBC premises. The corporation was already reeling from an accusation that women were assaulted by Savile, the pop singer Gary Glitter and another well- known TV personality at its Television Centre in west London.

As the furore continued, a former Radio 1 DJ shed light on the culture that prevailed at the BBC at the time. Liz Kershaw said she was routinely groped by another presenter as she was broadcasting, adding to the belief that there was a culture of such behaviour at the organisation.

She described the atmosphere at the station as "intimidating" and said that, when she tried to complain, she was asked if she were a lesbian. Ms Kershaw, who now works for Radio 6 Music, said that when she joined Radio 1 in 1987 – the year Savile left the station – his behaviour was an "open secret".

"The rumours were there; the jokes were there. It was an open secret," she told Radio 4's Today programme. "Round Radio 1, everyone joked about Jimmy Savile and young girls. The main jokes were about his adventures on the Radio 1 Roadshow. It was massive then."

She added: "When I walked into Radio 1, it was a culture I have never encountered before. I have always said it was like walking into a rugby club locker room, and it was very intimidating for a young woman."

"There was one presenter who routinely groped me. I would be sitting in the studio with my headphones on, my back to the studio door, live on air, and couldn't hear a thing except what was in my headphones, and then I'd find these wandering hands up my jumper, fondling my breasts," she said.

"I couldn't say anything. I couldn't even explain because I was broadcasting to the nation. When I complained to somebody, they were incredulous and said 'Don't you like it? Are you a lesbian?' "

On Friday, officials from the BBC and senior officers from the Metropolitan Police's Child Abuse Investigations Command met to discuss the claims. This weekend a total of more than 40 women – and one man – are reported to have come forward to make complaints against Savile. A teacher last week became the first male to say he had been molested by the TV legend; he said he was attacked when he was 12. Another woman told how Savile thrust his tongue into her mouth when she was 15.

Perhaps the most shocking allegation under investigation has come from a woman who claims she became pregnant after Jimmy Savile lured her to a hotel room and raped her when she was a 16-year-old virgin. Now 65, the woman says she later aborted the pregnancy.

At least four women say they were molested by Savile at Duncroft in Staines, Surrey, an approved school for girls. Police in Northamptonshire have been contacted by two alleged victims, while it emerged this week that Surrey, Sussex and Jersey police forces have all also received complaints.

Savile, who died last year, was interviewed under caution by Surrey Police in 2007 about sexual assault allegations dating back to the 1970s. However, the force dropped the investigation after the Crown Prosecution Service advised that there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution.

The Metropolitan Police, which is leading an "assessment" into the allegations, said it would have a clearer picture of exactly how many women may have suffered abuse this week after victims have had time "to reflect on what they may have experienced". The NSPCC is seconding expert staff to the police team to provide advice, support and guidance to victims.

On Friday evening, the BBC's director-general, George Entwistle, who was promoted to the job two weeks ago, told staff in an email that he was "appalled by the things I saw in the ITV documentary". He added: "I am determined that the corporation will do absolutely everything it can to help find out what happened."

The director-general stressed that the BBC had not received any complaints about Savile during the time he worked at the corporation.