Jimmy Savile: Schemes allowing volunteers to work in NHS 'could lead to more abuse cases'

The Savile inquiry warned unless current safeguards to protect children and vulnerable adults are adhered to at all times, similar abuses could be repeated

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Aspects of the Jimmy Savile scandal which enabled the predatory sex offender to abuse hundreds of patients, staff, visitors, volunteers and charity fundraisers at dozens of hospitals could happen again, health officials warned on Thursday.

National schemes that allow more than 70,000 volunteers to work in the NHS remain flawed according to a report into the paedophile broadcaster’s “unfettered access” at Stoke Mandeville Hospital that allowed the BBC DJ to abuse 63 victims aged between eight and 40 years old from 1968 to 1992. Almost half were under-16 and 10 under the age of 12.

The latest inquiry into Savile’s sex crimes warned that unless safeguards now in place to protect children and vulnerable adults are adhered to at all times, elements of Savile’s catalogue of abuse could be repeated. It made 33 recommendations to improve safeguarding and volunteering across Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Stoke Mandeville.

The former BBC DJ was described in the report for the NHS Health and Social Care Advisory Service as “an opportunistic predator” who also planned many of his attacks on vulnerable and seriously ill young patients at Stoke Mandeville.

One girl of 12, “Victim 20”, was sexually assaulted by Savile in the TV lounge after being admitted to have her tonsils out in 1977. The presenter walked the girl to the empty room, asked her if she had a boyfriend and “swiftly raped her”.

The girl was unaware of who Savile was at the time and described him to investigators as a white-haired porter who wore a gold chain and smoked cigars. She complained to staff following the attack but was told not to say anything by the nurse for fear of her, the nurse, getting into trouble. Savile sexually assaulted the girl again later that night.

Victim 20 wrote two notes, one on the torn-out page of a Bible she had found, saying that a porter had hurt her and giving her father’s name, address and telephone number, the report said. She posted the notes in a red post box in the corridor outside of the ward and hoped someone would contact her father. No one did.  

Although Savile’s reputation as a “sex pest” was an open secret among junior staff, complaints were either ignored or not passed on to senior management. Despite carrying out abuse on “a grand scale” 10 complaints – one formal and nine informal, all made contemporaneously with one exception – were made against Savile’s behaviour but none “escalated up”.

Another girl, then aged 11, told a ward sister also in 1977 that she had been sexually abused but was not believed. Her father verbally complained to hospital staff but nothing was ever done and investigators concluded that the man, who died seven years ago, did not take things further due to how seriously ill his daughter was at the time.

Dr Androulla Johnstone, Chief Executive of Health and Social Care Advisory Service, and the Stoke Mandeville report’s independent lead investigator, said if only the formal complaint had been properly acted upon by hospital management reporting it to the police Savile could have been stopped.

The missed opportunity meant the former Top of the Pops presented went on to abuse hundreds more people, ranging in age from five to 75, not just at Stoke Mandeville, but also at Broadmoor, where Savile also worked as a porter, and other hospitals around the country. The scale of his crimes only came to light following his death in 2011.

Dr Johnstone said: “Around one third of [Savile’s] attacks were against patients, just over 90 per cent of the victims were female. The sexual abuse ranged from inappropriate touching to rape. Savile was an opportunistic predator who could also on occasions show a high degree of pre-meditation when planning attacks on his victims.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Savile’s actions had caused “immeasurable and often permanent damage” to his victims.

He said: “Because of his celebrity and useful fund raising skills, the right questions, the hard questions simply were not asked. Suspicions were not acted on and patients and staff were ignored. People were either too dazzled or too intimidated by the nation’s favourite celebrity to confront the evil predator we now know he was.”

The Stoke Mandeville report said many of victims did not speak out for fear of having their treatment compromised. Savile’s offending only stopped when he became embroiled in a bitter legal battle with the new hospital trust’s Board from 1991 onwards when they used QCs to try and dislodge the DJ from his position of influence. It took them until 1999 to “resolve the situation”.

Margaret Thatcher, health ministers and civil servants were also blamed for allowing and encouraging Savile to establish a charitable trust, not realising the extra power and stranglehold it enabled the broadcaster to have over Stoke Mandeville as a result.

Government ministers appointed Savile as chief fundraiser of the new National Spinal Injuries Centre meaning Stoke Mandeville became dependent on Savile’s huge fundraising ability for 20 years and allowed him to attack a new set of victims at charity events.

Senior staff described Savile’s ego and arrogance to investigators. When former Marks & Spencers director John Lusher began making structural changes at the hospital following his arrival in 1992 as Chair of the new NHS Trust in charge of Stoke Mandeville, Savile burst into his office to meet him for the first time and said: “You can get your f***ing tanks off my f***ing lawn, Sunshine. I run this place’”.

Savile was referring to Mr Lusher having parked his car in a place the BBC DJ objected to.

On a rainy day in January 1998 Cherie Blair arrived on her own to open the MRI suite at Stoke Mandeville. After spotting her getting out of a car a tracksuited Savile ran over, picked her up and jogged the Prime Minister’s wife into the building past gobsmacked hospital staff.

Ken Cunningham, then General Manager, said: “I’ll never forgot her face, the shock and horror of being lifted…that was a measure of the man, that’s the sort of thing he would do, and he felt he was free to do.”

Although officials said yesterday/on Wednesday that appropriate safeguards were now in place to prevent abuse from occurring, over the past 40 years Stoke Mandeville had employed three doctors “subsequently convicted of sex crimes against patients”.

Another report published yesterday/on Thursday by former NHS executive Kate Lampard, who carried out an independent review of Savile’s activities, said the fact he could abuse hundreds of victims across 41 NHS hospitals was “scarcely credible”.

She said: “Savile’s ability to pursue his activities without effective challenge was aided by fragmented hospital management arrangements, social attitudes at the time, including reticence in reporting and accepting reports of sexual harassment and abuse, and greater deference than today towards those in positions of influence and power.”

The Lampard Report said society had a “weakness for celebrities” and hospitals must be aware of the risks and follow appropriate guidelines when VIPs or celebrities visit “no matter who they are”.

It said: “While it might be tempting to dismiss the Savile case as wholly exceptional, a unique result of the perfect storm of circumstances, the evidence we have gathered indicates that there are many elements of the Savile story that could be repeated in future. There is always a risk of the abuse, including sexual abuse, of people in hospitals. There will always be people who seek to gain undue influence and power within public institutions including in hospitals.”