Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Falling Star

To my generation Jimmy Saville was a legend. His wild and wacky ways endeared him to British youth throughout the latter years of the 20th Century. His charity work elevated him to the ranks of almost sainthood in the minds of folk of all ages.  His funeral procession was watched by thousands following a prolonged lying-in-state during which many more had filed past is outlandish coffin. He was a national treasure.

Now, in the space of a couple of weeks, Saville's star has crashed.  Scores of women are coming forward to accuse him of sexual offences against them in the past.  There are allegations of child abuse, indecent assaults and even rape.  Five police forces are investigating his conduct posthumously and today the Head of the BBC described what is alleged to have gone on at BBC Centre in London as a 'cesspit'.

I am amazed that despite being investigated at the time by police in more than one area, he was never actually charged.  Perhaps if he had been, the aura around him would have been dispersed and other victims might have had the courage to speak out.  As it was, the social climate of that day was not prepared to believe the word of young people against that of a star like Saville.  They simply said there was no evidence, when what they meant was that there was only the evidence of the complainant, which today, thankfully, is finally taken seriously.

What can we learn from this?  Well, we cannot take child protection for granted, even in the presence of celebrity.  And the culture of celebrity itself is in the spotlight.  We need to listen to young people and children when they speak to us of abuse, or their conduct gives rise to suspicion in this area. Yes, there have been micarriages of justice in this regard, but the price paid by victims of the actual abuse means that we cannot disregard a cry for help.  And Jimmy Saville?  Well, perhaps he is finding out the actual weight of a millstone right now.  I bet it's a lot heavier than a knighthood ribbon.