Louis Theroux: Savile

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In a sometimes awkward and often uncomfortable documentary, Louis Theroux has sought to revisit his 2001 programme When Louis Met Jimmy, attempting to establish how he, and the rest of society, did not uncover Jimmy Savile’s crimes while he was still alive.

Responding to Louis Theroux: Savile, Peter Garsden – Head of Abuse Law at Simpson Millar – explains how Theroux’s follow-up revealed the chilling psyche of a sexual abuser.

Savile’s Crimes

While there were reports, allegations, and investigations, Jimmy Savile did not face any charges for sexual abuse during his lifetime.

Prompting the establishment of Operation Yewtree, a police investigation into historic sexual abuse, an ITV documentary investigating claims of historic abuse by Savile aired almost a year after his death.

The documentary, titled Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, garnered huge media attention and caused the Metropolitan Police to open an investigation into the allegations.

Due to the popularity of the documentary, and the huge media attention it was receiving, a large number of other abuse survivors came forward and soon the police were handling a level of abuse allegations that were on an “unprecedented scale”, with a “staggering number of victims”.

Giving Victims a Voice, a report into historic sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile, identified 214 alleged offences across 28 police forces with the number of alleged victims totalling 450 – 328 of whom were minors at the time of the attack.

Clarity Of Hindsight

Widely regarded as one of Louis Theroux’s most famous pieces of work, the award-winning When Louis Met Jimmy saw the documentary maker spend 10 days with the eccentric former DJ in the year 2000.

Addressing the allegations of child abuse, Louis asked about the rumours and suggestions that had followed Savile since the 1970s. Savile denied all rumours and the two personalities stayed in touch, forming a friendship which Louis claims was based on the fact that he felt there was a side to Savile that he hadn’t seen.

With the clarity of hindsight, footage from Louis’ original documentary is full of glaring clues to Savile’s crimes; the conceited way he denied allegations, the inappropriate comments, and the various character traits of a bully.

In Louis Theroux: Savile, the documentarian talks to victims of Savile’s crimes, and those who used to work with him, and asks if they had watched his original documentary. Most responded with an assessment that Louis had been duped and fooled by Savile, much like the rest of society at the height of his celebrity.

The fallout from the scandal of Savile’s crimes rocked the BBC, the NHS, and the Crown Prosecution Service, all of whom are alleged to have failed in their duty of care by ignoring allegations and failing to properly investigate allegations of abuse.

It was these failings by organisations that were designed to protect vulnerable members of society that prompted the creation of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

Chilling Persona

Some of the most shocking scenes in Louis Theroux: Savile showed old footage that probably passed as odd or slightly inappropriate at the time but were quite clear signs of a dangerous personality.

There were a number of sequences and comments from Savile himself that were an indication of the truth; Savile admitting to being an “opportunist” around “scantily clad women”; a scene where Savile was unaware he was being filmed and the flamboyant personality dropped to reveal a darker side of his character; and a scene in a restaurant where Savile openly invaded a woman’s personal space and brazenly groped her in front of diners.

Reacting to the self-deprecating documentary by Louis Theroux, Peter said:

“This telling look into Jimmy Savile’s crimes and how he was able to get away with abuse on such a horrifying scale revealed a lot about the psyche of an abuser.”

“With the revealing lens of hindsight, previous actions that may have been described as eccentric or flamboyant appeared brazen and manipulative.”

“He seemed confident that he would never be held accountable for his crimes and used his position and public persona to protect himself against charges.”

“Even his charitable work seems like a ploy for position and power, as he exploited his perception as a caring philanthropist to gain access to vulnerable children who soon became victims of his crimes.”

“This programme underlined the importance of the IICSA, as in 75 minutes of broadcast it became clear that Savile was never likely to face charges for his crimes while he was alive, despite the persistent rumours and allegations.”

“The follow-up documentary also showed why the question of anonymity for alleged abusers is a dangerous subject, as it was only because of the publicity surrounding Savile’s crimes that the sheer scale of his abuse was uncovered. For decades, abuse victims suffered in silence, as they felt like they were on their own or would not be believed if they revealed the truth about Jimmy Savile.”

Written by Peter Garsden

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