The emerging story about Jimmy Savile really is quite remarkable in a horrible way:
The confidential file, compiled from 2007 to 2009, contained witness statements and “significant and solid evidence,” according to a former senior officer with the Surrey Police, a force outside London that conducted a two-year investigation into Mr. Savile. Recently, amid allegations by hundreds of women and at least two men that Mr. Savile used his fame and influence as a shield to abuse them as children, Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement that the case was dropped because a crucial witness declined to testify and because there was “insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.”
But at the Surrey Police headquarters, the former senior officer said, those who investigated the case felt that prosecutors were hesitant to confront a man who had spent decades building a cult of celebrity in Britain that few could match. Mr. Savile’s popularity and power rested on his blend of flashy showmanship on top-rated prime-time BBC programs, working-class chumminess and charitable endeavors that attracted powerful friends and patrons in royal palaces, Parliament and the highest ranks of the police.
“Really, it came down to this: do we really want to take on this man, Saint Jimmy, who does all of this fund-raising and knows all of these people?” the officer said.
I was going to call this the British Sandusky, but it seems to be even worse. I don’t think Sandusky all but confessed in his (however inappropriately-in-retrospect titled) biography:
Mr. Savile’s autobiography, “As It Happens,” published in 1974, when Mr. Savile was 48, did not seek to hide his appetites. Years before he became a famous television host, Mr. Savile recounted, a police officer asked him to look out for a young girl who had run away from a home for juvenile offenders.
Mr. Savile told the officer that if she went to the nightclub in the north of England that he ran at the time he would hand her over to the authorities, “but I’ll keep her all night first as my reward.” The girl did go to his nightclub and did spend the night with Mr. Savile, he wrote. A police officer was alarmed, but he said he dissuaded her from bringing charges against him.
The last page of Mr. Savile’s autobiography described an episode in which five young girls stayed at his home. Around 11 a.m., their mothers came looking for them, but, Mr. Savile wrote, he had left the house and a male friend had hidden in the closet. “To date,” he wrote, “we have not been found out. Which, after all, is the 11th Commandment, is it not?”
He died on Oct. 29, 2011, without ever facing a single charge in court.
This is precisely what makes Roman Polanski apologism — whether it’s documentaries that lie by omission and evasion about what he did, people who describe his victim as a “sex scandal teen,” the countries that shielded him, or people who see people who may face appropriate legal sanctions for raping children as the Real Victims, it’s all part of the kind of unholy mix of rape culture and celebrity culture that can allow serial rapists who don’t even make any particular effort to hide their ongoing assaults to die in wealth and comfort.
A final point — this case also does little to dissuade me that the primary effect of British libel laws is to shield the powerful from scrutiny:
Mr. Savile’s connections and fame made pursuing sometimes hazy allegations against him unpalatable, others familiar with those investigations said. Newspapers, afraid of Britain’s strict libel laws, decided not to publish their suspicions, although several had conducted their own investigations over the years.
NY Times v. Sullivan was right.