LONDON — The late British TV presenter Jimmy Savile, honored by both the queen and the pope, sexually assaulted hundreds of people, mainly children, at BBC premises and hospitals over six decades of unparalleled abuse, a police-led report said Friday.
Savile, one of Britain’s biggest TV stars in the 1970s and 1980s, abused youngsters at 13 hospitals where he did volunteer work as a porter and fundraiser, and even at a hospice treating terminally ill patients, the report said.
The youngest victim was an 8-year-old boy, and the last of the 214 offenses of which he is suspected took place just two years before his death in 2011 at 84.
“He groomed a nation,” said Commander Peter Spindler, who led the police probe.
A one-time professional wrestler, Savile won fame as a DJ in the 1960s before becoming a regular fixture on TV hosting prime-time pop and children’s shows until the 1990s. He also ran about 200 marathons for charity, raising tens of millions of dollars for hospitals, leading some to give him keys to rooms where victims now allege they were abused.
While many colleagues and viewers thought the cigar-chomping Savile was weird, with his long blond hair, penchant for garish outfits and flashy jewelry, he was considered a “national treasure.” Pope John Paul II made him a papal knight in 1990.
However, Friday’s report said he took advantage of his fame to commit predatory offenses across Britain, including 34 rapes or serious sexual assaults. Of his alleged victims, 73 percent were under 18 and 82 percent were female.
In all, 450 people have given information about him and detectives said more victims were likely to come forward. However, the report, issued jointly by London police and the NSPCC children’s charity, said some would likely never be able to break their silence.
“He hid in plain sight, behind a veil of eccentricity, double-bluffing those who challenged him,” said Peter Watt, of the NSPCC.
Savile’s alleged crimes came to light only when broadcaster ITV aired allegations against him in October. That prompted accusations of a BBC cover-up after it was revealed the public broadcaster had dropped its own expose shortly after Savile’s death but ran tribute shows.
The revelations plunged the BBC into weeks of turmoil, leading its director general to resign just 54 days into his job. A report last month cleared the BBC of any cover-up but said it had missed numerous warnings.