LONDON, June 26- Late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile sexually abused vulnerable patients in scores of British hospitals over decades and claimed to have performed sex acts on dead bodies, investigators said on Thursday.
Savile, one of the biggest TV stars in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, abused girls, boys, men and women aged from five to 75 as he enjoyed unrestricted access in many state-run National Health Service (NHS) institutions, they found.
In one case at a hospital in Leeds, northern England, he fondled the breasts of a teenage girl through her hospital gown as she lay on a trolley following a lengthy medical procedure.
Witnesses told investigators that Savile also claimed to have performed sex acts on bodies at the same hospital’s mortuary, and even bragged about having jewellery that he had had made from glass eyes taken from the deceased.
Investigators said although they could not confirm the claims “it is evident his interest in the mortuary was not within accepted boundaries”.
Savile was a hugely popular figure during his career on radio and TV and was knighted in 1990 for his extensive fundraising for charity.
But after his death in 2011 at the age of 84, his dark side was exposed.
A police investigation last year concluded Savile was a prolific paedophile and sex offender who used his celebrity status to attack victims on BBC premises, schools and hospitals.
– ‘We let victims down’ –
After the police report, the health ministry ordered investigations into Savile’s behaviour in 28 NHS hospitals, including the high-security mental health hospital Broadmoor.
The conclusions published on Thursday revealed in detail how Savile took advantage of the extraordinary access his fame and charitable works gave him to prey on patients and staff.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt apologised to victims on behalf of the government for failing to protect them from a man once held up as an “eccentric national treasure” who turned out to be a “sickening and prolific sexual abuser”.
“We let them down badly and however long ago it may have been, many of them are still reliving the pain they went through,” Hunt said in a statement to parliament.
– ‘Just Jimmy’ –
Savile was particularly active at Leeds General Infirmary, one of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe with 15,000 staff and almost 1.5 million patients, where he worked as a hospital radio DJ and as a volunteer porter and fundraiser.
Investigators were contacted by 60 people — half of them patients — who claim they were abused by Savile between 1962 and 2009, when the Leeds born presenter was 82.
The incidents ranged from inappropriate touching to rape and involved victims from children to pensioners, patients and female staff alike, the reports said.
Another investigation into Broadmoor found Savile likely abused six people, while his “often flamboyantly inappropriate” attitude made many women uncomfortable.
However, they did not speak out because they thought it was part of his public persona — “just Jimmy”.
For three decades from 1968, Savile had keys allowing him to roam freely around the mental health hospital, and the report found he watched female patients as they stripped naked for bathing.
Investigators found the institutional culture at Broadmoor prevented people from speaking out, although at the Leeds hospital, a handful of victims did contact staff but the complaints were never passed on to senior managers.
“These reports paint a terrible picture as time and again victims were ignored or if they were not, little or no action was taken,” Hunt told lawmakers.
“The systems in place to protect people were either too weak or were ignored. People and institutions turned a blind eye.”
He insisted changes to the law and system of protection would make it much harder for someone like Savile to operate.
And he said that if there was evidence to prove people had been criminally negligent towards reports against Savile, or behaved inappropriately, action should be taken.