‘We let Savile victims down badly’, health secretary says

Apology made on behalf of government and NHS after investigations into abuse released

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt speaks in the House of Commons, London, where he apologised on behalf of the government and the NHS for letting down the victims of Jimmy Savile. Photograph: PA Wire

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt speaks in the House of Commons, London, where he apologised on behalf of the government and the NHS for letting down the victims of Jimmy Savile. Photograph: PA Wire


British health secretary Jeremy Hunt has apologised on behalf of the government and the National Health Service for letting down the victims of Jimmy Savile.

He was speaking after a series of investigations found the disgraced presenter subjected patients in hospitals across Britain to “sickening” sexual abuse.

Making a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Hunt said: “Today I want to apologise on behalf of the Government and the NHS to all the victims who were abused by Savile in NHS-run institutions.

“We let them down badly and however long ago it may have been, many of them are still reliving the pain they went through.

“If we cannot undo the past, I hope that honesty and transparency about what happened can at least alleviate some of the suffering, it’s the least we owe them.”

Mr Hunt said Savile repeatedly exploited the “trust of a nation” for his own “vile purposes” and that victims who spoke up were not believed. He stressed it was important to recognise the “profoundly uncomfortable truth” of what the victims went through. Mr Hunt told the Commons: “I know this House, indeed the whole country, will share a deep sense of revulsion at what they (the investigations) revealed.

“A litany of disturbing accounts of rape and sexual abuse committed by Savile on vulnerable children and adults over a period of decades.

“At the time the victims who spoke up were not believed and it’s important today that we all publicly recognise the truth of what they have said.

“But it is a profoundly uncomfortable truth.

“As a nation at that time we held Savile in our affection as a somewhat eccentric national treasure with a strong commitment to charitable causes.

“Today’s report (says) that in reality he was a sickening and prolific sexual abuser who repeatedly exploited the trust of a nation for his own vile purposes.” His description of Savile as previously being held in the nation’s affection as a “somewhat eccentric national treasure” were met with shouts of “no he wasn’t” from some on the Labour benches.

There was also reaction from victims and child protection organisations.

The Victim Support charity said Savile’s victims also include parents, friends and health professional traumatised by guilt about exposing children to a serial abuser in what should have been the safest of environments.

Victim Support said it has been helping Savile’s direct victims but also those closest to them, who are often troubled by the thought that they were duped by the broadcaster’s celebrity status.

“There are other people, friends and family members who are victims in this as well and are going through a number of feelings,” said Lesley McLean, the charity’s divisional manager for West Yorkshire.

“For example, if they introduced their child, who’s in hospital, vulnerable, to Jimmy Savile thinking that this might be a nice treat for them while they’re in hospital.

“Then the guilt those people have experienced about putting their children through that is huge.”

Mrs McLean said: “I think we do need to recognise that there’s a lot of people out there that have some form of guilt about what they may see as contributing towards that abuse in some way, and that is absolutely not the case. This was a very manipulative man who knew exactly what he was doing and took advantage of his celebrity status and his standing certainly within the local community within Leeds to groom and abuse these young people.”

The NSPCC said reports detailing how Jimmy Savile sexually abused patients in hospitals across the country for more than four decades show that hospital staff “didn’t want to hear or believe” what his young victims were saying.

Peter Watt, national services director at the NSPCC, said: “To hear that some hospital staff may have actively facilitated Savile’s abuse of children is sickening and takes the scandal of his crimes to yet another abhorrent level.

“Savile was a manipulative, arrogant and controlling sexual predator who exerted an incredible level of influence and power within these hospitals.

“But it’s clear from these chilling reports that a culture of turning a blind eye to Savile’s abuse of children was almost endemic among some staff at Leeds General Infirmary and Broadmoor hospital.

“When victims spoke up or staff raised concerns they were dismissed out of hand, allowing Savile to operate in a perverse personal fiefdom within these institutions. It’s hard to believe senior staff could be so blind to what was happening at ward level. And we need to question further how much senior staff actually knew and why they allowed a culture where abuse was ignored to exist.

“Savile escaped justice because people didn’t want to hear or believe what children were saying. Ministers now need to be satisfied that this could never happen again and that children and vulnerable adults in hospitals or any government facility are safe today.

Tracey Storey, of law firm Irwin Mitchell which is representing some of Savile’s victims, said: “Today’s report confirms what many have feared for a long time, that Jimmy Savile was given inappropriate access to medical facilities, opportunities to stop him abusing were missed and warning signs were ignored.

“The victims have suffered massively because of Savile’s abuse of power. He went unchallenged for so many years and it appears that his actions were an ‘open secret’.

“But we must remember that most victims of abuse were not abused by celebrities and may still struggle to get their voices heard. The most common complaints are from people abused by others in positions of power such as teachers, doctors, youth workers or religious leaders.”