Savile’s interview is a textbook example of the ease with which a confident abuser can run rings around his interrogators
The Guardian, Thursday 17 October 2013
When Jimmy Savile was questioned by Surrey police four years ago, he was 83 and had been sexually abusing children and teenagers for more than 50 years. The transcript of the interview, which has just been released, is the nearest we will ever get to hearing his version of events, almost as if Savile is speaking from beyond the grave. Reading the transcript cannot be easy for the DJ’s many victims, who will no doubt recognise the bluff, domineering persona he used to deflect any suggestion of wrongdoing. What is supposed to be an interrogation quickly turns into a performance, in which Savile uses familiar devices – threats, bluster and name-dropping – to dominate the proceedings.
But the interview has a significance that goes way beyond the question of how the authorities failed to detect and apprehend one prolific sex offender. It exposes the ease with which a confident abuser was able to run rings around his interrogators, even as recently as 2009, when the failure of so many investigations into rape and other sexual offences was a matter of public concern. While popular culture is obsessed with serial killers, they are relatively rare outside crime fiction; serial sex offenders are much more common but poorly understood. So is the fact that some of them prepare in advance for the possibility of one or more victims going to the police – what Savile refers to quite blatantly in the interview as his “policy”.
Resisting an allegation of rape or sexual assault requires tremendous self-confidence, but that is often a characteristic of men who are prepared to take the risk of committing dozens or even hundreds of offences. Savile’s vehement denials in the police transcript are reminiscent of those made by the broadcaster Stuart Hall, when he first faced charges of indecent assault. Hall dismissed the accusationsas “pernicious” and “spurious”, but later performed a volte-face and pleaded guilty. He is currently serving a 30-month prison sentence.
The truth about Hall and Savile is that each of them faced allegations by multiple victims, going back years, yet had the nerve to present themselves as the wronged party. On paper Savile was in a difficult position during the 2009 interview, facing child protection officers who wanted to talk to him about three separate historic allegations of sexual assault, allegedly carried out at two different locations. He admitted that he had been the target of similar allegations for years but turned it to his advantage, casting himself as a “victim” of false accusations and blackmail.
Men who abuse children and teenagers are often people in authority, used to getting their own way, and that is exactly how Savile behaves in the interview. At times the investigating officers barely get a word in, seeming more like visitors in awe of a celebrity – the interview was conducted in Savile’s office at Stoke Mandeville hospital – than officers of the law. Most of his boasting goes unchallenged, including some nonsense about taking his accusers to the Old Bailey, a criminal court that no longer hears defamation cases. The ease with which he gets away with it is breathtaking.
Savile’s behaviour speaks volumes about his character, revealing him to be aggressive, bullying and dishonest. He comes across as a fantasist, someone who has constructed a tissue of lies and misrepresentations to deflect the possibility of having to face serious criminal charges. He is open about his contempt for children and teenagers, saying he is not interested in girls under the age of 16, but boasts about his access to them: “No need to chase girls, I’ve thousands of them on Top of the Pops, thousands on Radio 1.”
This kind of boastfulness is not unusual in sex offenders, whose contempt for their victims is often matched by a high degree of self-regard. Admitting that they are rapists would damage their self-esteem, so they cast themselves instead as targets of malicious accusations. Shocking though it is to read, the transcript of Savile’s 2009 interview should be required reading for every detective working on serious sexual offences. It is a textbook example of a serial offender using rape myths to avoid prosecution – and, shockingly, of detectives apparently taking him at face value.