The UK Celebrity Witch-Hunt

The trials of the three biggest celebrities so far in the wake of the Savile scandal have now concluded. What if anything have we learned from them?

For those who may not have been following this extraordinary affair, some recap is necessary. In October 2011, the disc jockey and TV presenter Jimmy Savile died shortly before his 85th birthday. Among other things, Savile had presented on New Year’s Day 1964 the first episode ever of the BBC’s flagship TV programme Top Of The Pops, and 42 years later the last episode.

Savile was a classic eccentric Englishman, and for this and many reasons he had generated a man of the people image. As with many people in the public eye: the rich, the famous, politicians, etc, he had been the subject of rumour over the years, but in the pre-Internet age in which libel laws had some efficacy, such rumours were typically confined to whispering campaigns. Nowadays there are so many about so many people – some bordering on the absurd – that it is often impossible to sort the wheat from the chaff.

The rumour mill did no damage to Savile during his lifetime, as is evinced by the manner in which he departed this Earth. He was given a funeral fit for a king, lying in state at the Queen’s Hotel, Leeds. A requiem mass at St Anne’s Cathedral, Leeds was followed by a royal escort to the seaside town of Scarborough where he was buried at a 45% angle so he could have a view of the sea.

Alas, from then on, the name Savile was mud in the British media. At the beginning of October 2012, a documentary The Other Side Of Jimmy Savile claimed he had been a serial sex offender who committed the full range of such crimes up to and including the rape of underage girls. The programme was advertised well in advance; prior to its broadcast, his grave headstone was broken up then sent to the rubbish tip, and he was stripped posthumously of an honorary law degree awarded him by the University of Bedfordshire.

Savile had been a reasonably wealthy man, and shortly his estate was frozen in anticipation of a plethora of civil actions by his alleged victims.

The number of allegations against him soon ran into the hundreds, and it has been claimed not unreasonably that he was the most profilic serial abuser these islands have ever seen. A dedicated police investigation, Operation Yewtree, was set up, to look into the alleged crimes of Savile and others. The “others” has resulted in numerous arrests of prominent showbusiness people. An incomplete but useful timeline can be found here.

Having said that, it is clear that the vast majority of such allegations cannot be proved either way, while some are clearly spurious. For example, one man claimed that in 1973 he was on a train when he saw Savile indecently assault an underage girl. The man said he punched him, but “When I realised who he was I thought I’d be in trouble.”

That and a number of other claims are simply not credible, but Savile is dead and not able to defend himself. That being said, the allegations prior to his posthumous “outing” have a certain consistency; not only was he questioned by the police – though never arrested – but some people in high places had his card marked.

It was perhaps inevitable that having slipped up badly with Savile, the Metropolitan and other police forces would go to town on the “other” historical sexual abuse allegations, and there was no shortage of them. One person whose name was inevitably thrown into the ring was the long disgraced Gary Glitter. While this sad individual had graduated from simply looking at indecent photographs of young girls to something far more serious in Vietnam, the claim that he raped an underage girl in Savile’s dressing room at the BBC was never quite credible, and he has now dropped out of sight again.

Of the allegations against other celebrities, few have any credibility, the exception being that of another BBC TV presenter, Stuart Hall. The allegations against him came to light in a rather unusual fashion. He was charged with a number of indecent assaults, and one count of rape. He denied all the allegations emphatically, but when the time came to enter a plea, he admitted the lesser charges, and the rape charge was dropped. Although there was no public announcement, it is clear that he was offered a deal: we will drop the rape charge if you plead guilty to all the others.

Hall was given an 18 month sentence, but after public outrage, this was doubled on an Attorney General’s reference. He has now been charged with another 15 counts of rape, and will presumably stand trial some time later this year. Hall is now 84 years old.

Which brings us to the two acquittals which involved two of the biggest names in the UK entertainment media: that of the soap actor William Roache, and of the former disc jockey, Dave Lee Travis. Mr Roache was charged with two counts of rape and five indecent assaults. DLT – as he used to be known – was charged only with indecent assault – 12 counts.

Both men were acquitted, Mr Roache emphatically; DLT less so, indeed it took four days of deliberation by the jury before they returned not guilty cases on ten of the charges, but were unable to reach verdicts on the other two. Travis said he had been through Hell, as indeed he had, and in spite of the conviction of Stuart Hall – and the further charges he is currently facing – one has to ask how wise it was to bring any of these cases. One of the allegations against Mr Roache dated from 1967, before most people reading this were born. For an individual to come forward with new allegations after so long – even for a crime as serious as rape – is extraordinary, and for such an allegation to be considered credible, more so.

Something else about these two trials in particular, which no mainstream commentators appear to have noted, is the dishonest rhetoric that surrounds them.

In her closing speech at the Roache trial, prosecutor Anne Whyte QC said if he were telling the truth then three of the complainants “must be mad” because “They have nothing in common. No connection.” In addition to that “...they are all saying something of a broadly similar nature and at a broadly similar point in time.” This was clearly untrue, all of it.

To begin with, these were not three women who had come forward independently to point the finger at an otherwise unknown individual who had targeted them all in broadly similar circumstances, as might women who had been attacked by a genuine serial rapist, or simply had their handbags stolen. This trial was, as were the other trials future and present, the result of a trawl. When the Savile story exploded, the police effectively put up a sign asking people – men as well as women – to come forward and make allegations against celebrities. If they did so they would be listened to uncritically – something that seldom happens in historical abuse cases for obvious reasons – they would be guaranteed anonymity if the individuals they accused were not charged or convicted, an anonymity they could waive in the event of any sort of conviction in order claim compensation and perhaps to sell their stories to one of the scandal sheets, in addition to that they would enjoy an all expenses paid jaunt (to the capital in the case of DLT) with hotel accommodation and meals thrown in.

This opened the door to any toxic woman who harboured a grudge against any individual celebrity, celebrities in general, or perhaps the entire male species. So if one of them wrote to a celebrity and he didn’t write back, if (as perhaps in the case of DLT), one of them didn’t like DJs who sported beards; if a woman who was unemployed or simply bored wanted to make a bit of easy money, have hunky policemen fawning all over her and spice up her drab life, all she had to do was point a finger.

DLT summed it up succinctly: his accusers could “smell money”. If he sounds cynical, that could be because he had to sell his house in order to fund his defence.

Fortunately, both men were able each to bring forth a string of character witnesses – women as well as men. In addition to that, many of the so-called victims were clearly lying. While it is clear that when Jimmy Savile worked at the BBC there were opportunities for disc jockeys and others to take advantage of underage girls, this was just as clearly never the case at the commercial television studios where Coronation Street was filmed. Two of the accusers of Mr Roache had claimed he had assaulted them in the men’s toilet – which was apparently a busy thoroughfare. One of them had received a signed photograph of the star and a letter in which he asked her to write back “when you start school again”, but it is clear from its context that this missive to a 14 year old was simply a polite letter written by a star to a teenage fan.

Other such incriminating “evidence” was both less persuasive and even more dishonest. One of DLT’s accusers was exposed as a brazen liar in a most convincing fashion. He was alleged to have groped her while opening a hospital radio station, but someone who read about the case in the Sun tabloid newspaper contacted his legal team and revealed he had made an amateur video of the visit, which showed that Travis had been accompanied by his wife, and had no opportunity to grope anyone.

Former DJ Dave Lee Travis, one of the victims of the UK celebrity witch-hunt.

[This video was not included in the original article. The claim of this self-styled victim were shown to be either a delusion or an outright lie].

Yes, there may have been “lots” of evidence against both Bill Roache and DLT, but at the end of the day the testimonies of a dozen or a hundred damned liars are worth less than the word of one honest man.

The quality of the “evidence” against other celebrities is no better, including Jim Davidson.

There are still two cases to come to trial, those of Rolf Harris and PR guru Max Clifford. Harris has been married to the same woman since 1958, and Clifford married his first wife in 1967, a union that was ended only by her death in March 2003. On the face of it, it would be difficult to think of two more unlikely candidates for serial sexual abuse – of children or adults. In this connection it is perhaps relevant that the police have sought to bolster their case against Mr Harris by charging him additionally with four counts of making indecent images of children. As he is an artist there will almost certainly be an innocent explanation for this. Lest you think otherwise, run the phrase “naked babies” through your search engine’s image search, and you’ll be surprised what comes up.

Returning to Messrs Roache and Travis, it has to be said though that both these men were lucky for two reasons. One is that the lies of their accusers were so transparent; if the Crown had been more selective, things may have turned out differently. Also, they were accused in the UK rather than the US. On the other side of the Atlantic, an accused will very often decline to take the stand. If Mr Roache and DLT had not done so and allowed themselves to be subjected to gruelling cross-examinations, they may well have been convicted in spite of the weakness of both cases.

One trial that has not been mentioned here is that of Michael Le Vell, who is another time-serving member of the cast of Coronation Street. That has not been included because for reasons that cannot be mentioned here it resulted from an entirely different set of circumstances totally unrelated to Operation Yewtree, although in common with both the Roache and DLT prosecutions, it should never have been brought.

That being said, the ordeal for Travis is far from over, because today the imbeciles of the Clown Prosecution Service have applied for and been granted a retrial on the two undecided charges. Speaking outside Southwark Crown Court, Travis said he hoped this would be over when he was 80. He is now 68. It may be they are hoping to wear him down; in the United States this sort of thing happens all the time; Marissa Alexander turned down a plea bargain of 3 years, and ended up being sentenced to 20 years simply for firing a gun.

Having already sold his house and having his life thrown into turmoil by a gaggle of anonymous women, at least one of whom has been proven an outrageous liar, DLT will undoubtedly see this through to the bitter end. Feminists are constantly yelping that the treatment of rape victims - real and imagined - is disgraceful. After this fiasco, whatever the outcome of the Travis retrial and the two trials to come, it is clear that as far as historical alleged sex offences of this nature, the law is considerably more disgraceful, and at the very least no such offence should ever be prosecuted without serious corroboration unless it was first reported at or shortly after it allegedly happened.

[The above article was published originally February 24, 2014 with the photograph above].

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