Children’s campaigner Esther Rantzen says she believes the women who claim in a television documentary that they were sexually abused by Sir Jimmy Savile when they were young girls.
Ms Rantzen, who worked at the BBC during the broadcaster’s heyday on Top of the Pops and Jim’ll Fix It, said many people had misgivings about him, but everybody must share the blame for “turning him into a TV saint” and making him “untouchable”.
The documentary, to be broadcast on Wednesday, features interviews with women who say they had been sexually abused as children by Sir Jimmy, who died last year, aged 84.
One alleges that she was raped and another that she was asked to take part in sexual activity, and the programme features allegations that assaults took place in his Rolls-Royce, in a caravan parked in school grounds and even in his BBC dressing room.
Surrey Police have revealed that they investigated an allegation in 2007 that he had indecently assaulted a resident at a children’s home in Staines during the 1970s.
But the case was dropped after the Crown Prosecution Service advised that there was insufficient evidence to take the matter further.
The BBC, for whom Sir Jimmy worked for much of the 1960s and 1970s, also says it found no evidence of misconduct by the former broadcaster and DJ.
Sir Jimmy’s nephew, Roger Foster, said he was “disgusted and disappointed” with the decision to broadcast such serious allegations against a man who was not around to defend himself.
But Paul Gambaccini, who used to work alongside him on BBC Radio 1 and Top of the Pops, said the allegations – to be aired in an ITV1 programme, Exposure: the Other Side of Jimmy Savile – did not come as a surprise.
And Ms Rantzen, who founded the ChildLine charity which helps bullied and abused children, supported Gambaccini’s impression of a broad awareness of Sir Jimmy’s reputation.
After viewing the interviews, she said she now believed what she and others had failed to while working alongside him in the 1970s.
Of the interviews with alleged victims, to be broadcast on Wednesday, the former That’s Life presenter said: “These are women talking very factually and practically about events that still cause them pain, but there is no malice in what they say.”
She said everybody who knew him – or knew of him – had helped create the aura of untouchability surrounding Sir Jimmy.
“I think there was no cover-up in terms of a conspiracy. The cover-up involved all of us. Here was this very odd man about whom there were very many rumours, and yet we turned him into a TV saint and made him untouchable.”
Ms Rantzen added: “If there had been evidence, the BBC should have taken action, ITV should have taken action.
“If anybody had had concrete evidence, I think and hope the police would have been called in. But all they had was gossip – and gossip isn’t evidence.”
Gambaccini told ITV1’s Daybreak he had been “waiting 30 years” for such a story to emerge, and claimed his former colleague used his charity fundraising work to prevent his private life being exposed.
“It comes out when he’s dead because Jimmy Savile had an imperial personality in show business, I’m not talking about personal life. You just didn’t mess with Jim.”
He claimed that on one occasion when Sir Jimmy was “about to be exposed” by a newspaper, he gave an interview to a rival, effectively stopping the original.
“On another occasion – and this cuts to the chase of the whole matter – he was called and he said, ‘Well, you could run that story, but if you do there go the funds that come in to Stoke Mandeville. Do you want to be responsible for the drying up of the charity donations?’ And they backed down.”
Sir Jimmy’s nephew, Mr Foster, said he was concerned not only for his uncle’s reputation but also about the potential harm to the charities which still benefited from Sir Jimmy’s charity work.
The Jim’ll Fix It presenter raised millions of pounds for charities, particularly Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, for which he effectively built its £40m National Spinal Injuries Centre raising sponsorship, mainly by running marathons.
Funds continue to be raised through the Jimmy Savile Charitable Trust, whose trustees said in a statement: “The publication of such grave allegations may affect the charitable trust, which supports so many good causes.”
Mr Foster added: “The guy hasn’t been dead for a year yet and they’re bringing these stories out. It could affect his legacy, his charity work, everything. I’m very sad and disgusted.
“I just don’t understand the motives behind this.”
The BBC said in a statement: “The BBC has conducted extensive searches of its files to establish whether there is any record of misconduct or allegations of misconduct by Sir Jimmy Savile during his time at the BBC. No such evidence has been found,”