Protected by the establishment
Rolf Harris, Jimmy Savile and Andy Coulson all had friends in high places, writes Eddie Ford
Recent headlines have reminded us again of the thoroughly corrupt nature of the establishment and its institutions. On June 30 the 84-year-old Rolf Harris, household name and beloved entertainer, was convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault and could possibly face a new round of criminal charges, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children having being contacted by 13 other potential victims. Showing his fall from grace, his portrait of the queen, painted in 2005, disappeared from the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool following his initial arrest and Buckingham Palace officials now claim it was never part of the royal collection.1
But in many ways the most significant thing about Harris is his links to another former certified national treasure - Jimmy Savile. Not just because they have both been showered with accolades and honours (Savile was awarded an OBE in 1971 and knighted in 1990, whilst Harris received a CBE in 2006 - not to mention the Centenary Medal in 2001 for “service to entertainment, charity and the community” and two honorary doctorates from the University of East London and Liverpool Hope University). No, the ties between them seem more direct. It now transpires that Savile gave Harris a “guided tour” of Broadmoor hospital in 1973, the latter giving an impromptu performance of Tie me kangaroo down, sport, as female patients were undressing - one former patient claiming the timing of the evening visit was “deliberate”, to “coincide with girls getting changed so he and Rolf could look at them”.
This comes directly after the publication of yet another report detailing Savile’s industrial levels of sexual abuse - including, of course, at Broadmoor, where he had unrestricted access to wards, even having on-site accommodation to make his reign of abuse that much easier. Indeed, in 1988 Edwina Currie, then junior health minister, appointed him head of a taskforce aimed at “improving” the high-security hospital’s “governance” - talk about putting the lunatics in charge of the asylum. She was particularly impressed by Savile’s plans to confront the Prison Office Association over their working practices and issued a press release praising this “amazing man”, who had her “full confidence”.
Anyhow, the latest findings, published on June 26, confirmed that Savile used his celebrity status to “exploit and abuse” vulnerable patients and staff at 28 hospital trusts, such as Leeds General Infirmary, where he worked as a volunteer porter. Investigators found that at Leeds there were at least 60 victims, ranging in age from five to 75 - three saying they were raped by the former star presenter of the BBC’s Jim’ll fix it. Nine of the victims reported incidents to a member of staff, but the inquiry found no evidence that these were communicated to senior managers.
With regards to Broadmoor, there are 11 reported allegations of abuse - but investigators strongly believe the figures “underestimate” the true picture. We discover that Savile used his influence to appoint a close associate as general manager in charge of Broadmoor for the next eight years. In the words of the report, Savile gave the “impression” - quite justifiably it seems - that he was “close to government ministers” and “therefore in a position of authority”.
The investigation revealed that Savile had a “fixation” with dead bodies, a student nurse having reported a conversation in which he claimed to have “performed sex acts” on the dead - apparently, controls around access to the mortuary in the 1980s were “lax”. Interestingly, or disturbingly, this aspect of Savile’s behaviour was openly discussed by the journalist, Lynn Barber, as part of an extensive interview conducted with the man in 1990 for The Independent on Sunday and reprinted in full last week - which makes for very informative reading.2 She remarks that Savile had an “enthusiasm” for dead bodies that could be “quite unnerving”.
More importantly though, Savile admitted in the interview that getting the knighthood was a “gi-normous relief” because it got him “off the hook” - almost a ‘get out of jail free’ card, so to speak, as for a few years before that the tabloids had been “sniffing about”, hoping to get some serious dirt on him. Perhaps even more significantly, Barber also disclosed that when the article was first published, many readers “complained” that she had dared to ask Savile if he liked little girls. “He was newly knighted. He was a friend of the royal family. He had raised millions for charity” - an obvious saint.
Here is the crucial point, of course. Savile had friends in high places - lots of them (maybe Harris did too, albeit on a much smaller scale). He ruthlessly milked and exploited his seemingly endless connections at the top of society. Who invited our Jimmy round for Christmas dinner year after year? Margaret Thatcher. Unbelievably, when the arranged marriage between Charles Windsor and Diana Spencer inevitably hit the rocks, Savile was called in as an intermediary - a sort of informal marriage guidance counsellor. Unsurprisingly, not even Jim could fix that farce of a marriage. Not that this prevented our future king from also asking him to help keep Sarah Ferguson (then married to Prince Andrew) “out of trouble”.
Such behaviour is not so much a condemnation of Savile himself - he was clearly a sociopath - but rather of the institutions that lauded and protected him for so long. Charles, after all, led the tributes to Savile when he died. The obituaries were fulsome. The establishments and its agents (government ministers, senior police officials, top BBC managers, etc) had determinedly refused to see the obvious: that Savile was a sexual predator of the most grotesquely immoral kind. Nobody would investigate. Everybody was in denial. Jimmy Savile was the establishment’s dirty little secret for decades.
Talking about establishment dirty secrets - how about Andy Coulson and the News of the World? Coulson was found guilty last week of conspiring to hack phones between 2000 and 2006 - though, slightly surprisingly, and doubtlessly disappointingly for some, Rebekah Brooks, former NotW editor, was acquitted by the jury at the end of the marathon 139-day trial. As everyone knows, the paper was closed in July 2011 by its parent company, News International (now known as News UK), after it emerged that it had instructed a private investigator to ‘intercept’ voicemails left on the mobile phone of the murdered teenager, Milly Dowler. Coulson was also told that the crown prosecution service had decided to go ahead with a possible retrial over corruption charges arising from allegations that he sanctioned payments to a police officer for confidential royal phone directories.
Just as Savile committed industrial levels of abuse, Coulson and his NotW team engaged in industrial levels of hacking - or straightforward criminality, given that phone-hacking has been a criminal offence since the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000. Now former journalists are coming out of the woodwork to say that Coulson actively “condoned and encouraged” phone hacking at all levels, effectively turning the paper into a “criminal enterprise” - as the crown prosecutor, Andrew Edis QC, put it.
No-one appears to have been immune: cabinet ministers, royal family members, relatives and friends of murder victims, actors, suspected criminals, footballers, etc. Not for nothing did Edis say that the phone-hacking victims of the now-defunct Sunday tabloid “read like a Who’s Who of Britain in the first five years of this century”. What this shows, needless to say, is Coulson’s massive confidence - or rampant egomania. Like Savile, he thought he could do anything he wanted with impunity. Unfortunately for him though, he is still alive - and has upset the monarchy.
You can see why he thought this. Like previous NotW editors, he knew that virtually all mainstream politicians, especially prime ministers and leaders of the opposition, are desperate for the patronage of the Murdoch press and its wider media empire. Tony Blair did not lift a finger to help his cabinet colleagues, David Blunkett and John Prescott (merely the deputy prime minister), when News International papers were running a daily diet of lurid, phone-hack-assisted stories about their affairs and ‘love children’ - his relationship with the Murdoch press mattered far more. Blair, let us not forget, flew in 1995 to Hayman Island in Australia to court Murdoch - two years before the general election that swept him into Downing Street. All that mattered was getting Murdoch’s backing. What is very important to realise is that the relationship is reciprocal - favours all round. Similarly, the police too had a dubious relationship with the Murdoch empire - turning a blind eye or two, it seems. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We do go the same clubs, after all, and expect a return from those costly membership fees.
David Cameron too has egg on his face over Coulson, it goes without saying. In 2007 he employed the latter as the Conservative Party’s director of communications, despite knowing he was tainted goods. According to the Mail on Sunday, Cameron was “persuaded” by Rebekah Wade to appoint Coulson, on the grounds that the job should go to someone “acceptable” to News International - the quid pro quo being, ‘If you find something for Andy, we will return the favour’.3 Eating loads of foul-tasting humble pie, Cameron stated that he had given Coulson a “second chance”, but it had “turned out to be a bad decision”. No dispute there.
The whole Coulson/NI debacle further illustrates the wretched state of mainstream political parties today, so hollowed out that to get a platform you have to sell your soul to the press - especially the Murdoch press. You might even get a few pieces of silver as slender consolation. Take a look at the rather pathetic David Blunkett. Even though he suffered humiliation at the hands of The Sun between 2004 and 2005, he continued to write a column for the paper worth about £45,000 a year up until October 2009 - and in 2012 renewed a £49,500 contract to advise Rupert Murdoch on “social responsibility”. Are you having a laugh?
With so much power concentrated in the fourth estate, there are bound to be further Coulsons. Meaning ultimately that, if you want an explanation for wonky individuals like Andy Coulson, Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, you have to look at the hierarchical power structures that protected them.
1. The Guardian July 1.
2. The Independent June 29.
3. Daily Mail July 16 2011.