LONDON (Reuters) – Dozens of victims of alleged sexual abuse by the late British television star Jimmy Savile have sued the BBC in the wake of a scandal which threw the British broadcaster into turmoil and has raised questions about media ethics.
A police-led report showed last month that Savile – an eccentric presenter once much loved by the British public – sexually assaulted hundreds of people, mainly children, at BBC premises and hospitals over six decades of unparalleled abuse.
Alan Collins, a lawyer representing the group, said 31 victims had lodged their claims seeking compensation with the British High Court against the BBC as well as Savile’s estate. The number of claimants was expected to grow, he said.
“They were forced into this position as a result of all the publicity,” Collins told Reuters.
“A lot of painful memories were rekindled. The only way these people are ever going to get any peace is by taking these proceedings and hopefully getting some semblance of justice.”
The 90-year-old BBC is respected around the world for its news and known affectionately at home as “Auntie”. But its handling of the affair has rattled staff and audiences who fund the channel through an annual license fee.
Director-General George Entwistle stood down after 54 days in the top job after failing to get to grips with the scandal. His predecessor, Mark Thompson, now the head of the New York Times, has also faced tough questions about what he knew.
In a statement on its website, the BBC said: “We’re unable to comment on any legal claims of this nature made against the corporation.”
A one-time professional wrestler, Savile became famous as a pioneering DJ in the 1960s before becoming a regular fixture on TV hosting prime-time pop and children’s shows until the 1990s.
He also ran about 200 marathons for charity, raising tens of millions of pounds (dollars) for hospitals, leading some to give him keys to rooms where victims now allege they were abused.
The report said his youngest victim was an 8-year-old boy, and the last of the 214 offences of which he is suspected took place just two years before his death in 2011 at the age of 84.
(Reporting by Maria Golovnina- Editing by Mark Heinrich)