UK police open criminal investigation into Savile child abuse scandal

LONDON, ENGLAND (BNO NEWS) -- British police on Friday launched a formal criminal investigation into allegations that BBC entertainer Jimmy Savile was involved in the sexual abuse of dozens or perhaps hundreds of children over the six decades prior to his death last year, Scotland Yard said.

The scandal emerged earlier this month when British television network ITV aired an investigative program in which several women alleged Savile sexually abused them when they were below the age of consent. The program claimed Savile would use his fame to get access to young teenage girls, some who may have been as young as 12 years old.

Commander Peter Spindler of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), which is better known as Scotland Yard, said the public's response to an initial assessment has been astounding. "We are dealing with alleged abuse on an unprecedented scale," he said on Friday. "The profile of this operation has empowered a staggering number of victims to come forward to report the sexual exploitation which occurred during their childhood."

British police have so far identified more than 200 potential victims, a significant increase from the 60 potential victims less than a week ago. The allegations against Savile span six decades with reports starting in 1959 up to and including 2006, just five years before he died at his home in northern England at the age of 84.

With information now gathered from both the public and organizations, British police have moved Operation Yewtree from an assessment to a formal criminal investigation into child sexual exploitation by Savile and others. "As we have said from the outset, our work was never going to take us into a police investigation into Jimmy Savile," Scotland Yard said in a statement on Friday. "What we have established in the last two weeks is that there are lines of inquiry involving living people that require formal investigation."

The BBC has also come under fire after it emerged that the broadcaster had canceled a six-week Newsnight investigation in December 2011 which looked into claims that police and the Crown Prosecution Service had dropped inquiries into abuse allegations against Savile. Some women have also claimed they were abused by Savile on BBC premises.

BBC director-general George Entwistle apologized to potential victims last week and promised to investigate the allegations. "The BBC will not avoid confronting the events of its past; to understand what happened and to try to ensure that nothing of this kind can happen ever again at the BBC," he said in a video statement.

The broadcaster has ordered two independent investigations into the alleged sexual abuse by Savile. One investigation will focus on why the BBC Newsnight investigation was canceled while the second investigation will be to determine whether culture and practice at the BBC at the time enabled Savile to sexually abuse children.

Entwistle also defended the broadcaster's decision last year to cancel its investigation into Savile. "Despite our efforts to make clear our belief that the decision to drop the Newsnight investigation was taken properly for sound editorial reasons people have continued to speculate," he said in the video. "This is damaging to the BBC and is a cloud of suspicion which cannot be allowed to continue."

Savile was hugely popular in Britain and was best known for being the first and last presenter of the long-running BBC music chart show "Top of the Pops" and for hosting the BBC television show "Jim'll Fix It". He was also known for his voluntary work and is estimated to have raised more than £40 million ($64 million) for charity, earning him knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1996 and Papal knighthood from Pope John Paul II in 1990.

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