Arrest of ’70s Rock Star Widens Sexual Abuse Case Tied to BBC
By NICHOLAS KULISH
LONDON — The sexual abuse scandal surrounding the late television host Jimmy Savile widened Sunday after the British police arrested a former pop star in connection with the case.
Metropolitan Police arrested Paul Gadd, better known as Gary Glitter from the 1970s heyday of glam rock, who is a convicted pedophile. Mr. Gadd’s arrest followed accusations that he abused a teenage girl on the premises of the BBC. He was released on bail late Sunday after he was questioned in a London police station.
Since the British television station ITV broadcast a documentary about Mr. Savile earlier this month, some 300 people have come forward claiming that they were abused by the outlandish television star. They described a depraved environment in Mr. Savile’s dressing room at the BBC studios where teenage girls were molested by Mr. Savile and others including Mr. Gadd.
The case has shocked the nation and shone an intense spotlight on the BBC. Nagging questions remain there about why an investigation into Mr. Savile by the “Newsnight” program was abruptly canceled last December, and how much its executives knew about serious allegations that one of its stars had engaged in widespread sexual molestation in the 1970s and 1980s.
Mark Thompson, the incoming chief executive and president of The New York Times Company, was director-general of the BBC when the decision was made to drop the “Newsnight” investigation into Mr. Savile. Mr. Thompson initially said that he knew nothing about the accusations against Mr. Savile or the “Newsnight” investigation, but later acknowledged that a reporter, Caroline Hawley, had mentioned it to him at a reception shortly after the investigation was halted.
On Sunday, a British newspaper, The Sunday Times, reported that other attempts were made to question Mr. Thompson about the allegations against Mr. Savile, who died in October 2011. A freelance journalist wrote in the newspaper that he called Mr. Thompson’s office in May of this year, asking about the accusations that Mr. Savile had abused girls on BBC premises.
The fact that the network had decided not to air the “Newsnight” program about Mr. Savile was far from a secret. “This was in six different newspapers in January and February,” said David Elstein, a former chief executive of Channel 5, a BBC competitor.
“The big failing internally, and this is where Mark comes into the picture, is the deliberate incuriosity of the senior executives,” said Mr. Elstein, who formerly worked at the BBC. “There is a culture of avoiding knowledge so as to evade responsibility.”
On Sunday, a spokesman for Mr. Thompson said: “As Mark has made it clear, he had no involvement in the decision not to proceed with the Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile.”
Now, Britons are asking how a sexual predator, and perhaps his friends, could operate without detection in some of the nation’s most respected institutions, not just at the BBC but in hospitals and schools around the country where assaults by Mr. Savile are alleged to have taken place.
The police indicated last week that arrests would be made, sending shivers through the ranks of celebrities who appeared on Mr. Savile’s television shows, like “Top of the Pops” and “Jim’ll Fix It,” and who feared that their names would be drawn into the scandal, as well as former employees and associates.
The police did not name the man who was arrested Sunday, saying only that he was in his 60s. A spokesman for Scotland Yard said the man was arrested shortly after 7 a.m. “on suspicion of sexual offenses.” The arrest came as part of a widening police inquiry known as Operation Yewtree, into “Jimmy Savile and others,” the spokesman said.
But the British media widely reported that the man who was arrested and questioned was Paul Gadd. The BBC broadcast images of Mr. Gadd, in a gray overcoat and hat, being led to a car waiting outside his home.
Mr. Gadd was convicted of possessing child pornography in Britain in 1999, and was convicted in Vietnam in 2006 of abusing two girls, ages 10 and 11 years; he served more than two years in prison there.
Mr. Savile defended Mr. Gadd in an interview that was included in the ITV documentary earlier this month, suggesting that the episode in Vietnam was a setup and that no harm had been done by Mr. Gadd’s possessing pornography.
After the ITV documentary was broadcast, the BBC broadcast a follow-up report in which a witness described Mr. Gadd in Mr. Savile’s dressing room, “having sex with one of the girls” who were there.
Before his death last year at 84, Mr. Savile was one of Britain’s most famous television hosts, known for his garish track suits, peroxide-blond hair and charity work. He was dogged for years by rumors of inappropriate behavior toward underage girls, but several police investigations were abandoned for lack of evidence. Witnesses were wary of coming forward with their stories until after he died.
The BBC has come under withering criticism for its handling of matters surrounding Mr. Savile. Chris Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust, which oversees the BBC, said in an article in The Sunday Mail that the BBC’s “reputation is on the line” and that the organization “risks squandering public trust,” as a result of the scandal. Mr. Patten also apologized “unreservedly” to the victims who spoke to the “Newsnight” program “presumably at great personal pain, yet did not have their stories told as they expected.”
The freelance writer who wrote in The Sunday Times, Miles Goslett, said he had filed a freedom of information request with the BBC in April 2012, four months after the “Newsnight” investigation was halted, specifically asking for any records of written communications or meetings among BBC executives, including Mr. Thompson, concerning the Savile matter.
In an interview, Mr. Goslett said that when his request was denied in mid-May, he called Mr. Thompson’s office and told an aide, Jessica Cecil, that he wanted to talk to Mr. Thompson about his request and also about “claims that I was aware of that had been made to ‘Newsnight’ that girls were abused on BBC premises by Jimmy Savile in the 1970s.”
He said Ms. Cecil referred him to the BBC’s media relations office. A BBC spokeswoman said Sunday that Ms. Cecil did not recall that Mr. Goslett “mentioned the nature of the allegations against Savile.”
Mr. Thompson announced in March that he would step down as director-general of the BBC. The New York Times announced in August that Mr. Thompson would join the company in November.
By the time Mr. Goslett made his request in April, there had already been several published reports about the BBC halting an investigation of Mr. Savile that had turned up specific allegations of child sex abuse. The first report, on the Web site of The Mirror on Jan. 8, was entitled “BBC Axe Investigation Into Sir Jimmy Savile and Schoolgirls.” Another was written by Mr. Goslett and included some details of the victims’ accounts. It appeared in February in a London magazine called The Oldie. The same month, The Daily Mail ran an article.
Even so, top BBC executives including Mr. Thompson have said they did not know what the “Newsnight” reporters had found concerning Mr. Savile until the ITV documentary aired in early October.