Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: NHS

Covid 19 and the UK

This article was published in Ceylon Today on April 16 2020. It has been updated in the light of new information.

Sarah Hulton OBE is UK High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. She recently went on Facebook to advise any British citizens still loitering about in Sr Lanka to hie them hence smartish. She noted that some British passport holders were in Sri Lanka visiting family. She reiterated the UK Government advice that all British nationals who normally live in the UK should return to the UK now. If these people, who probably see themselves as Sri Lankans, want to stay with their families in Sri Lanka in this difficult time, why tell them to go to the UK to add to the UK’s burden? One person wryly asked why she was sending them home to a death sentence. Another asked why she didn’t go home herself and help out over there because she was not much help to us.

I had an exchange on Facebook the other day. Someone was complaining about the heavy-handed approach of the English police in their efforts to stop people spreading the virus by gathering in groups and generally wandering aimlessly about and having virus parties. Exercise was tolerated up to a point but park benches were being made inaccessible to stop people loitering. A virtual friend who has lived in Spain said she was not allowed to go walking.

I responded that where we live we were not allowed to go out at all and I was happy about that because the death toll in Sri Lanka was seven, whereas the death toll in the UK was 12,868 (more about this later). I was told that this comparison was meaningless because Sri Lanka’s population is only 21.4 million and the UK’s is 66.6 million. I decided to look at another country, one that has been praised for the way it has handled the crisis so far. Ireland, like Sri Lanka, is an island and the land mass is about the same size. The population of the Republic of Ireland is 4.94 million. As of 15 April, the Department of Health has confirmed 12,547 cases and 444 deaths. The population of Northern Ireland, which is, so far, part of the UK, is 1.8 million. The death toll there so far is 140. “The daily death toll here is not reflecting the number of people dying in care homes and that is worrying,” said Dr George O’Neill, chairman of the west Belfast federation of GPs.

There are many factors to be taken into account but I think this conveys a simple picture: in Sri Lanka seven people have died; in the island of Ireland 584 people have died; in the UK, according to official figures, 12,868 have died.

Actually, many more have died in the UK. David Ottewell is head of data journalism at the New Statesman. He writes that every afternoon, “the UK government announces a grim figure: the number of new deaths connected with Covid-19. And every day epidemiologists, journalists and assorted data wranglers add that number to their spreadsheets and use it to try to plot the extent of the disease, and its likely course.”  And, of course, to plan action. The problem is, the figure is not accurate. The government’s daily count doesn’t include people who weren’t in hospital when they died, or were never formally tested. A lot of people who are dying are frail, elderly or very seriously ill, and may have died without being taken to hospital and Covid 19 may not be the cause of death on the death certificate. Deaths in care homes are not counted. The undercounting could amount to 40%.

Care home inspectors only started asking on April 9 if residents were dying from Covid 19, a month after the WHO declared a global pandemic. Until 6 April, the Care Quality Commission did not ask for information on coronavirus deaths and only started doing so when it realised the information coming back was out of line with reports of a rising death toll.

The British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka wrote: “Serious outbreaks of coronavirus are placing a significant strain on health services globally. In the event of a serious outbreak in Sri Lanka, consular services and flights out of the country could be seriously affected. We cannot guarantee what flight options might be available if people choose to leave at a later date.”

Am I being oversensitive here, or is the High Commissioner really saying “get back to Blighty soon because when it really hits the fan these damned colonials won’t be able to cope with it”? It should be noted that many of those doing their best to cope with the crisis in the UK are immigrants. Most of the NHS staff who have died, including a Sri Lankan, Dr Anton Sebastianpillai, were immigrants, immigrants who survived the “hostile environment” created by Theresa May but perished trying to save others. One nurse who died had been photographed with Boris Johnson. He has been highly irresponsible in spreading the virus and has the Galle Face to praise the NHS for saving his life.

Perhaps nobody can be blamed for a lethal virus no-one knew about before. However, the difficulties the UK government is now enduring are down to an unpreparedness and lack of responsible planning that go back many decades and are the result of misconceived policies by Labour as well as Conservative governments. Throughout the hard times of the 1970s, British citizens were exhorted by governments, both Labour and Conservative, to tighten belts and accept wages that did not keep up with inflation. There was no evidence that the austerity was being shared across all classes.

The main onus must fall on the Conservatives with the complicity of the Liberal Democrats. I wonder if David Cameron can sleep at night? He brought in austerity with a vengeance, cutting public services beyond the bone. This meant that there were not enough police to deal with the epidemic of knife crimes. There were not enough community services to prevent vulnerable children falling into the gang culture. Then he unleashed Brexit on the nation, squandering billions of pounds on propaganda and bureaucracy which could have been put to better use by the NHS. Strange how the need for austerity ended so abruptly to allow Johnson to make the promises that won him a landslide. All that suffering was for nothing. There now seem to be limitless amounts of money to throw at the virus but the infrastructure has been sold off, mainly to foreign governments. “Taking back control?” This current unpreparedness is a direct consequence of decades of kowtowing to financial institutions through privatisation, outsourcing and deregulation. The global economy may be going to hell in a handcart but hedge fund managers like Jacob Rees-Mogg are still making a tidy profit from the suffering of others.

Prof John Ashton, a former regional director of public health for north-west England, strongly criticised the UK government for a lack of preparation and openness in relation to the pandemic. Ashton said: “We have a superficial prime minister who has got no grasp of public health. Our lot are behaving like 19th-century colonialists playing a five-day game of cricket.” The prime minister’s illness revealed what a hopeless team he has. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, is often referred to as Tigger, after Winnie the Pooh’s bouncing, optimistic companion in the AA Milne stories. Some of the bounce went out of him in a recent interview during which he seemed confused and ill-prepared. Dominic Raab will be deputizing for Boris Johnson until the prime minister recovers. Raab often looks sweaty with veins bursting and on the verge of an angry outburst. Home secretary Pritti Patel is giving confusing messages to the police and is refusing to meet the Commons select committee. This is not so much a pool of talent as a very small muddy puddle.

John Ashton accused the government of undermining public services over the past 10 years by cuts in funding of 30% to local authorities. Ashton says: ““It’s a joke when they put up people to say they are really on top of it and if it spreads at a community level the NHS will cope, it’s always coped. The hospitals are full at the moment, A&Es are full, beds are full, intensive care is full.”

The results  of The GRID index are published in a paper titled GRIDTM Index: Tracking the Global Leadership Response in the COVID-19 Crisis by the Institute of Certified Management Accountants (Australia) (ICMA).The index is designed to rank how efficient and effective the leadership of each country was and the preparedness of its health system to tackle  the COVID-19 pandemic. Top of the league is New Zealand. The USA is at number 70. One would have expected the US to rank badly after watching Trump’s clownish performances. It is perhaps a little surprising that the UK fares even worse, coming in at number 89.

Sri Lanka is ranked at number 9.

I know which country I would rather be in during this crisis.

Cutting to Spite Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday 18 May 2018.

My readers may be familiar with the expression “cutting off your nose to spite your face”. In the 12th century it was associated with legends of pious women –  Saint Eusebia, Saint Ebba, Saint Oda of Hainault and Saint Margaret of Hungary – disfiguring themselves in order to protect their virginity. Why is the UK government in 2018 so determined to cut off its nose to spite its face? Is their immigration policy worth all the hassle?

The National Health Service is already chronically underfunded and understaffed – even before Brexit comes into operation. A study by the Health Service Journal showed that 96 per cent of hospitals failed to meet their own safe nurse-staffing levels for daytime shifts in October 2016 and 85 per cent did not hit their targets for night-time shifts. For years, Conservative and Labour governments have not trained enough nurses to care for an ageing population. Hospitals have tried to deal with shortages by recruiting overseas staff.

There is also a severe shortage of home-grown doctors. Professor Jane Dacre, President of the Royal College of Physicians, wrote: “There are huge gaps in rotas. As a result, doctors are unable to deliver the standard of care they were trained to, and patients are at risk… We may wish there were more homegrown doctors, but there simply aren’t. At the same time, the future remains uncertain for doctors from the EU, and the number of doctors who are able to train in the UK for two years under the medical training initiative (MTI) is capped.

Antonia Moore is a general practitioner in Rochester, Kent. She writes: General practice is collapsing. There aren’t enough GPs to provide safe care. GPs are good at managing risk but overload means that risks are less manageable… I am working in a system that isn’t safe: no longer a balance of risk but a balance of least harm.”

The official Quarterly Performance Report of the NHS Provider Sector: Quarter 3 2017/18 warned that staff shortages are affecting performance. Saffron Cordery, NHS Providers’ director of policy and strategy, said: “These figures show how the NHS has been pushed to the limit. Despite working at full stretch with around 100,000 vacancies and a real risk of staff burnout, and despite treating 6% more emergency patients year on year in December, trusts cannot close the gap between what they are being asked to deliver and the funding available.”

In the immediate post-war years, Britain tried to deal with its acute shortage of labour by inviting people from the Commonwealth to become citizens and to help run the health service and the transport system. There is still a labour shortage but it is now government policy to force people to leave the country.

Overall, 12.5% of NHS staff say that their nationality is not British. 62,000 NHS staff in England are EU nationals – 5.6% of all staff. Nationals of other EU countries make up almost 10% of doctors in England’s hospital and community health services. They also make up just over 7% of all nurses and 5% of scientific, therapeutic and technical staff. The percentage of doctors and nurses with EU nationality grew between 2009 and 2016. 36% of hospital doctors gained their primary medical qualification outside the UK. 20% qualified in Asia and 9% qualified in the EU. For GPs, 4% qualified in the EU and 13% qualified in Asia.

In November 2017, data published by the Nursing and Midwifery Council showed a 67% year-on-year increase in EU staff leaving its register – as well as a precipitous fall in new EU registrations.

The government has made a pledge to increase the number of GPs by 5,000 by 2020. The NHS plans to spend £100m bringing in doctors from abroad. Recruitment agencies will earn about £20,000 for each GP they succeed in placing in a family doctor practice in England. This surprised Dr Luke Ong, who had worked in the NHS for five years and was five months away from becoming a GP, when he was told he was being deported because of an error in his visa application.

The NHS confederation said seven London trusts had reported that 53 foreign doctors had been denied visas. More than 30 health trusts in the North-West have written to the Government demanding that around 100 junior doctors from India be allowed to work in their hospitals and health centres.

The UK has to compete globally for clinical talent. There is no point in spending taxpayers’ money on foreign recruitment while at the same time maintaining a hostile environment on immigration. Doctors born in Britain will emigrate if UK hospitals cease to be regarded as international centres of excellence, which is what will happen if foreign talent is kept out and standards fall because of understaffing.




The Blair Years Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday October 27 2016

Colman's Column3

Tony Blair has announced that he may return to British politics. Britain needs a saviour and Blair always saw himself as a Messiah. How did his vision work when he had a chance to make substantial changes in British society as prime minister from 1997 to 2007? The triumph of style and spin over substance, lack of concentration, poor management of human resources and avoidance of confrontation were common themes in Blair’s approach to all the major issues that he had intended to tackle.

Tony Blair


Education was a big factor in Blair’s “vision thing”. “Our top priority was, is and always will be education, education, education. To overcome decades of neglect and make Britain a learning society, developing the talents and raising the ambitions of all our young people.” Blair significantly increased public spending in absolute terms on education but was hampered by a lack of focus (despite his addiction to focus groups). David Blunkett, when Education Secretary, believed that the NHS was a black hole which was permanently in crisis and was likely to suck away what he believed should be available for education. In 2001, Labour spent less on education as a percentage of GDP than John Major had in 1995.


After eight years of Labour government, illiteracy was increasing. Eleven-year-olds were entering secondary school damaged by Whitehall’s pressure on local authorities and schools to “teach to the test” – not to create better human beings who could make a valid contribution to society, but to churn out pupils who could pass tests so that schools could hit targets. As with the NHS, there were frequent complaints of “initiative fatigue”.  Head teachers felt overwhelmed with paperwork and bureaucracy. Constant testing, targets and inspections were detracting from learning and encouraging teachers to be dishonest. Scores were being manipulated. To satisfy the target of five GCSEs and a rise in the GCSE pass rate to 76 per cent, many head teachers had directed pupils to take easy courses. It looked good that more GCSEs were being achieved but 21.7 per cent of pupils who got what counted in the revised system as five ‘good’ GCSEs left school without demonstrating a reasonable knowledge of maths or English. Grades were inflated to please the government. In 2005, AQA, one of the country’s largest examining boards, awarded an A* in business studies for marks of 47 per cent. That was typical of grade inflation.


The promotion of privately sponsored academies did not improve real standards. A National Audit Office (NAO) report showed that the exam results of academy pupils were below average and some academies were wasteful, weak and financially irresponsible. Blair used inaccurate 2005 statistics to bolster his own supposed achievements. He ignored the NAO report and poorer results which were published in later years.


Blair’s first Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, said the prime minister was always willing to discuss problems. His style of leadership meant that there was no guarantee that anything happened afterwards.


Welfare Reform

Just as he was unable to implement a grand vision for the NHS and for education Blair found welfare reform beyond his powers of imagination and perseverance. He failed to get across to ministers and civil servants what he wanted and failed to get his ministers to work productively together. Frank Field, the Labour MP for Birkenhead, was an acknowledged guru on welfare benefits. An ascetic, monk-like creature, he had accumulated a vast amount of knowledge and ideas from his study at university of economics and his time at the CPAG (Child Poverty Action Group) and the Low Pay Unit. His parents were Tories “who believed in character and pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps”. When Blair appointed him in 1997 as the Minister of Welfare Reform, Field took this to mean that he had licence for “thinking the unthinkable”.  Blair wrote that: “the problem was not so much that his thoughts were unthinkable as unfathomable”. Field clashed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, and the Secretary of State for Social Security, Harriet Harman.


There was a serious personality clash between Harman and Field. Andrew Rawnsley reports that Harman, “pinking with anger”, shouted “I can’t work with someone who thinks I’m a liar”. White with fury, Field shouted back: ‘And I can’t work with someone who is a f****ing liar.


I worked in social security local offices, visiting claimants in their homes, in Manchester in the 1970s and moved to London in 1982 to work for Sir Arthur Armitage, chairman of SSAC (the Social Security Advisory Committee). When Field was Director of the CPAG, we saw him as an advocate for benefit recipients and a man of the left.  Today he looks more like a radical conservative. He certainly did not favour a dependency culture. The Blair government was quite intentionally trying to make Britain a fairer society and Downing Street’s task groups encouraged the disadvantaged to expect an equal stake in society. According to Rawnsley: “Not only was work made less attractive than government handouts, but with the government’s blessing, a new majority of Britons classified themselves as victims”.


When I worked at SSAC, I had many entertaining conversations with the forthright Ann Bowtell, before she became a Dame or a Permanent Secretary. When Alistair Darling took over from Harriet Harman at the Department of Social Security he asked Dame Ann Bowtell if he could read all the briefing material on work in progress on welfare reform. “Oh,” replied the Permanent Secretary. “That shouldn’t take you long.”


Rawnsley comments, “This was the moral for Tony Blair. Announcing a Big Idea was not the same as having one.”


Dome – Doh!

The Millennium Dome provided an apt symbol for the bad aspects of the Blair years.  Blair brought humiliation on himself by claiming that the Dome would be “a triumph of confidence over cynicism, boldness over blandness, excellence over mediocrity”. The Dome project was conceived, on a smaller scale, under John Major’s Conservative government, as a Festival of Britain kind of showcase to celebrate the third millennium. Blair greatly expanded the size, scope and funding of the project and significantly increased expectations of what would be delivered. Psychogeographer Iain Sinclair correctly prophesied doom for the project. “The peninsula was where the nightstuff was handled: foul-smelling industries, the manufacture of ordnance, brewing, confectionery, black smoke palls and sickly-sweet perfumes. … In a sense, it was very perceptive of the Millennium Experience promoters to settle on Bugsby’s Marshes as the site for their monumentally expensive folly. Where better to greet the millennium (even if the nominated date is meaningless) than this ravished swamp with its history of plague, pestilence and pillage?”

Blair committed too much of himself and New Labour to this folly. The Dome was designed by Richard Rogers, New Labour’s favourite architect; the company chairman was New Labour supporter Bob Ayling; the Prime Minister’s friends, Peter Mandelson and then Charlie Falconer were the main front men. Most of the Cabinet, the media and the public did not want the Dome but that did not matter. How could this government transform Britain’s public services, which were already consuming nearly 35 per cent of the nation’s revenues, and still waste money on this nonsense? Andrew Rawnsley comments: “What the people wanted was not a vacuous temple to political vanity but a health service that worked.” The Dome was commissioned without any further discussion among Blair’s ministers.


The opening night was an excruciating fiasco which severely displeased the Queen and Prince Philip who were forced to endure a dance troupe of near-naked dancers, one of whom flaunted a three-foot spikey penis at the audience. The organisers were not even able to supply the Prime Minister’s wife with a glass of water. The Tesco house champagne was served in self-assembly plastic flutes and ran out. The heart in the Body Zone had developed an irregular beat and its brain was broken. Lord Blyth, of Boots, who had been a generous donor to the party, barked: “New Labour can bloody well wait for their £12 million.”


Andrew Rawnsley wrote that the enterprise “embodied the most meretricious features of the consumer age which New Labour had absorbed too well. The Dome was the vapid glorification of marketing”.


Next week, I will show how New Labour did nothing to reverse the fragmentation and disruption caused by Tory privatisation of public utilities and transport.



The Blair Years Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday October 20 2016 where it was given the title Saviour or Serpent.

Colman's Column3

Tony Blair has announced that he may return to British politics. This is somewhat surprising considering the universal loathing that is today felt for the man following the repercussions of the ill-advised invasion of Iraq in 2003 and his more recent sordid quest for riches, a quest which has led him to consort with many dodgy dictators.

An examination of Blair’s rule may be enlightening for those masochistic Sri Lankans who believe that this island nation’s polity is supreme in its incompetence, inefficiency and corruption and its politicians unrivalled in their practice of the dark arts of Machiavellian manipulation.


I for one have not forgotten the euphoria which greeted Blair’s election. On the bright morning of 2 May 1997, I wandered down to the Imperial War Museum. A complete stranger, a very tall man conducting a poll for MORI, embraced me, shouting “Isn’t it great”. I was as enthralled as he was. I even got a job with MORI. This was like a new dawn after 18 years of Tory rule. Blair introduced the longest-lasting non-Tory government since 1762.



In 2006, when Blair made his final speech to a Labour Party conference, a MORI poll put the public’s ‘satisfaction’ rating of Blair at 20 per cent, lower than Thatcher on the eve of her fall. There had been a time during Blair’s premiership when approval ratings surged to levels of surpassing those conjured up in totalitarian regimes.

I voted for Labour in that 1997 election and felt that I had personally achieved something. Many of us were drunk with joy. It was a sobering experience to walk around the Imperial War Museum and to see the remembrance of so many lost lives. My grandfather had fought in the First World War. I wonder if my father’s experience in the Second World War had truncated his life so cruelly. Little did I suspect on that morning at the museum that Blair would be complicit in so many needless deaths.

Dawn and Disillusion


Professor Anthony King described the Labour landslide, as being akin to “an asteroid hitting the planet and destroying practically all life on Earth”. Blair entered Downing Street on a wave of optimism and good will, promising to restore trust in politics and breathe new life into Britain’s tired institutions.


Much of the reason for the voters’ distaste for the Major administration was because of what became known as the “sleaze factor”. There was what seemed like an endless succession of sex scandals. It was later revealed that boring old Major himself had had a four-year affair with health minister Edwina Currie. During Blair’s stewardship sleaze continued and the tired institutions continued to languish.


“Our mission will be the renewal of our public services. There is nothing more important to making Britain a fairer and stronger country.” Did he succeed?


I was working as a management consultant in the NHS when Conservative Health Secretary Kenneth Clarke introduced his “reforms”. The “internal market” introduced in 1991 split health authorities (which commission care for their local population) from hospital trusts (which compete to provide care). GP fundholding gave some family doctors budgets to buy care on their patients’ behalf.

Critics saw this as creeping privatisation but Clarke claimed that his reforms prevented Margaret Thatcher from abandoning the NHS. Nevertheless, he brought in many people from the business world and the giant accountancy firms. My boss was the redoubtable Sheila Masters (now Baroness Noakes), a foul-mouthed gorgon imported from Peat-Marwick. Trade journal Accountancy Age described her as “the country’s most high profile accountant”. I had a report published by HM Stationery Office which showed that the reforms seemed to require an army of accountants and managers to implement them. Doctors and nurses felt that money that should be going towards patient care was being wasted on management.

Old Structures, New Labour Words

The Labour victory encouraged hope that the internal market would be abandoned. However, the key element, the purchaser/provider split – was retained, but, typical of New Labour, words were spun: purchasing became commissioning; contracts became service agreements. GP Fundholders became Primary Care Trusts. Hospital Trusts were allowed to continue.


The public and NHS staff had high expectations that things would improve quickly. When that did not happen there was anger and despair. Blair’s first Health Secretary was Frank Dobson (his successors were Alan Milburn, John Reid, Patricia Hewitt and Alan Johnson). Dobson was allowed to stay in such a high profile job, for which he was poorly qualified, as a sop to old Labour. In those early days, the spin meisters were careful to avoid words like “competition” and “choice”. which might alienate any socialists still lurking in the party, preferring to stick with the vague concept of “modernisation”.

Dobson was eventually forced to become Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London and was replaced at Health by Alan Milburn, an old Trot who became converted to the market in health and today makes a good living from private health care. Initially, Milburn called for extra money to resolve the NHS crisis, but rejected using the private sector. “That”, Milburn declared, “would be a Trojan horse for privatisation.” Later, he resurrected competition and advocated reintroducing the Tories’ internal market. Blair did not understand Milburn’s reorganisation.


The government persisted with PFI (Private Finance Initiative) as a method of financing building in the NHS and other public services despite repeated demonstrations of its costliness and other disadvantages.


Civil servants did not dare mention their foreboding. Milburn’s successor Patricia Hewitt knew that Blair “did not do detail”, but she was unprepared for quite how patchy his knowledge was.


Nigel Crisp was appointed as Chief Executive of the NHS and Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health on 1 November 2000. He was the only person so far to combine these posts. Blair was described as “muddleheaded” –  he could not describe a coherent and complete model of what he wanted to achieve. So he could not explicitly tell Nigel Crisp what to do.


Expensive Poor Outcomes

By 2005, the NHS was costing £43 billion a year more than in 1997. The country’s health had improved but, in terms of the number of doctors, the use of technical equipment, the number of patients being treated and the cure rates for cancer and heart disease, Britain still ranked near the bottom of the international league tables. Compared to other European countries, Britain’s premature death rates were higher and clinical outcomes worse. The government was embarrassed when Robert Winston, IVF pioneer, medical doctor, scientist, television presenter, said: “We gave categorical promises that we would abolish the internal market. We have not done that. Our reorganisation of the health service was . . . very bad. We have made medical care deeply unsatisfactory for a lot of people.” Funding, he said, was “not as good as Poland’s”. Note that he said “we”. Winston was a staunch believer in New Labour, a Labour peer and the chair of the Lords’ select committee on science and technology. His This Is Your Life on TV had featured a guest of honour appearance by Tony Blair. At the 2006 BMA conference, not only the nurses but also the doctors damned Labour for causing “a real and imminent danger to the NHS”.


Hyperactive Lack of Substance

The incoming government had made a pledge to stick with Conservative spending plans and not raise income tax levels. Even when large amounts of money were promised, Chancellor Gordon Brown refused to release them because of his feud with Blair. There is no space here to go into the detail of the new government’s twists and turns and changes of mind about what to do about the NHS. There was a plethora of new initiatives, the government appearing hyperactive, unable to allow one new scheme to settle down and produce some results before introducing a new one.


The triumph of style over substance, lack of concentration, poor management of human resources and avoidance of confrontation is common to Blair’s approach to all the major issues that he had intended to tackle. The war between Blair and Brown cast a gloomy cloud over the entire Blair premiership. More on that next week.

Dawn and Disillusion: the Bathetic Blair and Brown Era

What We Knew: Jimmy Savile and the Culture of Abuse

John Banville:  “We knew, and did not know. That is our shame today”


What We Knew

A former Yorkshire miner, ballroom manager, wrestler and disc jockey is posthumously rocking the British establishment with tremors being felt in the BBC, National Health Service (NHS), the press, police, Crown Prosecution Service,  academia, charities, toffs clubs and even the monarchy. From his humble origins Savile rose to become a knight of the realm, a papal knight, a member of the exclusive Athenaeum club,  a confidant of popes, princes and prime ministers.

He used this power base to rape and molest children. It appears he used the premises of the BBC and the NHS to carry out his nefarious deeds. The conspiracy theorists are coming out of the woodwork. Now many people are coming forward to claim he abused them. Many people are coming forward to claim that they always knew he was a wrong ‘un.


Teenagers in Gloucester

I was a teenager in the sixties in the sleepy cathedral city of Gloucester. We thought ourselves  pretty cool but had no connections with the world of celebrities. I had been to London once as a child  when my  Aunts took me to see Norman Wisdom in pantomime. Those Aunts were great fans of Ruby Murray and David Whitfield and took me to see both in Brighton, which was a raffish kind of place in the 1950s.[i] Even then,  as a pre-teen, I did not find Ruby Murray or David Whitfield cool. Something very different was about to happen. My parents took me to variety shows at the Cheltenham Opera House and the Gloucester ABC Regal. The Beatles played at the Regal but somehow I missed them.

I did see Dusty Springfield at the Regal when she was a member of a folk/pop trio called The Springfields. I am pretty sure I must have seen her also when she was a member of the Lana Sisters but that could be a false memory. Such things happen.  Listening to a Dusty four CD-set it is odd today to hear the Lana Sisters singing Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat (hugging and kissing with Fred).

Another blonde beauty I saw sing  live on stage was Kathy Kirby. She had a certain resemblance to Marilyn Monroe and had a tremendous number of hit records. Not cool though. Russ Conway was another uncool prolific hitmaker I saw live. He  played solo piano and smiled charmingly on the Billy Cotton Band Show on Saturday night BBC TV.

How did we teens know, as we gathered in the New Inn on Saturday nights looking for parties, how did we know, and I mean a known known, that Rock Hudson was gay (the term had not yet gained wide usage); that Dusty Springfield was a lesbian; that Ruby Murray was an alcoholic; that Kathy Kirby had had at least one abortion as a result of her long-term affair with bandleader Ambrose (42 years her senior); that Russ Conway was having a homosexual affair with Billy Cotton (Cotton’s son Sir William Frederick “Bill” Cotton CBE went on to become Managing Director BBC TV).

Another thing that we “knew” was that Jimmy Savile was a child molester.



Savile first came to public notice on Radio Luxemburg, the first of the pirate pop stations, founded in 1948. For my generation, 208 on the radio dial was where we kept up with pop music because the BBC did not cater for us. The main format for 208 pop music shows was  a sponsored slot in which the major record companies touted their own product. This was better than it might seem.  My favourite was the Decca show, knowledgeably hosted by Tony Hall (someone who met Tony in 2008 when he was 80 described  his ”good manners tinged with a mischievous wit”).

Jimmy Savile had joined  Luxembourg in 1958, but I first became aware of him when  hosted the Teen and Twenty Disc Club, which peddled the pop product of the Warner Brothers label. The show went out at around ten p.m. on  Wednesdays. Listeners were invited to “join” the club. For the life of me, I cannot remember what records he played and diligent research has not helped my memory. WB had started out as a means of the movie studio selling soundtrack albums and then moved on a little by producing comedy albums by Allan Sherman, Bob Newhart and Shelly Berman. Their big act was the Everly Brothers newly acquired at great expense for  a miserly company from Cadence.  Peter, Paul and Mary gave the label, and Bob Dylan’s career,  a big boost with their version of Blowin’ in the Wind. Their manager Albert Grossman also managed Dylan.

Savile as a radio presenter was better than Savile as a TV host because one could not see him. I recall however that, even in his 208 days,  he had already started developing his irritating verbal tics: “howzabout that then guys and gals?” “Am I right , or am I right?” “Now then, now then”.  Savile established himself then in my mind as a mass of mannerisms and no substance.


National treasure. What was he famous for?

It is difficult to comprehend how Savile  rose  from the TTDC to the status of  “national treasure”  and  Knight of the Realm.

BBC TV producer Colehan had the idea in 1963 of making a TV version of Teen and Twenty Disc Club. He produced the pilot which later became Top of the Pops, which ran until 2006. There are now allegations that Top of the Pops was the centre of a paedophile ring at the BBC.

Another of Savile’s long-running programmes was Jim’ll Fix It, the premise of which was that children wrote in to ask for a wish to be fulfilled and Savile and his team would make the wish come true. It is now clear that this was high concept paedophile programming.

Mark Williams-Thomas made a documentary for ITV (after working on one that was shelved by the BBC) which caused the current furore. He has made a second documentary in which he talks to more than 36 victims to uncover the full extent of Savile’s abuse, which started at Radio Luxembourg in the 1950s. “I believe he engineered his programmes within the BBC and Radio Luxembourg in order to gain access to children. The classic examples are Top of the Pops, Savile’s Travels, Jim’ll Fix It – all of them gave him access to young children. That’s why there were so many victims… this isn’t just someone who offended only against 13, 14 and 15-year-olds. It’s someone who offended against ten-year-olds.””

Savile is sometimes described as a disc jockey but he was not  a pioneer in that field like John Peel or Roger Eagle


Unlike even mass market  DJs like Tony Blackburn or Noel Edmunds, it would be difficult to detect any particular musical enthusiasms in Savile. See his banal choices on Desert Island Discs.[ii]

Savile became famous for being famous. His eccentric appearance and manner were unattractive to many but that did not prevent him becoming rich and influential. Novelist Howard Jacobson’s father was a Manchester cab driver who knew Savile through charity work with disabled children. The young Jacobson was horrified that his father could claim to like Savile.

“’But the man’s a creepy nincompoop’,” I used to say. “’He has the dead face of a thug, makes ridiculous noises, and aspires to the condition of a slow-to-develop infant. You’d have had me adopted had I behaved like that when I was three.’”

One of the reasons that Savile achieved such wealth and prominence and a knighthood was that he was perceived to do great work for charity. Now it seems he used that work as a cover for the abuse of children. The national treasure is now boldly described,  by the police as well as the tabloid press, as a “predatory sex fiend”.

Jacobson asks: “So, is philanthropy the last refuge of the scoundrel?”


The Accusations

After interviewing him for a BBC programme, psychiatrist Anthony Clare said that Jimmy Savile” appeared to be a man without feelings”.

In an interview with Louis  Theroux, Savile  said he never brought a girl home to the apartment he shared with his mother until her death in 1973, because it would have been disrespectful to her. Out of the apartment’s window he pointed out his  “love nest” , a camper van. He also had trailers, caravans, private apartments at various institutions where he did “charity” work.

On 19 October Scotland Yard launched a formal criminal investigation into historic allegations of child sex abuse by Savile, over four decades. Other reports state that allegations cover six decades. Police said they were pursuing over 400 separate lines of inquiry, based on evidence of 200 witnesses, via 14 police forces across the UK. They described the alleged abuse as being “on an unprecedented scale”, and the number of potential victims as “staggering”.

Met Police Commander Peter Spindler described the police inquiry as a “watershed” moment in the investigation of child abuse. He praised the media for exposing Savile “for what he was.” He said Savile was “undoubtedly” one of the most prolific sex offenders of recent history, and the weight of evidence from victims against the late DJ was overwhelming. “We have to believe what they are saying because they are all saying the same thing independently.”

It is alleged that he preyed on young patients at Stoke Mandeville and Broadmoor hospitals. He also, as part of his “charity “ work was a porter at Leeds General Hospital. A former nurse said she saw Savile molest a brain-damaged patient there. Savile mainly seems to have targeted under-age girls but there were some boys also. Lawyer Alan Collins said that a client of his had been abused by Savile when he was a ten-year-old at the Haut de la Garenne children’s home in Jersey.

Someone walked into Jimmy Savile’s dressing room at the BBC to find Savile engaged in penetrative sex with an under-age girl. Savile was annoyed but not ashamed. He told the intruder to get out. The intruder said he had gone to discuss business and  was shocked enough to report the incident. No-one did anything.

Some news reports on Savile allege that he made unaccompanied visits to mortuaries (such as the one at Stoke Mandeville) and that he spoke publicly to the media about his “fascination” with dead bodies. Paul Gambaccini, who started working as a DJ on Radio 1 in 1973 on Radio 5 Live claimed that a reporter was heard talking at a wedding ten years ago about Savile being a necrophiliac. In an interview with Q magazine Savile once said: ‘One of my jobs is to take away the deceased. You can look after somebody, be alone with somebody, who has lived a whole lifetime, and I’m just saying goodbye and looking after him. That is a privilege and an honour. Some people get hold of the fact that Jim likes looking after cadavers and say, ‘Aha, Jim’s a necrophiliac!’ I’m not a necrophiliac”.[iii]


In the bosom of the establishment

Despite his eccentricities – long dyed hair, tasteless jewellery, big cigars, shiny tracksuits, not to mention persistent rumours about paedophilia- the British establishment bizarrely clasped Savile to its bosom.

Chris Patten, chair of the BBC Trust, wrote in the Mail on Sunday: [iv]:  “He was received into the heart of the Establishment; feted from Chequers to the Vatican; friend to Royals and editors. How did we let it happen? And could someone like this con us all again?”

Savile was for years a regular guest of Margaret Thatcher at her official country house when she was prime minister.

Prince Charles regarded him as a friend. Savile was frequent visitor to Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Highgrove (Prince Charles’ estate). Charles had visited Savile at Savile’s retreat in Glencoe, Scotland. There was even a Christmas card in which the Prince wrote “Jimmy, with affectionate greetings from Charles. Give my love to your ladies in Scotland”. The Daily Mail reported in 2011 that Savile had “been used as an intermediary in an attempt to resolve the differences” between Charles and Diana. Indeed the late Princess Diana described Savile as a “sort of mentor to Charles”.

He was elected to membership of the Athenaeum Club on Pall Mall (a far cry from the Teen and Twenty Disc Club). Other members  include cabinet ministers, senior civil servants, peers of the realm and senior bishops. For many years The Athenaeum Club was widely seen to represent the peak of London’s clubland for the public intellectual. Most members of the Athenaeum were men of inherited wealth and status but the  admission of men who had gained their social position through intellectual influence and achievement rather than by title or money gave the club an unusual diversity of membership. Members have included Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, GK Chesterton, Joseph Conrad , Winston Churchill, Alec Guinness, TS Eliot, WB Yeats and my former boss Sir Arthur Armitage. Savile was put up for membership by Cardinal Hume and was accepted over the protests of many other members. The cardinal had introduced Savile to Pope John Paul II when he visited Britain in 1982. Of Savile’s election to the Athenaeum, the cardinal’s spokesman noted: “He is a great admirer of what Jimmy has done for young people – and Stoke Mandeville – and is delighted to help in this matter.”

Savile once described himself as “the most Jewish Catholic you will ever meet”. He helped raise money for Jewish causes in Leeds and beyond, all (it would appear) as a smokescreen to keep on-side the community in whose midst he lived. Savile, who visited Israel on a number of occasions, met senior political figures there in the 1970s, and as recently as 2005 raised money for Laniado Hospital in Netyana.[v] It seems Savile did not visit the hospital. Savile received a medal from Israel in 1979. He visited Israel in 1975 to advise Israel’s President Ephraim Katzir on a matter of security. Reportedly, Savile told the Israeli cabinet that he “was very disappointed: the Israelis had won the Six Day War but they had given back all the land, including the only oil well in the region, and were now paying the Egyptians more for oil than if they had bought it from Saudi Arabia.” A memorial to Sir Jimmy Savile was recently removed from the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board (LJWB) building.[vi]  Savile’s Jewish connections have caused a great deal of anti-Semitic ranting in the murkier depths of the blogpond.


Undermining of institutions

Patten again: “Above all else, I think of the victims of abuse – women and men – marooned for decades with terrible memories of physical and mental torment which, even when they had the courage to report them, no one apparently believed. Not the police. Not the newspapers. Not the BBC… In recent years, some of our greatest institutions have been discredited one after another: Parliament; the police; the press. Now the BBC risks squandering public trust because one of its stars over three decades was apparently a sexual criminal; because he used his programme and popularity as a cover for  his wickedness; because he used BBC premises for some of his attacks; and because others – BBC employees and hangers-on – may also have been involved.”

Although there have been rumours for decades about Savile’s proclivities and actions, the stories really  emerged  into the daylight after an ITV documentary showed interviews with many victims making allegations about him. There have been accusations of a cover-up by the BBC. Victims are likely to sue and the BBC might be “vicariously liable” for Savile’s actions on their premises.

Operation Yewtree, the Metropolitan Police’s investigation, headed by Peter Spindler,  into sex abuse by Savile, is looking at 400 lines of inquiry and around 300 alleged victims. Mr Spindler said: “I have no doubt that we are in watershed moment for child abuse investigation and this will be a landmark investigation. I want to praise the courage of the 300 or so who have come forward.” The celebrities named by victims – some huge household names – are set to be quizzed over serious sex assault allegations. Revealing an “arrest strategy” had been drawn up by his 30-strong team of officers, he said: “There is Savile but there are also others and if those others are living we can now look at them. We are dealing with a major crime investigation here.” While the majority of calls fielded by police are about Savile, some relate to individuals who are believed to have been complicit in the TV star’s abuse, or carried out abuse themselves.

Mr Spindler declined to say where these people worked or if they had links to the NHS, BBC or other institutions with which Savile was involved.

Savile, like John Peel and Alan “Fluff” Freeman (another dead former Radio One DJ about whom there are plenty of child abuse allegations floating around the web),  were all recognised by the British honours system (with Savile himself also being close to various members of the British royal family). An irreverent  blogger commented:  “This starts to create the impression that unless you are a kiddie fiddler you’ll never be offered an honour by Queen Elizabeth II. The class system still stinks something rotten and it is high time we not only stripped all royals of their titles and wealth, but did the same to every last member of the superannuated  establishment!”



Academia nuts- Dr Savile and Professor Ebdon

There are ridiculous pictures of Savile dressed up in an academic gown. Professor Les Ebdon was appointed as the head of the universities’ admissions Office for Fair Access. Savile was made an honorary doctor of arts by the University of Bedfordshire, of which Ebdon was vice-chancellor. Before the ceremony, Savile  was interviewed by the university for a television broadcast. The interviewer asked him if he was “carrying on leading an interesting life”. He replied: “Yes, well, I’ve not been found out yet.” The honour raised eyebrows, with some commentators who said Savile  was hardly an example of academic excellence. Savile’s honorary degree has been rescinded.


Liz MacKean, a Newsnight reporter who had been working on a Savile investigation, which was shelved by the BBC, said: “The story we were investigating was very clear cut. It was about Jimmy Savile being a paedophile, and using his status as a charity fundraiser and television presenter to get access to places where there were vulnerable teenage girls he could abuse.”


Newsnight editor Peter Rippon  shelved the  Savile programme with the words: “Having pondered this overnight I think the key is whether we can establish the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] did drop the case for the reasons the women say. That makes it a better story – our sources so far are just the women and a second–hand briefing.” The phrase “just the women” incensed many.  Alison Pearson wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “So, BBC icon imports girls from approved school and secure mental hospital to pimp them in orgies in his BBC dressing room. And a senior BBC news executive allegedly thinks the offences could have been worse?”

Rippon stopped his journalists’ investigation into paedophilia allegations just two days after the BBC published its Christmas schedule, which included tribute programmes to Savile. Liz MacKean has taken “voluntary redundancy” from Newsnight.

The  BBC is investigating nine allegations of “sexual harassment, assault or inappropriate conduct” among current staff and contributors.

Spindler said a retired officer who previously worked in the Yard’s juvenile bureau had come forward to say he looked into an allegation of indecent assault which he thought had taken place in Savile’s caravan. The alleged sex attack was reported to Hammersmith and Fulham police station, the nearest station to TV Centre, but there was “no evidence that would substantiate a prosecution. Cmdr Spindler said he could not give further details of the 1980s investigation because so far officers had been unable to locate the file on the case. He said he did not know whether Savile was interviewed over the allegation.

There have been reports of a paedophile ring at the BBC centring on Top of the Pops. Jim’ll Fix It would have been an ideal opportunity to gain access to children.

Lord Patten, a practising  Catholic, wrote in the Mail on Sunday: “The filth piles up.”  Patten  has insisted the corporation’s two independent inquiries will hold nothing back in establishing the truth, “however terrible”. He suggested it was unlikely that no one knew about Savile’s abuse. “Can it really be the case that no one knew what he was doing?”

“Today, like many who work for the BBC, I feel a sense of particular remorse that abused women spoke to Newsnight, presumably at great personal pain, yet did not have their stories told as they expected. On behalf of the BBC, I apologise unreservedly.”

“How could the BBC, for example, ever cover sexual crime in other organisations unless we deal thoroughly with what happened in our own?”

Some have seen hope in the fact that the BBC aired a BBC Panorama programme that was highly critical of the role BBC itself in the Savile saga. Patten: “The BBC must retain its capacity to conduct investigative journalism without fear or favour. That should include looking at itself, as Panorama did last week at Newsnight.”

Tom Sutcliffe wrote about the Panorama programme in The Independent. “The Human Centipede in media form” was how the comedian David Schneider described it on Twitter – a recursive nightmare in which the BBC found itself investigating its own failure to investigate. Jeremy Paxman  acknowledged  that it had been a bad day for the BBC and added “it can at least take some comfort from the fact that the BBC did most of the damage”.

Sutcliffe: “It was the sight of the BBC’s new Director-General being questioned by one of his own reporters that drove home the true paradox of this unprecedented hour and a bit of broadcasting history. It was this: only by further damaging its own reputation could the BBC even begin the process of mending it. Last night’s film was grim and depressing – but it was also very difficult to think of any other organisation, media or otherwise, that would have exposed itself to such a painful self-laceration. It’s not over by a long stretch but Panorama may have started to restore some trust.”

BBC director general George Entwistle resigned on Saturday, just two months into the job,

“Kiddie-fiddlers” are not new at the BBC. Respected figures from the cosy days of the 1950s –Gilbert Harding, Derek McCulloch (Uncle Mac), Lionel Gamlin – were seriously disturbed people with a penchant for young boys.

Andrew O’Hagan wrote in the London Review of Books[vii]: “The BBC isn’t the Catholic Church, but it has its own ideals and traditions, which cause people to pause before naming the unwise acts that have been performed on its premises. Perhaps more than any church, the BBC continues to be a powerhouse of virtue, of intelligence and tolerance, but it is now suffering a kind of ecclesiastical terror at its own fallibility. One has to look further into the institution to see another, more obscure tradition, the one that leads to Savile and his liberty-taking. There was always an element of it waiting to be picked up. Many people I spoke to wished to make that clear, but – feeling the Chorus watching from above – they asked for anonymity.”


Did the  NHS ignore Savile’s behaviour  because he raised so much money for hospitals?

Savile was given bedrooms or an office at three hospitals. He was given his own gold-plated keys to high-security Broadmoor hospital for the criminally insane. Broadmoor now houses only adult male patients – but in the 80s accompanied children were allowed to visit relatives. The Department of Health is to investigate how he  was allowed to work as a volunteer following allegations that he abused and raped patients at Broadmoor in the 1970s and 1980s. A spokesperson said there would be an investigation into how Savile  was appointed to lead a “taskforce” overseeing a restructuring of the hospital’s management.

Alison Pink said Savile put his hand up her nightdress when she was 17 when he walked  in on a group of girls watching TV in 1969: “I felt absolutely disgusting afterwards, like I had been used as a piece of meat for his sexual gratification.. He made very good friends with patients on the male ward, which was full of sex offenders.”

A former patient at Broadmoor has claimed that Savile assaulted her at the hospital, touching her intimately under the cover of giving her a hug. She told ITV that when she complained about the star’s behaviour she was put into solitary confinement.

Psychiatric nurse Naomi Stanley told the Guardian that a patient told her she had been frequently abused while she was in hospital in the 1980s. She said the young woman said Savile had raped her repeatedly near the stage of the theatre at the hospital. When she threatened to report he  claimed ‘nobody would believe her and he could do what he liked’.

Richard Harrison, a former psychiatric nurse who worked at Broadmoor for 30 years told Channel 4 that talk about Savile being a paedophile was widespread at the hospital: “I’d long considered him, as my colleagues did, as a man with a severe personality disorder and a liking for children .”

Savile, who raised £40m for Stoke Mandeville, had boasted that he “lived” in a bedroom hospital managers had given him and could do as he pleased. Stoke Mandeville hospital was at the centre of a child sex abuse scandal in the late 1980s. Dr Michael Salmon, a consultant paediatrician was struck off  and  jailed for three years in 1990 after admitting indecent assaults on two 13-year-old girls and a 16-year-old girl. Three years earlier he had been praised by Princess Diana  for helping to organise a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida for 300 disabled children.

Nurses at Stoke Mandeville hospital dreaded Savile’s visits and would tell children to stay in bed and pretend to be asleep when he came round. Former patient Rebecca Owen told BBC News she overheard nurses talking in a way that suggested he also targeted them. “It was an air of resignation that you had to put up with,” she said. “There was some sort of ironic chatter between the nurses about who would be the lucky one to go off to his room.” A spokesman for Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Stoke Mandeville, said: “We are shocked to hear of the serious allegations about Jimmy Savile.

Christine McFarlane, former director of nursing and patient care at Stoke Mandeville said Savile “basically … had the freedom to walk wherever he wanted” and maintained a powerful position thanks to “subtle bullying” of hospital managers. There was a fear of him taking something away. He argued that it was his and not theirs.”

June Thornton, a patient at the Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) in 1972, told ITV News “In 1972 I was taken into the LGI for an operation on my spine. After the operation I was laid flat on my back and I saw, at the bottom of the ward, to the side of the ward, Jimmy Savile come to a young lady sat in a chair. Unfortunately, this lady had I think brain damage because she just sat there and he kissed her and I thought he was a visitor coming to see her. He started rubbing his hands down her arms and then, I don’t know of a nice way to put it, but he molested her, he helped himself. She just sat there and couldn’t do anything about it. When eventually a nurse came to see me, I said to her ‘that’s Jimmy Savile over there’, she said ‘yes’. I said ‘if he comes anywhere near me I’m going to scream the place down’.”

Terry Pratt, who was a -hospital porter at LGI, has told the BBC[viii] that Jimmy Savile was regularly handed a key to nurses’ accommodation there. in the late 1980s. Savile would arrive in the early hours, with teenage girls who seemed “star-struck” and were “not streetwise”, take the girls to the nurses’ home and leave before dawn. Savile had a home in the Roundhay suburb of Leeds less than three miles from the hospital.

The National Association for People Abused in Childhood said it had been “inundated” with calls about Savile. Chief executive Pete Saunders said: “Two this morning told us that not only did Jimmy Savile abuse them at Stoke Mandeville but a doctor did as well.”

Information on three doctors who worked at hospitals where Jimmy Savile had links has been passed to police amid claims they were involved in a network of child abusers with him.[ix] The Guardian said the trio were alleged to have abused young people in their care and were identified by victims who came forward recently. Police are examining individuals, some of whom were associated with Savile, who might have had access to vulnerable children.

Downing Street and the Conservative Party

Was there a paedophile ring within Number 10 Downing Street?

Labour MP Tom Watson, the scourge of Murdoch, recently asked a parliamentary question,[x] which suggested that there was “clear intelligence” linking a former Number 10 aide with a notorious group of sex offenders. “The evidence used to convict paedophile Peter Righton, if it still exists, contains clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring. One of its members boasts of his links to a senior aide of a former prime minister who says he could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad. The leads were not followed up, but if the file still exists I want to ensure that the Metropolitan Police secure the evidence, re-examine it and investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10.”

In the aftermath of Mr Watson’s remarks, media outlets speculated that he was referring to the late former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath – who was the subject of unsubstantiated rumours about sex with under-age boys – or to Sir Peter Morrison, a former Downing Street aide who died in 1995. The Daily Mirror, referred to “Savile’s pal Edward Heath, who appeared on his BBC1 show Jim’ll Fix It”.[xi] ] Newsnight,  in association with the Bureau of Journaliostic  Investigation,  eventually revealed one of the Conservative names that had been cropping up in rumours but argued the case for his innocence.[xv]

This caused further grief for the BBC because Newsnight had named Lord McAlpine only for his accuser to say he had been mistaken. Media commentator Steve Hewlett said: “For the BBC this is just a disaster. You have a programme like Newsnight which in the last few weeks has been flayed alive for not broadcasting something that probably was true (about Jimmy Savile) and has now responded – or that’s how it appears – by broadcasting something that flagrantly wasn’t true. How on earth did it get on air? If there are questions about the BBC these just multiply them. What does this say about the BBC’s journalistic standards? It looks like it was done on the rebound.”[xvi]

Nick Davies[xvii] reported in the Guardian in 1998 that “Fleet Street routinely nurtures a crop of untold stories about powerful abusers who have evaded justice. One such is Peter Morrison, formerly the MP for Chester and the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. Ten years ago, Chris House, the veteran crime reporter for the Sunday Mirror, twice received tip-offs from police officers who said that Morrison had been caught cottaging in public toilets with under aged boys and had been released with a caution. A less powerful man, the officers complained, would have been charged with gross indecency or an offence against children. At the time, Chris House confronted Morrison, who used libel laws to block publication of the story. Now, Morrison is dead and cannot sue. Police … confirmed that he had been picked up twice and never brought to trial. They added that there appeared to be no trace of either incident in any of the official records”

Edwina Currie, former health minister and mistress of John Major,  quoted from her diary in her published autobiography: “One appointment in the recent reshuffle has attracted a lot of gossip and could be very dangerous: Peter Morrison has become the PM’s PPS. Now, he’s what they call ‘a noted pederast’, with a liking for young boys; he admitted as much… when he became deputy chairman of the party but added, ‘However, I’m very discreet’ — and he must be! She [Thatcher] either knows and is taking a chance, or doesn’t; either way, it’s a really dumb move. It scares me, as all the press know, and as we get closer to the election someone is going to make trouble very close to her indeed.” Currie says today: “Was he doing anything illegal? Almost certainly. Would it be illegal today? Hard to tell now the age of consent is down to 16.”

A blogger writes: “My family live in Northern Ireland and in the 1970’s they had heard rumours about a certain leader’s activities with boys. They had also heard about an actor, now dead, and recently linked to the Haute Garenne stories. If these stories reached the west of Northern Ireland in the 1970’s then surely a lot more was talked about in England. So, how high up in the police, judicial system and parliament were the people who quashed any attempt at justice? Did they get paid for their help, or just a share in the paedophile pot?”[xviii]

In  1980, three members of staff at the Kincora Boys home in Northern Ireland were jailed for   offences relating to the systematic abuse of children in their care over a number of years. It was alleged by satirical magazine Private Eye that high-ranking members of the Whitehall civil service and senior officers of the UK military were involved in the sexual abuse of boys in Kincora. One person alleged to have visited Kincora is British prime minister Edward Heath. Another is Jimmy Savile. Another is Lord Mountbatten. Heath is also alleged to have visited Haute la Garenne[xix]. Jimmy Savile claimed he had never been there but there is photographic evidence placing him there.[xx]

Heath came under suspicion purely because he never married. Some thought him asexual, some thought he was a repressed homosexual, some a repressed heterosexual. Labour minister Barbara Castle said: ”We knew he was a repressed something, but were never quite sure what”.

A typical comment from the blogpond, on the Before It’s News website: “He [Savile] was said by Gordon Logan, ex-MI6 spy, to be procuring children for Edward Heath to abuse”. [xxi] Here is another: “The ex-British Prime Minister, Edward Heath was a paedophile. I can write this with no fear of libel action; you cannot libel the dead. It has been reported that Heath (British Prime Minister 1970-74) was known to rent boys in London, would hang around public toilets and had been warned by the Special Branch and Metropolitan Police that his actions would risk his political standing… They were both associated with Haut de la Garenne[xxii] on Jersey, the boys’ home at the centre of a horrific paedophile scandal. Savile reportedly provided boys to Heath, who would take them for a sail on his yacht, where, it’s been alleged, sexual acts on the boys would take place by Heath.”[xxiii]

Peter Hannaford, one of Jersey’s leading trade union officials, who was sent to the home as an orphaned child, waived his right to anonymity to tell the Jersey Evening Post how his earliest memories were of abuse.”Boys and girls were raped when I was there,” he said. “The abuse was anything from rape and torture. It happened every night. And it happened to everyone.”[xxiv]

 The Independent understands that Mr Watson’s comments were not aimed at either Sir Edward or Sir Peter, but at a living person associated with Margaret Thatcher’s administration.[xxv] They are thought to involve the activities of the Paedophile Information Exchange, a pro-paedophile group in existence between 1974 and 1984, which believed there should be no age of consent. [xxvi]

Tom Watson refers to the abuse in North Wales children homes. Someone has come forward to say he was abused by Savile at Bryn Estin. The victim told The Sun newspaper: “Howarth pulled down my pyjama bottoms in front of Savile. I was helpless as Jimmy watched. He thought it funny entertainment. This happened to a number of boys.” According to “Ben”, Savile would ask him: “What do you want me to do? Can I fix it for you.” The victim added: “He kept on looking at me and smiling and laughing. Then he started rubbing my leg. After that I went to bed but he had other children brought up to him.” [xxviii]

A note of caution would be wise here. Some newspaper reports are still referring to “whistleblower” Alison Taylor. Richard Webster effectively demolished her case in his lengthy and exhaustively researched and argued book The Secret of Bryn Estin: The Making of a Modern Witch Hunt, which was praised by such luminaries as John Le Carre, David Lodge, Anthony Clare, Bernard Crick, Richard Hoggart and Anthony Storr. Unfortunately Webster is not available for comment as he died in June 2011.[xxix] A summary of his book can be found at

Here is an excerpt from the Introduction to The Secret of Bryn Estin: “It requires only a little knowledge of human nature to recognise that wherever adults and young people are placed together in residential settings…sexual abuse will sometimes take place….some of those who are now in prison are there for no other reason than that they are guilty of the crimes alleged against them.. {Many} are concerned above all about the manner in which allegations have been obtained and about the soundness of some of the convictions they have led to.. Some defence lawyers have expressed the view that false allegations are now being made on a massive scale, and that the majority of the most serious allegations made against care workers are false”.

Webster argued that one disgruntled care worker, Alison Taylor, (who had a separate career as a writer of crime fiction) encouraged vulnerable people to seek the limelight and financial reward by fabricating allegations. She was assisted in this by the distortions and selective reporting of a freelance journalist called Dean Taylor, used by the Independent.



Prince Charles led tributes to Savile when he died a year ago. Savile  was frequent visitor to Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Highgrove (Prince Charles’ estate). Charles sent a Christmas card saying: “Jimmy, with affectionate greetings from Charles. Give my love to your ladies in Scotland”. Princess Diana described Savile as a “sort of mentor to Charles”. He is said to have offered marriage guidance to the strife-beset couple.

Prince Charles himself was entertained by Savile at his Glencoe cottage retreat, Allt na Reigh,  in the Scottish highlands where Savile is alleged to have abused more than 20 victims.

DJ David Hamilton told how Savile made a beeline for the Countess of Wessex when she was a young PR at London’s Capital Radio. Prince Edward’s wife-to-be, Sophie Rhys-Jones greeted  Savile with a bottle of champagne as he joined Capital Gold in 1990. The wind blew her skirt up. Savile leered at her legs, pawed at her side and attempted to shower her with kisses. Hamilton reported: “Sophie stormed off and said: ‘I refuse to have anything to do with that revolting man.’”

Dickie Arbiter, who handled media relations for the Prince and Princess of Wales while spokesman for the Queen between 1988 and 2000, said that when Savile visited St James’s Palace he  used to rub his lips up the arms of Prince Charles’s young female assistants as a greeting. Arbiter said he thought the women might have thought Savile’s greeting was “rather funny”, but he said it was a cause for concern and he struggled to understand why Savile was granted such access to the royal family. “I looked on  him as a court jester and told him so,” said Arbiter. “I remember calling him an old reprobate and he said ‘not so much of the old’.”

Much of what is now being accepted as fact about Savile has long been scurrilous gossip on the internet. David Icke has long been regarded as number-one flake in England. He used to be a minor goalkeeper and sports presenter but achieved greater fame when he appeared to go completely bonkers. In March 1991 he held a press conference to announce that he was a “Son of the Godhead”.  On the Terry Wogan Show he announced that the world would soon be devastated by tidal waves and earthquakes. He said the show changed his life, turning him from a respected household name into someone who was laughed at whenever he appeared in public. At the heart of his theories lies the idea that a secret group of reptilian humanoids called the Babylonian Brotherhood controls humanity, and that many prominent figures are reptilian, including GW Bush, the Queen, Kris Kristofferson,  and Boxcar Willie. Just because he might be wrong about a lot did not prevent him from being right about Savile.

Many of the conspiracy theorists base their crazed allegations against the royal family on a book called War of the Windsors by Lynn Picknett, Clive Prince and Stephen Prior. One reader comments: “They make sweeping statements  …over and over again, and leap to extraordinary conclusions on little to no evidence. The factual errors are endless, and make the hypotheses even more unreliable.” There is a website for conspiracy fans.[xxx]

Dan Davies writes about the Duncroft home in his unpublished book about Savile:

“Many of the 25 or so girls in its care at any one time came from comfortable backgrounds and included the daughters of ambassadors and BBC producers. As a Home Office-approved school, funding came from Social Services. Regular guests at their parties included the actor James Robertson Justice, who was one of Britain’s leading film stars in the 1940s and 1950s and reportedly a close friend of the Duke of Edinburgh. Princesses Marina and Alexandra are said to have attended. Among the former Duncroft girls to have come forward, one has said she was put in the isolation unit for ‘two or three days’ after loudly protesting when Savile groped her in a caravan on the school grounds. ‘For years we tried to report him,’ another confided to me. ‘We even had a mass breakout to Staines police station.’

There have been calls for the UK Government to strip Savile of the British knighthood he was awarded in 1990. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, hinted earlier this month that the honour could be removed. However, the Cabinet Office said that honours ceased to exist when a person died, although there is a campaign to change the law so that they can be revoked after death.


Catholic Church

Savile was made a Knight ­Commander of St Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II for his charity work in 1990. It is one of the ­highest awards the Pope can bestow.

Following Savile’s death the Scottish Catholic [xxxi]newspaper carried a glowing tribute: “The popular Catholic DJ, entertainer and philanthropist passed away at his home in Leeds just two days before his 85th birthday. His funeral was at St Anne’s Catholic Cathedral in Leeds on Wednesday.”

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, (who has recently been named “bigot of the year” for his views on homosexuality[xxxii]) Britain’s most senior Catholic clergyman, spoke of his friendship with Savile: “My friendship with Jimmy Savile developed over many years since I was assistant priest in St Patrick’s Parish, Kilsyth, along with the parish priest, the then Fr Denis O’Connell. We were always trying to fundraise, not only for the parish, but for a variety of local and national charities and Father Denis had got to know Jimmy quite simply because of Jimmy’s mother, ‘The Duchess.’  It was Jimmy’s fond mother who attributed the healing of Jimmy when an infant to her prayers to the Venerable Margaret Sinclair, a young Scottish nun.”

Savile was put up for membership of the Athenaeum by Cardinal Hume and was accepted over the protests of many other members. The cardinal had introduced Savile to Pope John Paul II when he visited Britain in 1982.

Savile could become the first person to be stripped of a Papal knighthood posthumously. Other recipients have included Rupert Murdoch. Church sources said there was no established process to remove a Papal honour posthumously because the award dies with the recipient. However, senior Roman Catholic clergy in Britain feel that the Vatican should look at whether it can do something to recognise its disgust at the “deeply shocking” series of allegations.

Civil Service

How was Savile appointed to head a taskforce looking into the management structure of Broadmoor? A spokesperson for the Department of Health  said: “We will investigate the Department of Health’s conduct in apparently appointing Savile to this role. “Apparently”? “Although the framework for child protection and safeguarding for Broadmoor and other special hospital patients changed radically in 1999, we of course want to establish the circumstances and see if any lessons can be learned. “In hindsight, he should very obviously not have been appointed. Had anyone involved in the appointment been aware of allegations of abuse against Savile, we would not have expected him to have been appointed.”

A senior civil servant whom I encountered at a few meetings in the early 1980s. He  ran the mental health division of the Department of Health and Social Security in 1987, when plans were drawn up to appoint Savile to run a taskforce overseeing the hospital. He left the civil service under circumstances which I have been unable to fathom and became Special Adviser to the mental health charity MENCAP and a contributor to Community Care and other publications.

Department of Health  sources said they understood this official  was “instrumental” in the creation of the taskforce. In a book about psychiatric care, Alan Franey, an NHS administrator who was appointed to the same taskforce describes being issued with the invitation in 1987 – during “an unusual meeting in the Athenaeum Club in London with some officials who shall remain nameless.” He neglected to mention that Savile was present, although he confirmed it when contacted by The Sunday Telegraph, but refused to say whether this man  was among the officials. Contacted by The Sunday Telegraph, he confirmed that he was very closely involved in discussions about the running of Broadmoor but could not recall his part in Savile’s appointment. He  said he had never been to the Athenaeum and only recalled meeting Savile once at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

The former senior civil servant, now 74, was prevented from working with children by Croydon Council in 2005, when he was stopped from running a children’s church group. Three years earlier Bromley Council ended his involvement with services for children with learning difficulties.  The interventions followed police investigations into his conduct during volunteer visits to children’s homes. The interventions followed police investigations into his conduct during volunteer visits to children’s homes.

The former official told the Sunday Telegraph: “Ministers made the decisions obviously because that is what they are there for. I am not saying I wasn’t involved but I simply don’t remember a single thing about this appointment.”  With regard to his own conduct, the former civil servant said he had done “absolutely nothing wrong”. [xxxiii]



Children in Need is the BBC’s corporate charity, providing grants to projects in the UK which focus on young people who are disadvantaged. Sir Roger Jones was chair of the charity from 1999 to 2002. He said he would have stepped down from his Children in Need role if Savile had been allowed to become involved with the charity. Sir Roger, who  was also  a BBC governor for Wales from 1997 to 2002, said he had refused to let Savile “anywhere near” the Children in Need appeal after being told of rumours by BBC colleagues in London. “I think we all recognised he was a pretty creepy sort of character”. Jones said paedophiles target the annual charity appeal “just like flies around the honey pot”.

John Oldfield, who was on the Yorkshire committee of the Royal Variety Club of Great Britain from 1981 to 1996, and its chairman in 1989, said he didn’t let him near the charity. [xxxiv] “Everyone knew, everybody I spoke to knew he was dodgy. It was widespread, it went back to when he was working at the Meccas, all over the UK, but also in Leeds,” said Oldfield, who owned an ad agency based in Leeds until he sold out in 1999 and is now membership director of industry trade body the IPA. “He had a reputation for entertaining young girls. He was the top DJ in Leeds. He was always chasing around with young girls, it goes back 30 to 40 years, and it just wasn’t right, even when you consider it was the days of flower power and free love. He looked dodgy, he sounded dodgy, he was dodgy. And why did he always turn up with that motorised van?”

Savile, who raised millions of pounds by running marathons and half-marathons, has now been removed from the Great North Run Hall of Fame.

Abuse campaigner Shy Keenan told The Sun newspaper that she told ChildLine founder and long-time BBC presenter Esther Rantzen about allegations against Savile some 18 years ago. Asked about the claims, Ms Rantzen replied: “I have no memory whatever of this lady. I’m sorry to be disrespectful, but I don’t remember the conversation at all. She said in The Sun that she told me about rumours. If she did, I would have said to her: ‘Can you take it any further; can you discover any evidence; can you pass it to the police’.”


The press are clearly enjoying the story but revelations are also undermining the newspaper culture. If I and my friends in Gloucester knew about Savile before the days of the internet, the press would have known also. Why didn’t the press do something?  It is said he blackmailed any paper about to unmask him with the threat of putting an end to his giving, but that should not deter any self-respecting journalist.

As Andrew O’Hagan writes:” For forty years people believed Savile was the hero of Stoke Mandeville Hospital and for forty years the red-top papers promoted his image as the nation’s zaniest and most lovable donor. He may have abused two hundred children during that time.”


Police and Crown Prosecution Service

Although Operation Yewtree will be an extensive investigation the police have been criticised for failing to prosecute Savile when he was alive. Victims of Savile made complaints to several  police forces including in London, Sussex and Jersey, but it was decided that no further action should be taken.

The Director of Public Prosecutions announced he was to review the original police file sent to the Crown Prosecution Service alleging child abuse by Savile. The DPP, Keir Starmer,  will investigate why the CPS took the decision not to prosecute over allegations in 2009. He has also asked to speak to the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, about whether the CPS should start referring Savile sex abuse cases to other relevant agencies, including social services, where the evidence is not deemed strong enough for a criminal prosecution. The CPS is investigating a decision in 2009 not to prosecute the star despite a file from Surrey police detailing four victims.  At the time the CPS advised the police that no further action should be taken because of lack of evidence and because the alleged victims’ unwillingness to support police inquiries made a conviction unlikely.

Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry welcomed the DPP’s decision but said “any review should be independent of the CPS in order to command public confidence”.[xxxv]


National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

When I worked in child protection at the Department of Health,  the government gave large financial grants to enable the NSPCC to continue its work. The NSPCC also felt the need to maintain a public profile by raising funds itself from the public individually. They did this by attention-grabbing campaigns which indicated that just about everyone in Britain had been abused as a child. When one analysed the raw data one discovered that their definition of sexual abuse range from violent and continued penetrative rape to having seen a flasher or to two consenting teenagers being caught at it and being labelled sex offenders because they were underage.

The Savile case has brought out statements like one from Sue Berelowitz, Britain’s deputy children’s commissioner, who is quoted as saying: “There isn’t a town, village or hamlet in which children are not being sexually exploited.” I have dealt with sexual abuse hysteria and lynch mob mentality before in this paper. This conflation of different types of behaviour can result in wrongful persecution of innocent people. In this case it trivialises the gravity of Savile’s crimes.

The Kissing Sailor, the Groping DJs

There was an interesting debate on a blog about the “Kissing Sailor”.

At the end of the Second World War,  photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured the iconic image of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square. The image has been extensively analysed and many have come to the conclusion that what had been regarded as a joyful moment was in fact a sexual assault. The nurse was a stranger to the sailor. He had performed a sexual act upon her without her prior consent. Her body language clearly indicates that she is resisting rather than participating. His body language speaks violence and power and coercion. The title of the article mentions a “Culture of Rape” although the writer and her supporters vehemently deny that they are suggesting the kiss equates to rape.

Did a culture of rape exist at the time the picture was shot? Does a culture of rape exist today? Was the culture of the 1960s and 1970s different from the culture of today? In many ways things were worse in the 70s. I found the “classic” movie The Italian Job unwatchable because of the attitudes to “birds” and the “pulling” of birds. However, today hard-core porn is easily available and the hardness of that core generally means objectification or violence towards women. The publishing phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey was aimed at the female market while trading on the (supposedly) erotic potential of female submission.

Continuum of exploitation

A number of individuals have been dragged into the Savile scandal and a number have come forward themselves to  relate their experience.

It seems that  Savile once said Gary Glitter had done nothing wrong. Glitter (Paul Gadd)  served two months in jail in Britain in 1999 for possession of child pornography. Gadd was deported from Cambodia and imprisoned for four years in Vietnam for having sex with underage girls (as young as ten). Comedian Freddy Starr has strenuously denied any guilt. At time of writing, the police have arrested him twice for lengthy questioning. His most serious alleged offence seems to be groping a 14-year-old girl a long time ago.

The BBC has also been embarrassed by revelations that eminent, saintly and dead DJ John Peel impregnated a 15-year-old girl. It has long been a matter of public record that Peel married his first wife when she was 15 and that  he boasted (in his unassuming, non-threatening kind of way) to have had under-age  girls throwing themselves at him. Julie Burchill wrote about this in January 1999[xxxvi] but it has taken the Savile revelations to topple the institution that was John Peel.

Dominatrix Miss Whiplash (former prostitute and brothel owner Lindi St Clair) , said Savile  had sex with her (when she was 15) and a 13-year-old friend when they were runaways. He paid GBP3 for the privilege.

Two women have told the Daily Mirror about sexual attacks involving Savile. One woman says Savile and a friend from the BBC got her drunk and took her to a hotel: “I remember seeing them stark naked and the BBC star’s friend was very aggressive in his tone. He was shouting quite loudly at one point. He then took hold of me and got on top. I felt so helpless. I was terrified. At one point the BBC star held my head as the other guy was on top of me.”The woman says she was then forced to perform a sex act on the presenter with the other man still in the room.“The room had two single beds and I woke up with the big man hugging me from behind” .[xxxvii]

Guilt by association and conflation of different orders of abusive behaviour has somewhat fogged the picture. In an attempt to convey a “culture of sexual abuse” at the BBC a number of people have come forward with their own experiences. Sandy Toskvig and Liz Kershaw have said they were groped on air. Some have had a brief moment of press interest by saying they were not abused. Toyah Wilcox has said she had not been groped because she was too tough but knew it was going on. Headlines suggested that David Walliams had been in danger but he was merely trying to amuse by saying that he had written to Jim’ll Fix it but had not got a reply.

Eve Graham, who  was  the young lead singer of The New Seekers, whose hits included I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, said: “When I was a naive 19-year-old virgin, I was alone with an agent in his office when he pinned me against a wall and tried to force my hand to touch him intimately”. “I said, ‘No’, walked away, and that was the end of it. If he hadn’t let me out of the room, I would, probably, have punched him, but I wouldn’t have made a case out of it.”

Anne Robinson has told of how she was groped by Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey.


Bill Wyman has joined up with the other Rolling Stones for reunion concerts. Wyman is still accepted  despite famously beginning a relationship with Mandy Smith when she was 13. Jerry Lee Lewis had to cancel a tour of the UK in the 1950s when it was discovered that his wife was 15. The “Killer” thought this was quite normal back in Ferriday, Louisiana and was shocked at the shock.

The word culture has been bandied about a lot in this affair. Wasn’t it Goering who said: “when I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun”?

The Oxford Companion to Philosophy uses this definition: “a system of values in terms of which participants in a form of life find meaning and purpose”.

Raymond Williams, laid the foundations for the field of cultural studies. In his conclusion to  Culture and Society, published in 1958, Williams wrote: “The word, culture, cannot automatically be pressed into service as any kind of social or personal directive.” In Keywords [xxxviii]Williams wrote: “Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language. This is so because of its intricate historical development, in several European languages, but mainly because it has now come to be used for important concepts in several distinct intellectual disciplines and in several distinct and incomplete systems of thought”. Williams examined Herder’s ideas on the topic: “It is then necessary, he argued, to speak of  ‘cultures’ in the plural: the specific and variable cultures of different nations and periods, but also the specific and variable cultures of social and economic groups within a nation. This sense, which has become common in C20 anthropology and sociology, and by extension in general use, remained comparatively isolated, however, in all European languages until at earliest mC19 and was not fully established until eC20”.

Frank Furedi, one of the professional contrarians at,  in an article titled The Culture of Abuse, quotes himself:

“Back in 1997, when I wrote my first book on the sociology of fear, I argued: ‘The theme of abuse has become one of the most distinct features of contemporary Western culture. The frequency with which the term is used and the growing number of experiences that are defined as abusive are symptomatic of the significance of this artifact of contemporary culture.. There is little resistance to the depiction of most forms of human relationships as potentially abusive.. Like the effects of toxic waste, the effects of human pollution are long-term, apparently. That is why many believe that the causes of our present-day distress can be located in the distant past. Memory is believed to have the power to discover the truth that evades us in the present, and so the official inquiry becomes the institutional setting through which the ritual of revelation is conducted.’”

Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster, ITV, now stands accused of contributing to a culture of trial by internet, because Phillip Schofield ambushed the prime minister on live TV with a list of names accused of child abuse on the web. ITV sought to limit the criticism by issuing its own statement. “It is extremely regrettable that names may have been very briefly visible as a result of a misjudged camera angle, although most viewers would not have been able to read the list. As Phillip has stressed, the programme was not accusing anyone of anything.”[xxxix]

Music writer Jon Savage describes a particular culture of the 1960s: “mixing homosexuality (illegal until summer 1967), blackmail, organised crime, the music industry and the most famous pop stars on the planet.” Savage interviewed Beatles publicist and Apple PR Derek Taylor in 1997:”he mentioned Beatles’ lawyer David Jacobs in passing: Brian [Epstein, Beatles manager] ‘had a vast and successful group of homosexual friends. Including Nat Weiss, David Jacobs… that was a very dodgy business, it ended so badly, and I don’t know why he hanged himself…he had no innocence at all left, David Jacobs.’” [xl] There have been suggestions that Jacobs was murdered.

Patten: “The BBC should reflect our society’s ethical values. How has this been shown by the relationship between our dismal celebrity culture and our values system? How can we have allowed so many people and institutions to be mired in fawning over one awful man – a  devious psychopath?”

Savile was not the only “awful man” at the BBC.

Jonathan King was a DJ who also presented other BBC TV programmes. He was tried in September 2001 and received a seven-year sentence for six offences against five boys aged 14–16 committed between 1983 and 1989. He continues to protest his innocence. In January 2012 he appeared as a witness at the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, ethics and practice of the press and media in the United Kingdom.

Chris Denning was one of the original DJs on BBC Radio 1. Denning’s first conviction for gross indecency and indecent assault was in 1974, when he was convicted at the Old Bailey. In 1985 he was imprisoned for 18 months for gross indecency with a child, and in 1988 when he was jailed for three years for indecent assault on a 13-year-old boy and possession of indecent photographs. In March 1996 he was imprisoned for 10 weeks for publishing indecent photographs. Denning was part of a group of child sex offenders based around a disco for young people in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey. He is currently serving a  five year sentence in Slovakia for producing child pornography.

Alan Freeman was a long-time presenter of Pick of the Pops on BBC radio and a familiar face on Top of the pops and other TV programmes. Freeman confessed to being bi-sexual but did not deal with rumours about under-age sex. It has been  alleged that East End gangster Ronnie Kray had access to many London care homes and would have boys delivered to parties at Freeman’s large flat over a music shop in East London. There they would meet with show biz types and DJs including Jimmy Savile, Gloucester-born record producer Joe Meek, playwright Joe Orton, actor Peter Arne  and Beatles manager Brian Epstein. Peter Arne, like Orton was bludgeoned to death. Meek killed himself after bludgeoning to death his landlady. Ronnie Kray remained in Broadmoor until his death on 17 March, 1995.


Channel 4 News said it had seen an email sent last December by Liz MacKean in which she wrote: “Having commissioned the story, Peter Rippon keeps saying he’s lukewarm about it and is trying to kill it by making impossible editorial demands.” She reportedly claimed: “When we rebut his points, he resorts to saying, well, it was 40 years ago … the girls were teenagers, not too young … they weren’t the worst kind of sexual offences etc.”

An inquiry will be conducted by former Court of Appeal judge Dame Janet Smith. She will examine the BBC’s culture and practices in the years that Savile worked there. She will also examine whether BBC child protection and whistle blowing policies are good enough.

Many commentators are echoing LP Hartley’s observation that  the past is a different country. The rock world of the 1970s was a bizarre, hedonistic country. The strutting rock gods of that era (and their hangers-on) may have claimed an element of consent in their sexual exploits, although their behaviour may have been morally reprehensible as it abused their power and status. Often their behaviour was illegal. They contributed to a more general distasteful culture because it seemed to give permission to many nonentities to emulate them.

Dozens of big name stars from the 1960s and 70s have contacted publicist Max Clifford “frightened to death” they will become implicated in the Savile scandal. He said the stars, some of whom are still big names today, were worried because at their peak they had lived a hedonistic lifestyle where young girls threw themselves at them but they “never asked for anybody’s birth certificate”. Mr Clifford said young pop stars at the time had gone from working in a factory one week to performing in front of thousands of people “and girls are screaming and throwing themselves at them then”.

It was a culture shock to me to go from university to a local social security office in Manchester. There were certainly inappropriate relationships between teachers and students at university but the brutal atmosphere of male chauvinist piggery in the local office was as  depressing as the fog of cigarette smoke. That it went on at a higher level is indicated by the eventual ousting of a senior civil servant I knew well for sexually harassing his subordinates.

It is a long time since I worked in an office,  but from what I read, the smoke is no longer a problem and I would think there is also less sexual harassment. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 obliged employers to take seriously the issue of female staff being bullied or sexually harassed in the office. The Employment Equality (Sex Discrimination) Regulations of 2005 provided clear protection for any woman subjected to “unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating her dignity or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her”. The TUC has said that law means “that if, for example, a colleague persists in making remarks about what nice legs a female employee has, or her boss promises her promotion if she goes away with him for the weekend, she should be able to claim that this is sexual harassment”.

I recall that in the 1970s it often seemed that promiscuity was compulsory whether one wanted to join in or not. That does not mean that paedophilia was condoned. I do recall a certain naiveté – the idea of anyone wanting to rape a baby was too bizarre. However hedonistic people might be that was beyond the pale. The mores of the 70s and 80s as regards paedophilia were no different to today. Actor Peter Adamson died a penniless recluse after achieving wealth and fame in the tele-drama Coronation Street on which he was a regular for 23 years. He was acquitted of inappropriately touching two young girls at a swimming pool. Despite the acquittal the accusation was enough to destroy his life.

Patten referred to “celebrity culture” In the 1970s and 1980s, Savile was tragically turned into a saint by a society that looked to celebrities for moral and social guidance.

Deborah Orr: “It’s also easier to bear the idea that Savile’s reign of terror was due to some unique historical confluence, that he slipped though the gap that appeared during a time of great cultural upheaval. This narrative is true enough. Savile exploited the chaos created by changing attitudes – to sex, class, youth, culture, entertainment, money, fame, even to public services and charity – that were themselves a response to an industrial age of rapid technological advancement,.. it’s easy to understand how a figure as unlikely as Savile could have been mistaken, by those girls, for a handsome prince. He wore the invisible yet dazzling cloak of celebrity and promised them the tawdry glamour of television exposure. Savile knew better than anyone that TV is better at concealing than exposing, particularly in the light entertainment department..”[xli]

Andrew O’Hagan traces a distasteful culture at the BBC back to the thirties and sees it still prevalent. Prevalent in the BBC and the wider world. “Why is British light entertainment so often based on the sexualisation of people too young to cope? And why is it that we have a press so keen to feed off it? Is it to cover the fact, via some kind of willed outrage, that the culture itself is largely paedophile in its commercial and entertainment excitements? Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked by journalists cynically feeding the ravenous appetites of three million people who love that stuff, and that’s just the ones who actually bought the News of the World. When Leveson’s findings are duly buried, will we realise that it was the nation’s populist appetites that were on trial all along?

We’re not allowed to say it. Because we love our tots. Or, should I say: WE LOVE OUR TOTS? We know we do because the Mirror tells us we do, but would you please get out of the way because you’re blocking my view of another 14-year-old crying her eyes out on The X-Factor as a bunch of adults shatter her dreams. Savile went to work in light entertainment and thrived there: of course he did, because those places were custom-built for men who wanted to dandle dreaming kids on their knees. If you grew up during ‘the golden era of British television’, the 1970s, when light entertainment was tapping deep into the national unconscious, particularly the more perverted parts, you got used to grown-up men like Rod Hull clowning around on stage with a girl like Lena Zavaroni. You got used to Hughie Green holding the little girl’s hand and asking her if she wanted an ice-cream. Far from wanting an ice-cream, the little girl was starving herself to death while helpfully glazing over for the camera and throwing out her hands and singing ‘Mama, He’s Making Eyes at Me’. She was 13”. died at the age of 35 after suffering from anorexia since she was 13.

Alison Philips wrote in the Daily Mirror: “Like woodchip wallpaper and leg warmers, these things weren’t nice, but it was how it was.. And let’s keep in clear focus the real issue: the terrible actions of a dangerous predatory paedophile – Jimmy Savile – and how he managed to evade ­detection, for far, far too long..”

David James, writing for Wales Online said: “We may be seeing the death of an innocent culture of trust in authority that allowed those who benefited from the cover of respectability – whether as an MP with an expense account or a TV celebrity with a private dressing room – to abuse it.”[xlii]


Howard Jacobson again: “The psychology of the grope is interesting, and self-evidently has more to do with the exercise of power than erotic appreciation. Feeling a woman’s reluctant body can be pleasurable only if reluctance is itself a spur and defying it a turn-on, which is a mystery to simple men like me who prefer desire to be reciprocal. Power corrupts, in sexual matters as in political, and one of the most important lessons to be learnt from Savile’s progress is that we should check power at every turn.”

The most disturbing thing about Savile is that he gained power and used it against children, sometimes children who were already vulnerable, disabled children , brain-damaged children, sick children in hospital. This is very different from a drunken sailor kissing a woman without permission or one adult DJ putting his hands inappropriately on another adult DJ. They should not have done it but it was different to what Savile did.

How Did He Get Away with It?

Criticising the BBC’s performance, David Cameron said: “These allegations do leave many institutions – perhaps particularly the BBC – with serious questions to answer – I think above all the question, ‘How did he get away with this for so long?” As one former victim described it: “Adults look, but then they turn their faces away”.

In Savile’s 1976 autobiography, Love is an Uphill Thing, he boasted about inappropriate behaviour with young girls. “I train my men well and, to date, we have not been found out. Which, after all, is the 11th commandment, is it not?”

I remember Ray Teret  (Ugli Ray)  as a DJ on Radio Caroline and then Piccadilly Radio in Manchester. Teret was Jimmy Savile’s former flatmate and chauffeur. He has been released on bail after being held on suspicion of rape

In his best-selling book The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker outlines some of the strategies used by abusers.[xliii] Becker list some PINS – Pre-incident Indicators:

  • Forced Teaming. This is when a person tries to pretend that he has something in common with a person and that they are in the same predicament when that isn’t really true.
  • Charm and Niceness. This is being polite and friendly to a person in order to manipulate him or her.
  • Too many details. If a person is lying they will add excessive details to make themselves sound more credible.
  • Typecasting. An insult to get a person who would otherwise ignore one to talk to one. For example: “Oh, I bet you’re too stuck-up to talk to a guy like me.”
  • Loan Sharking. Giving unsolicited help and expecting favours in return.
  • The Unsolicited Promise. A promise to do (or not do) something when no such promise is asked for; this usually means that such a promise will be broken. For example: an unsolicited, “I promise I’ll leave you alone after this,” usually means you will not be left alone. Similarly, an unsolicited “I promise I won’t hurt you” usually means the person intends to hurt you.
  • Discounting the Word “No”. Refusing to accept rejection.[xliv]

According to the Sunday People, Savile said: “All I have to do is call my friends in the IRA. They’ll have someone waking up in hospital the next morning eating their breakfast through a f***ing straw. [xlv]

BBC TV producer Paul  Jackson said he believed the  BBC was  initially reluctant to use Savile on Top of the Pops because of his background in the Leeds and Manchester club and dance hall scene. As well as DJ-ing he was a club manager in the 1950s but, according to Mr Jackson “you didn’t cross him”. “Savile was thought to be dodgy, there was a feeling he was heavy, you didn’t cross him, he was a heavy dude,” Jackson said. He added that those who came through the clubbing circuit, flooded with cash and drugs, were tough: “They had bodyguards, they had sharp elbows, you had to protect yourself.”

There is a strong whiff of violence about Savile. A picture is emerging of Savile as a an opportunist who surrounded himself with dubious characters. One line of inquiry is following Savile’s links to the criminal underworld in Manchester, including the notorious Quality Street gang, who supposedly dominated the city in the 1960s.[xlvi]

Former West Yorkshire Police detective John Stainthorpe said Savile was a suspect in the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper more than 30 years ago.[xlvii] The brutal murders were committed in Savile’s home town of Leeds, some within sight of his apartment. Between 1975 and 1980, the vicious murderer attacked women, stabbed his victims with screwdrivers, stamped on them, left notes with their bodies taunting police for not catching him and killed a total of 13 women. ‘When the Ripper was really active one of the suspects put forward by members of the public was Jimmy Savile, strange as it may seem.”  Police  hunting the serial killer took a cast of Savile’s teeth from Harley Street dentist Dr Mace Joffe. [xlviii] Sutcliffe named Savile in police interviews and two of his victims were found near Savile’s flat. The TV star visited Sutcliffe in prison soon after his conviction.

Peter Sutcliffe was convicted of the murders and Savile befriended him in Broadmoor.

Savile tricked Frank Bruno into shaking hands with the Ripper. He didn’t tell Bruno who it was until afterwards

In an interview with Louis Theroux,[xlix]  Savile  talked about how he dealt with troublemakers when he was working in clubs: “I never threw anybody out. Tied them up and put them down in the bloody boiler house until I was ready for them. Two o’clock in the fucking morning… We’d tie em up and then we’d come back and I was the judge, jury and executioner.” Savile later told Theroux he was talking metaphorically and said he would never tie anyone up – only with words – but admitted “some of my people might have done”. He described drug dealers as “dirty slags”. “If those people wanted to sell drugs, so be it, but it must not happen in my place. All there is to it. No arguments. I invented zero tolerance.”

Liz Boothe was Savile’s girl friend in the early 60s. She told The Sun[l]: “He knew a lot of dodgy people. I remember hearing him telling someone to set fire to Bruce Woodcock’s house. He’d say, ‘What happens in this office stays in this office’, so I kept quiet.” Bruce Woodcock was boxing hero who won heavyweight titles from 1945 to 1950.

O’Hagan: “He was loved for being so rich and so generous and for loving his mother, the Duchess. And no one said, not out loud: ‘What’s wrong with that man? Why is he going on like that? What is he up to?’ He was an entertainer and that’s thought to be special. A more honest society brings its victims to the Colosseum and cheers. We agreed to find it OK when our most famous comedians were clearly not OK. When Benny Hill’s mother died, in 1976, he kept her house in Southampton as a shrine, just as Savile kept his mother’s clothes, and it might have been weird but it was also the kind of celebrity eccentricity we had come to expect.”

Savile  is said to have threatened that there would be some funding shortfall for Stoke Mandeville hospital should claims about his rape of children be made public. In recent days many people have said that even in retirement Jimmy Savile was just too powerful.

Douglas Murray writes on the Spectator blog:”If the sexual abuse of children – and the sexual abuse of children with disabilities at that – is something that can be an unspoken secret because of fear and group-think (and when the fear is of a crappy low-grade entertainer) what does it say about our inability to deal with major issues arising from people who have real power?” [li]

Alison Bellamy, who ghosted Savile’s autobiography,  heard the rumours about his fondness for young girls and says: “Like almost everyone who knew him, I never believed them. Or maybe I did not want to believe them.”[lii] During a series of interviews in 2006 with Savile she asked him about the rumours and admits accepting his dissembling replies. She writes: “He was dismissive, as if what I was saying was ridiculous. But he was always manipulative with the press and, even though he insisted he would always answer any question thrown at him, he would often change the subject or talk nonsense.”

Unknown Knowns

Alison Pearson wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “After Savile died, a year ago on Monday, a commemorative page was put up on the BBC website. As requested, viewers shared their memories of “Ow’s-About-That-Then” Jimmy – only, instead of a light-entertainment legend, they recalled a dark, devious pervert. The Savile tribute page was hastily removed. Shouldn’t that have been the first sign that celebrations needed to be put on hold?”

Writing in the New York Times about the child abuse scandal in the Irish Catholic church, novelist John Banville said: “It was an echo of that silence which, like the snow in Joyce’s story ‘The Dead’, was general all over Ireland, in those days. Never tell, never acknowledge, that was the unspoken watchword. Everyone knew, but no one said.

Amid all the reaction to these terrible revelations, I have heard no one address the question of what it means, in this context, to know. Human beings — human beings everywhere, not just in Ireland — have a remarkable ability to entertain simultaneously any number of contradictory propositions. Perfectly decent people can know a thing and at the same time not know it. Think of Turkey and the Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century, think of Germany and the Jews in the 1940s, think of Bosnia and Rwanda in our own time.”

[i] BBC DJ Alan Freeman lived in Brighton. He knew the Beatles lawyer David Jacobs (not to be confused with the more famous DJ of the same name). Jacobs died in Brighton in 1968 after a rumoured S&M orgy. Jacobs loved boys. So did playwright Joe Orton. He planned a move to Brighton but was murdered before he could. So does Julie Burchill, scourge of Saint John Peel.


[xxxviii] Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Raymond Williams, Fontana Communications Series, London 1976.

The Healthcare Business in the UK

I posted a version of this on Open Salon in February 2010. Further “reforms” seem to be stalling.

I have been fortunate in that I have had few encounters with the UK National Health Service (NHS) as a patient. The encounters I did have were all related to head injuries. When I was about four years old I fell down the stairs while attempting to play the ukulele and landed on my head. That was the end of my musical education. The only time I ever scored a try playing Rugby, I contrived to get kicked in the head at the same time and had to be stitched up.  Some years later, while leaving a hostelry (sober, I might add) in Manchester with a group of friends, we were unexpectedly set upon by a gang of ruffians and again I was kicked in the head. One of our company fared worse, suffering a broken jaw.

I know something about the NHS from the inside. After graduating from university, I worked as a hospital porter for six months. I was originally hired because the hospital lifts were being replaced and I had to carry patients to and from the operating theatre. My duties also included assisting at post-mortems and taking corpses on my own to the mortuary in the middle of the night. This was more of an education than university.

That hospital was originally built as a brewery in the 18th century. It was an NHS institution, but private patients were treated in what was called the “new building”. It had been built in the 1930s. When there was a cardiac arrest on the public wards we had to run over to the “new building” and collect the necessary equipment which we then trundled through underground passages to the old building.

Since I worked there, those premises have been closed and the hospital has moved to a state-of-the-art skyscraper. Is this better? More about state-of-the art modern English hospitals later.

I also know something about the NHS on a more scientific basis having done many studies as part of a Department of Health team looking into day-to-day practices and assessing how efficient they were. This was at the time when the Conservative government, through Secretary of State Kenneth Clarke, was introducing NHS “reforms” designed to make the provision of healthcare more “business-like”.

The English love to complain about the NHS and perhaps compare it unfavourably with what they imagine things are like elsewhere. When I was visiting the United States I developed a severe, and possibly serious, eye-condition. I received excellent care and friendly and concerned attention at a clinic in Baker, Louisiana, and the costs were covered by my travel insurance. I needed to continue treatment for six months after my return to London. Greenwich Hospital was drab and unfriendly. Luckily, I kept a diary note of my appointments as the reminder letter I received in the post was virtually blank because the hospital’s printer had run out of ink. The receptionist looked at this and said: “If you could read this there can’t be much wrong with your eyes”. The doctor was rather brusque and gave the impression that he had more important things to do than deal with me. When I pressed the point that the American doctors had told me to mention that I was also suffering back pain and this could have a bearing on the eye-condition, he became quite angry and told me to forget about it.

Although many people complain about similar incidents, there is in the UK also a deep affection for, and pride in, the NHS. Paul Addison wrote in 1985 about people who had grown up with the NHS: “While critical of this or that aspect of the service, they are profoundly glad of its existence and appalled by the prospect of its destruction. But, however genuine, their appreciation is limited in one respect. Much as they value the NHS, they do not remember what the health services were like before it started.”

The historian, Peter Calvocoressi, wrote in 1978: “For its customers it was a godsend, perhaps the most beneficial reform ever enacted in England, given that it relieved so many, not merely of pain, but of the awful plight of having to watch the suffering and death of a spouse or a child for lack of enough money to do anything about it. A country in which such a service exists is utterly different from a country without it.” Professor Rudolph Klein described it as “the only service organised around an ethical imperative”. He also wrote: “At the time of its creation it was a unique example of the collectivist provision of health care in a market society”.

Health Minister, Aneurin Bevan, was an unexpected choice to be the man to establish the NHS in 1948. He was an ex-miner from Tredegar in South Wales, a militant trade unionist who had been a dedicated Marxist. He was an inspiring orator in spite of a stutter. Despite his working class background he acquired sophisticated tastes and wealthy friends. Brendan Bracken called him to his face a “Bollinger Bolshevik, you ritzy Robespierre, you lounge-lizard Lenin”.

The revolutionary thing about the NHS was its universalism and the fact that it was paid for from central funds. It was open free of charge to upper, middle and working classes. In effect, Bevan nationalised the hospitals, which had previously been operating under a hodgepodge of different administrations and funding arrangements. By doing this, Bevan brought hospital consultants into the scheme. Lord Moran, Churchill’s doctor, was very helpful to Bevan in winning them over. As Bevan put it: “I stuffed their mouths with gold”. Under the NHS, the consultants would be paid for providing their services to hospitals and also carry on their private practice, even using NHS beds for their paying patients.

The free market alone would not provide adequate health care. General Practitioners (GPs) had to be persuaded to set up practices in poor areas. As small businessmen they would naturally be more attracted to wealthy areas in which they could make more money. In present-day Detroit most of the conurbation’s poor are excluded from healthcare because GPs have moved to the suburbs where they can earn more. Winning over GPs was more difficult than co-opting hospital consultants because they were anxious about losing their independence and becoming salaried public servants. During my time studying the NHS I found that there was a general opinion among hospital doctors and nurses as well as NHS management and civil servants that GPs were difficult and fractious. They eventually joined the NHS when offered a salary plus a larger amount in “capitation fees”, that is, payments based on the number of patients on their books. In spite of this there has been tendency to put more healthcare work to locally-focused GP surgeries and away from hospitals.

One of the key provisions of Bevan’s Act was Section 21: “It shall be the duty of every local health authority to provide, equip and maintain, to the satisfaction of the Ministry, premises which shall be called ‘Health Centres’.” The socialist vision was that the centres should house GPs, dentist, chemists and also receive visits from hospital consultants. Preventive and curative medicine would be equally important and in time all primary care would be provided within them. It is ironic that Bevan exerted none of his political skill and socialist fire to bring this about, probably because he knew he could not defeat the medical profession’s entrenched opposition, but a conservative government, widely accused of trying to wreck Bevan’s creation, brought local primary care centres into being in the 1990s.

Funding a universal health care system was always going to be difficult. Sir Kenneth Stowe was Permanent Secretary at the time I was at the Department of Health. After his retirement he made a speech in 1989 in which he put some questions that he would have liked to put to Beveridge and Bevan in 1948. “How did you get the costings so wrong? Didn’t anyone listen to the Treasury? Prescription charges had to be applied within three years of the NHS coming into existence. Wouldn’t it have been better to go for viability rather than have everything free when, in fact, nothing is free?”

The service certainly cost more than expected. Four million dental cases a year were projected but the actual figure was eight million. The cost of ophthalmic services was estimated at one million GBP in the first year and the actual cost was 22 million. Bevan said: “I shudder to think of the cascade of medicine which is pouring down British throats at the present time. I wish I could believe that its efficiency was equal to the credulity with which it is being swallowed.” Another stutterer, George VI, could not understand why people should get free teeth paid for by the taxpayer. He pointed to his elegantly shod, in-bred feet and asked why the masses should not get free shoes also. His Majesty seemed unaware of the irony of the fact that his own shoes and everything else he had was paid for by the taxpayer. The taxpayer might echo Faron Young’s immortal words: “I bought the shoes on your feet”. Bevan and Harold Wilson made dramatic resignations from the Labour government on the grounds of principle when Chancellor Hugh Gaitskell introduced charges for teeth and glasses.

Stowe was responsible for the Thatcher government’s white paper Working for Patients, which he said was long overdue in its “willingness to break the monolithic structure and make a start at least on dumping some of the structural garbage”. “Even more important is the acceptance and promotion of diversity in institutions in the shape of Trust-owned and managed hospitals with the freedom to buy and sell services to meet the needs of the communities they serve”.  The Thatcher administration’s aim was to make the NHS more “businesslike”. To this end it drafted in businessmen from the retail trade, from Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury’s. Sir Roy Griffiths, from the latter company, in his report on health service management wrote: “If Florence Nightingale were carrying her lamp through the corridors of the NHS today, she would almost certainly be looking for the people in charge”.

A problem that I saw at first hand from the very early days of Working for Patients was that implementing the reforms entailed recruiting armies of accountants and managers. Vast amounts of money seemed to be spent on that rather than patient care.

The short-hand term for what was proposed in Working for Patients and put into practice by Secretary of State for Health Kenneth Clarke in the 1990s was “the NHS reforms”. The Blair government carried Clarke’s policies even further and Gordon Brown was a firm supporter of public-private financing in all areas of service provision including health care.

The Blair government kicked off in 1997 with a White Paper entitled: The new NHS,
modern, dependable.
Blair said in his foreword: “I know that one of the main reasons people elected a new Government on May 1st was their concern that the NHS was failing them and their families. In my contract with the people of Britain I promised that we would rebuild the NHS. We have already made a start. The Government is putting an extra £1.5 billion into the health service during the course of this year and next. More money is going into improving breast cancer and children’s services. And new hospitals are being built. The NHS will get better every year so that it once again delivers dependable, high quality care – based on need, not ability to pay.”
He claimed that things were going to be different under New Labour. “It replaces the internal market with integrated care. We are saving £1 billion of red tape and putting that money into frontline patient care.” The New Labour mantra was “modernisation” but was this any better than Harold Wilson’s much-derided “white heat of technology” in the early 60s? In the light of what has been reported in the UK press only this week, Blair’s promise of “new technology that links GP surgeries to any specialist centre in the country” elicits a hollow guffaw.

The BMJ (British Medical Journal) called the White Paper a compromise and was not impressed by the claim to be replacing the internal market. “The rhetoric is that the internal market, which supposedly resulted in damaging competition, has been abolished. In reality, competition was weak, the purchaser-provider split will remain, and purchasers will still have some choice between providers.”

The main change promised by the White Paper was related to primary care. The chief responsibility for purchasing health care  moved from the previous 100 health authorities, 3600 fund holders, and 90 total purchasing pilots to 500 primary care groups each covering “natural communities” of roughly 100,000 people. Primary care groups were to consist of groups of general practitioners (around 50) and community nurses which were intended to hold a budget for virtually all hospital and community health services for the area plus the cash-limited part of the general medical services budget—for example, for prescriptions and practice staffing. Health authorities would continue to purchase only selected specialist services, and fund holding was to be scrapped from April 1999. The plan was for primary care groups to develop in four stages over the next five years: at a minimum they could leave all purchasing to the health authority and have an advisory role only; at a maximum they could purchase almost all services and merge with community trusts to form primary care trusts providing all primary and community health care. The overall budget for patient care was to be cash-limited, and the primary care groups would be able to keep any savings made. Management costs of the health authority and fund holders were to be pooled, capped, and shared out between the health authority and primary care groups.
The BMJ saw the main effect of Labour’s policy to be: “softening the harsher edges of the internal market by increasing collaboration and openness; involving all general practitioners in commissioning/purchasing; and strengthening central control over the quality of, and access to, clinical care. They rest on several beliefs, which, as in all policy-making, are the messy product of political values, aspiration, practical judgment, and evidence: that competition in the NHS has generated bureaucracy and inequity; that the most promising way to manage scarce NHS resources is through devolving budgets to clinicians; and that existing systems to monitor the quality of clinical care (Royal Colleges and General Medical Council take note) are poor.”

The BMJ sounded a prescient warning note: “There are also notable omissions. For example, there is nothing new on overall funding of the NHS except that the changes in themselves will save £1bn in bureaucracy over five years—a fiction since developing the primary care groups will need high start-up costs. At best these reforms could give the service a real chance to manage scarcity better—through effective managed care. At worst they could just be the internal market with its motor removed, while perennial problems which undermine support for the NHS— haphazard rationing, financial deficits, the ‘winter crises’, and lengthening waiting times—go unaddressed.”

Whilst the stated purpose of NHS Foundation Trusts was to devolve decision-making from a centralised system to local communities in an effort to be more responsive to their needs and wishes, others saw the change towards semi-independent hospital boards as a move towards privatisation of the health service. Some contended that NHS Trusts went against the spirit of the principles laid out by Bevan. Others said that it would lead to a two-tier system, as in Canada. Although the quality of healthcare in Canada is excellent, the WHO has shown that it has the longest waiting times for any developed country. A further concern was that NHS Trusts would copy the USA (those drafting the reforms were much influenced by American thinkers) in seeing some illnesses as more profitable than others, and concentrate on those at the expense of others.

It was unfortunate for the UK and the NHS in particular that Blair and Brown were fixated on the idea of the Public Private Finance Initiative. If I go into all the details of that, this post will be even more intolerably lengthy. PFI (these days sometimes called PPP) can be summarized as Public Pays Private Profits. The “risk-taking” entrepreneurs of the private sector are on a certain winner. They will not enter into a contract with the government unless all the risks are covered. They put in incomplete tenders underestimating the costs and then the taxpayer makes up the shortfall and the companies rake in the profits.

Let Carlisle NHS Trust Hospital stand as an emblem of PFI in the NHS. Nick Wood, the chief executive of the North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, resigned a few days before a damning report was published by the Commission for Health Improvement (CHI). The CHI report coincided with criticism of the hospital by the public service union Unison, which is opposed to PFI hospitals. It published a dossier of complaints from members, including lack of beds and sewage bubbling out of theatre sinks when nurses were scrubbing up.

Another design flaw was a glass atrium which heated up in summer because there was no air conditioning. Sir Stuart Lipton, head of the government’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, said: “The present round of PFI is effectively sub-contracted obligations. It is not that the buildings are being built inefficiently, but the contractor has got nothing to do with the medical process – they are two separate functions, which effectively should be one”.

David Hinchliffe, chairman of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, was also concerned about the design of PFI hospitals. His committee uncovered a number of problems:

  • confusing layouts
  • corridors being too narrow to be able to turn a hospital trolley round
  • difficulties for nursing staff actually seeing patients because of the layout of the wards

The Health Secretary at the time, Alan Milburn, invited the Prince of Wales to be design champion for the new hospitals. Mr Hinchliffe was not impressed. “I don’t know what experience Prince Charles has of working in hospital kitchens, or taking clinical waste to sluice areas, or removing bodies from hospital wards to mortuaries. If he has got experience in that then I think he would be ideally suited to offer advice to the government.” I should have been offered the job because I have experience of those things as well as being adept at cleaning human bones out of the incinerator.

In December 2006, the Guardian revealed that half-year accounts for NHS hospitals, ambulance services and mental health organisations showed 121 NHS trusts across England overspent by £372.4m in the first half of the financial year. At least a dozen NHS hospital trusts were technically bankrupt, with no chance of meeting a legal obligation to balance their books. Data provided by the Department of Health under the Freedom of Information Act showed 103 hospital trusts across England expected to end the year with accumulated deficits of £1.6bn, caused by overspending since 2001.

The financial rules governing NHS Trusts were described by one NHS finance director as “a nightmare from Alice in Wonderland”. Their financial difficulties became impossible to manage because of a mistake made by the Department of Health and the Treasury in 2001, when they put NHS trusts under a financial regime known as Resource Accounting and Budgeting (RAB). The new system was designed to regulate spending by Whitehall departments, but had a devastating effect when it was applied to overspending hospital trusts. If a trust spent £105m, but had an income of only £100m, it would end the year with a deficit of £5m. The new rules sliced £5m from its income in the following year and obliged it to make a £5m surplus. That required the trust to cut its spending from £105m to £90m. Trusts faced with this triple whammy could not achieve the target without damaging patient care and so their deficits escalated. Many took corrective action, including sacking staff, closing wards and reducing the time patients spend in hospital, but the Guardian identified a group of trusts that had passed the point of no return.

Nigel Edwards, policy director of the NHS Confederation, said “Financial recovery would imply such damage to patients that no sensible person would go for it. They would not compromise the survival of the people they serve.”

One of the reasons for the financial difficulties of the NHS is the incredible amount of money the government has wasted on IT systems rather than patient care and funding for more practical areas of the NHS. Whilst a new IT system may improve some areas it is a luxury that is not anywhere near the priorities of most NHS employees and is also vastly expensive. The other problem with the government’s IT investments is that they have an uncanny ability to make a hames of it. The Independent newspaper reported on January 21 2010 on  the failings of Labour’s most costly programme, the mammoth £12.7bn IT scheme to revolutionize the way the health service worked. But far from heralding a new age of efficiency, the National Programme for IT is now widely perceived as the greatest government IT white elephant ever. As well as the huge costs involved, suppliers have walked away, projects are running years behind schedule, while medical professionals have complained that they were never consulted on what they wanted the new system to achieve. The Independent has learnt that just 160 health organisations out of about 9,000 are using electronic patient records delivered under the scheme. The vast majority of those were GP practices. New figures have also revealed that millions of pounds have been paid out in legal fees. Alan Milburn, the former health secretary, said in 2001 that everyone would have access to their health records online by 2005.

In August 2011, it was announced that the NHS was to abandon the national database of patients’ records, as originally envisaged by the previous Labour government in 2002. The cost of the fiasco was £6.4bn with a further £4.3bn  needed. As the Independent editorialised: “But we must not forget that each botched IT project also represents a private-sector shortcoming. Many firms have promised a great deal but not delivered. The PAC today rightly singles out CSC and BT for criticism for their inability to live up to their contractual commitments over the NHS IT projects. These businesses have been – and continue to be – rewarded for failure.”

The move towards Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) has not been easy. The Health Service Journal reported on 21 January that most PCTs will be unsustainable because just 10 per cent have successfully reduced emergency admissions. The CEO of Peterborough PCT recently resigned because of budget deficits.

The NHS is also likely to suffer because of factors beyond its control. The world financial crisis will have an impact as the government struggles to balance the books. NHS trade union Unison has warned against punishing public services for the excesses of “greedy bankers”, following the government’s Budget statement in 2009. King’s Fund (a healthcare think tank) chief economist John Appleby says it is very hard to see how the NHS can escape a real-terms cut. A real-terms cut would be a major adjustment for the NHS, which received annual real-terms growth of 7.4 per cent from 2002 to 2008. KPMG (financial consultants) head of healthcare Alan Downey says it is likely the cuts would mean the NHS will need to scale back its ambitions. “Noble aims are things which aren’t going to be pursued over the next ten  years. It’s going to be about retrenching back to what are seen as the priorities. The target to reduce health inequalities could be dropped, particularly under a Conservative government with less commitment to equality.”

Recent events seem to confirm that the NHS has never been clearly a national or a local service, and existing trends seem to lead to the worst of all worlds: the disadvantages of central control, and local differentiation without any genuine local autonomy. As the NHS is arguably the most national service in the British welfare state, it is possible that the heyday of the national welfare state may be over.

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