BBC News channel 5.21pm Saturday 13th October 2012
Martine Croxall: The TV presenter and founder of the ChildLine charity, Esther Rantzen, appeared in the ITV documentary on Jimmy Savile aired last week. I've been speaking to her, and she told me that many people must now bear responsibility for what happened.
Esther Rantzen: I feel we were all culpable. I feel that viewers, charities, influential people from the Prime Minister through to the Royal Family helped to create, for Jimmy Savile, an image of being an icon - a national icon, a national treasure - and I think that's what made it particularly difficult for children.I just want to say that children always find it very very difficult to speak up about abuse.
Martine Croxall: Of course they do, of course they do but ...
Martine Croxall: So much easier, though, for children to ask for help if when adults hear rumours they do something about it. The NSPCC says 'Everyone has a responsibility to protect children. You do not have to be a parent. If you are worried about any child act straight away.' And it's clear, isn't it, that people didn't, including you?
Esther Rantzen: Pardon?
Martine Croxall: Including you. You say that you're culpable too.
Esther Rantzen: Can you tell me a child that I was worried about that I didn't help?
Martine Croxall: It seems, well, peculiar to appear in a documentary on television last week ..
Esther Rantzen: Yes
Martine Croxall: .. saying that you were aware of rumours about abuse ..
Esther Rantzen: Yes
Martine Croxall: .. and then to say you didn't know anything specific.
Esther Rantzen: Of course I didn't know anything specific. For 26 years, at ChildLine, we've been hearing from specific children talking about abuse they're suffering, and we have done our best to investigate, to support them, to make them safe. There has never been a child that has reported abuse to me, that I have not taken action to protect. And the same is true of ChildLine. And the same is true of the NSPCC. When you hear a rumour in a television office, that a television presenter has a particular sexual taste, you can't actually then proceed back. Nobody who talked to me about Jimmy Savile had ever met him. Nobody had ever worked with him.
Martine Croxall: But why then appear in a documentary, as you did last week, saying there were rumours, there was gossip and we all blocked our ears to it?
Esther Rantzen: Because, as I've said to you, I believe we're all culpable. I think we, who created this 'national treasure' so that children couldn't speak out against him, made it all the more difficult for children, who find it difficult anyway, to disclose this kind of crime in which the shame and the fear actually is transferred from the abuser to the child.
Martine Croxall: This is the subject which comes up a lot with people when you talk about the time, years ago. Very few women you speak to who didn't feel that they were in some way subjected to unwanted attention but didn't feel that they could say anything to anyone. The reports in The Sun today: Shy Keenan, who is an anti-abuse campaigner, she says that she alerted you to concerns about Jimmy Savile 18 years ago.
Esther Rantzen: She says. I have no memory of even meeting her.
Martine Croxall: But there's a photograph of you here with her.
Esther Rantzen: I don't know where it was taken. It could have been in a green room. You'll understand that, having launched ChildLine in 1986, we continued our campaign trying to protect children. And a number of people in the field of child protection came to see us, came to talk to us. Now she says that she told me there were rumours about Jimmy Savile - which I don't remember. But had she done so, I would have said I do hope she's taken them to the police if she has any evidence. You can't go to the police without evidence.
Martine Croxall: But it seems ... How regularly did you hear rumours about Jimmy Savile when you were working in the BBC?
Esther Rantzen: Not regularly at all. He was not often talked about. Where I worked we were talking about, for example, the abuse that took place in a boys' school which we investigated. And the owner, who was a paedophile, thanks to our investigation was sent to prison. He employed other teachers. That was the sort of thing that we were trying to investigate when children came forward and asked for help. In that case it was a child who wrote to me at ChildLine. And I was able to find evidence against three teachers. Only recently another teacher who worked at that school has just been convicted, because only recently has another one of his victims come forward. A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a lady in her 80's, who told me that she had been abused as a child by someone in her family who was a judge. And she was told she would never be believed, no matter if she asked for help. That's where I think we're all culpable. We make it so difficult for children to speak out. And that's why ChildLine exists.
Martine Croxall: But how can .. how can the people who ... many people who come forward now with these claims about Jimmy Savile feel that they can have proper justice? The man has died.
Esther Rantzen: I know, I know and that is absolutely tragic, because of course they should be able to put their accusations to the man himself. And of course they should have justice, I know. But at least they're being heard now - being heard for the first time. And when you think of one of those people who gave evidence in that documentary, who was at a special school who told her teacher what Savile had done to her. And was punished for it. Think how many years - and she said in the documentary - 'I wasn't believed then, and I don't expect to be believed now.' Well they are being believed. They are corroborating each other, and more and more are tragically coming forward every day.
Martine Croxall: In retrospect, with the gift of hindsight, was it a mistake to appear on the documentary that ITV made, saying that you'd heard these rumours? Because now, of course, we're pressing you for specifics.
Esther Rantzen: That's alright. I mean I'm happy to be pressed by you. But when they asked me to appear, it was to give my view about the credibility of the women. Because I've heard so many children and adult survivors talking about their experience - that's what they wanted me to do.
Martine Croxall: But you went further than that, didn't you?
Esther Rantzen: Because I felt ..
Martine Croxall: You did say you'd heard gossip, you'd heard rumours and we all turned a blind eye.
Esther Rantzen: I felt terrible. I felt terrible listening to them. Because I thought to myself 'I appeared on Jim'll Fix It. I was one of the people that helped to create this mythology of the Saint Jimmy'
Martine Croxall: But had heard the rumours.
Esther Rantzen: And the rumours were everywhere. They were in your newsroom. They were in Fleet Street's newsroom. They were in the music industry. But rumours, you realise a journalist must distinguish between, as Ian Hislop said so well last night, 'there are things you know - that is you know from people who've experienced something or witnessed something - and there's rumour, which you don't know.'
Martine Croxall: Of course there is. But when rumours become so regular and prevalent ..
Esther Rantzen: Rife is the word on the tip of your tongue.
Martine Croxall: .. don't you try to establish whether there's more to it than that?
Esther Rantzen: Right. Here you are, and I'm saying to you of course I've never met the man, and I've never worked with him, but I hear Jimmy Savile attacks girls.
Martine Croxall: But you had met him, hadn't you?
Esther Rantzen: No, no, no. At the time I heard this rumour I hadn't met him. I was a researcher, a junior researcher. And I was being told it by a junior researcher who had contacts in Fleet Street. The big newspapers tried to investigate him on several occasions. The police tried to investigate him. But everything depended on the evidence of children standing up in court. Without it you can't broadcast, you can't publish, you can't take a case. Operation Yewtree, now, is able to look at individual statements by adult survivors, see how they corroborate each other. And that, at last, is evidence.
Martine Croxall: What could people have done in the 80's and 90's?
Esther Rantzen: Well. We launched ChildLine. We launched ChildLine specifically to find a way for children to talk about something they found impossible to disclose to the people around them. It gives them anonymity, it gives them confidentiality. And the first thing we do to a child is say 'this is not your fault.'
Martine Croxall: How much more readily are children believed these days than they were, say 20 or 30 years ago?
Esther Rantzen: I think that's an excellent question. I think they are believed more often now. The children who ring ChildLine now, ring within a month of it starting in half the cases. (unclear) When we opened ChildLine in 1986 people were telling us about abuse which had been going on for 15 years - all their lives. Fortunately, now, they're starting to disclose earlier, and are being believed earlier.
Martine Croxall: Do you think, looking back on the documentary of last week, it was a mistake to mention the rumours that you knew of?
Esther Rantzen: I'm not here to defend myself. The fact is that everybody working in the music industry, television and in journalism had heard those rumours. It's .. it was as they say an open secret. You know, I believe, I've been told by someone who worked in the field, that there were rumours in the NHS. A journalist tells me that there were rumours in military intelligence. But the trouble is that, you know, that a lie goes half way around the world before truth has got its boots on. And we have to be very careful about distinguishing between rumours, which have no evidence, and real evidence of the kind that's coming out now.
Martine Croxall: Esther Rantzen, TV presenter and founder of ChildLine.