U.K. Police Open Formal Probe Into Sex Abuse by BBC Star

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Police in London opened a formal probe into the sexual abuse of as many as 200 victims by people including former British Broadcasting Corp. television star Jimmy Savile, who died last year at the age of 84.

The inquiry was changed from an “assessment” to a formal criminal investigation after two weeks of gathering information from members of the public and several organizations, the Metropolitan Police Service said today in a statement. The probe involves suspects who are still alive.

“We are dealing with alleged abuse on an unprecedented scale,” Commander Peter Spindler, head of the Met’s specialist crime investigations, said of Operation Yewtree. “This operation has empowered a staggering number of victims to come forward to report the sexual exploitation which occurred during their childhood.”

Police are investigating claims dating back as far as 1959 and as recent as 2006, including that Savile, who hosted BBC shows “Top of the Pops” and “Jim’ll Fix It,” misused his status as a charity worker to abuse hospital patients. The claims are putting pressure on the BBC, the world’s largest public broadcaster, and other institutions who appointed the entertainer to programs and positions that dealt with children.

The criminal investigation, which can’t technically target Savile because he’s dead, is into “others,” whom police didn’t identify. The Met’s press office declined to say how many suspects were involved or what connected them to Savile.

Scotland Yard

The police department, known as Scotland Yard, said it will work with the BBC, which is running its own internal investigations of the matter, to “develop a protocol to ensure any future potential criminal action is not jeopardized.”

The BBC appointed former Court of Appeal judge Janet Smith and ex-British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc journalist Nick Pollard on Oct. 17 to head investigations into Savile.

BBC Director General George Entwistle is scheduled to give testimony to a parliamentary committee investigating the scandal on Oct. 23 in London. His predecessor, Mark Thompson, is scheduled to start as New York Times Co.’s chief executive officer next month.

Rob Wilson, a member of Parliament, sent a letter to Entwistle today saying the executive had failed to respond to his requests for information about the BBC’s decision in December 2011 to cancel a news documentary about the claims against Savile. Wilson asked Entwistle to confirm the existence of any “managed risk lists” circulated at the BBC and whether the list described risks associated with the Savile segment.

Savile, who was knighted for charity work in 1990, fronted programs including “Jim’ll Fix It,” which granted children wishes such as meeting celebrities. He ran more than 200 fundraising marathons and served as unofficial adviser to Prince Charles for years, according to a BBC obituary when Savile died in October 2011.

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