Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Savile scandal reminded me of my missed scoop

IT might have been the scoop of my life. Journalists, you know, are supposed to live for scoops.
No doubt some do. Most of us, though, have rather more mundane lives than that. And when the potential exclusive came my way I really didn’t know what to do with it.
It was the proverbial hot potato. A story that would have made national front pages and, along the way, wrecked one or two successful careers.
Careers that – if the story turned out to be true – thoroughly deserved to be wrecked.
But as a sports sub-editor whose most glamorous task was writing headlines, I didn’t have the skills, the contacts or, frankly, the nerve to undertake the necessary investigation.
So I decided the right thing to do was to hand my potential scoop over to an expert.
I didn’t have all the details, but what I had been told was a pretty sordid and unpleasant tale.
It concerned two former sportsmen, one of whom had allegedly “procured” – nasty word, but we know what it means – a 15-year-old girl for the other.
I knew where this was supposed to have taken place, but not when. Neither did I know the identity of the girl. I’d been told, though – a particularly sordid touch – that her father had been involved in “selling” her virginity.
The man whose apparently perverted and illegal tastes were said to have been catered for in this way has been largely forgotten since, but he was well enough known at the time. It should have been a great story for the News of the World, for whom I was working.
I took my tip-off to Clive Goodman, the reporter who later became the first to be sacked and jailed over the phone-hacking scandal.
“Oh yeah,” he told me. “We know all about that. We’ve been trying to stand it up for months but we can’t prove anything.”
So that was that.
Either a sleazeball had got away with his squalid and nasty behaviour or I had been saved from the legal nightmare of making a false accusation. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know for certain which.
Now it seems similar doubts and dilemmas must have for years been afflicting a number of people in possession of allegations, rumours – and vile memories – about Jimmy Savile.
When Savile’s sexual preying on young girls hit the news, my first thought was: “Why now?”
If he couldn’t be prosecuted when he was alive, what was the point in bringing his behaviour to light now he was dead? Why tarnish an icon?
There are several good answers to this question, and the first is the opportunity it gives his victims – of whom it now seems there were many – to get it off their chest.
Having such a secret must have been a serious burden to some, perhaps for much of their lives. Especially in the light of Sir Jimmy’s hitherto almost sainted image as a national treasure.
On a wider scale, bringing the sordid culture Savile was part of it into the light of scrutiny might help to end it. Which can only be a good thing.
It’s so obvious it hardly needs mentioning that fame is a powerful magnet and aphrodisiac. Rock stars and footballers are not the only ones with their groupies.
I’ve known a few girls who were happy to have – and talk about – sexual encounters with passing musicians. And one or two boys too.
But when the age bar is lowered, and when coercion is involved, the whole issue becomes must messier, much nastier.
One of the most unpleasant revelations about Savile since last week’s airing of ITV’s documentary came from his former fellow DJ Paul Gambaccini. And it concerns one of the reasons why Savile’s proclivities were never splashed across the press while he was alive.
Gambaccini told the Daybreak programme: “On one occasion – and this cuts to the chase of the whole matter – he was called and he said, ‘Well you could run that story, but if you do there goes the funds that come in to Stoke Mandeville. Do you want to be responsible for the drying up of the charity donations?’ And they backed down.”
I’m guessing the paper on the other end of the line wasn’t the fearless News of the World. But maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe they had their suspicions and tip-offs all along but – for whatever reason – couldn’t “stand them up”.

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