The opening sequence of the Panorama film featuring the alleged sexual abuse of children at Duncroft lingered on a huge and imposing set of Victorian iron gates. Half open, they conjured up an image of a peek inside a forbidden and forbidding world. A world where children were routinely abused in a manner which our intrepid reporters were about to reveal…it was shades of Haute de la Garenne and a dozen Hammer horror films. It was an emotive image.
It has stuck in my mind for no other reason than that, once again, I had no memory of those gates. For once I have no criticism of the film crew, it was a good shot and set the scene for what was to follow. I have no criticism here of the Panorama research team – their idea of attention to detail is not the same as mine, I accept that. Still, I couldn’t get those gates out of my mind. Was it possible that this was another entrance, one I had never seen. We mustn’t forget that Duncroft was then was a locked facility – we weren’t wandering round the grounds, far from it. I went to the trouble of tracking down the builder who converted Duncroft into luxury flats in the 1990s, flats which today sell for in the region of half a million pounds – to residents who must be utterly thrilled with their new found notoriety. He was kind enough to check his records this monring, and sadly, it was 20 years ago, and they no longer are able to confirm where those gates came from.
It is an utterly irrelevant detail to the vast story of Savile’s undoubted predilection for underage girls. But my focus has never been on ‘immature and ageing pop star prefers to have sex with immature and unquestioning girls’ – that is a story as old as the hills and one that will no doubt continue. It is illegal, it is utterly wrong, but the present media fest won’t stop it. No, my focus was always on the question of whether the original story which focussed heavily on Duncroft was wrongly prevented from appearing – or not. Heads have already rolled over the question of why it wasn’t transmitted, millions (our millions!) will now be spent on public inquiries trying to answer that question, and inevitably, many people who appear to be disconnected to the story – those apartment residents for a start – will be made to pay a price for the decision which made Merion Jones throw his toys out of his pram and allege that there was a concerted cover-up of Jimmy Savile’s reputation and that ‘his story’ was rock solid.
The truth of that orignal story matters more than ever, so forgive me as I pick at every stich in it.
I have already demolished Bebe Roberts account of how ‘girls were hiding terrified behind doors’ as Savile rampaged round the building seeking fresh victims….. unfortunately Bebe was 23 by the time Savile visited Duncroft, and had left the school by some 9 years, so her account of being molested by him aged 14 was, er, total nonsense. Does that matter? Surely there are always going to be some who come forward in the wake of such a witch-hunt as this who are going to make false allegations. Yes, it does matter, if for no other reason than that Bebe, poor fool, must now go through the rest of her life having been publicly labelled a liar, having proudly produced her photographs to make sure that all her neighbours recognised her…she is a victim of all this too, though your immediate sympathy may not lie with her. She will go in the same box along with John Gibbon of Redcar who also proudly produced photographs of himself standing in front of Savile’s car and gave a vivid account of how he ‘was lured’ into the back of Savile’s car, and assaulted. He ‘grabbed the door handle and lept out’…I have lost count of how many car dealers have now come forward to complain that the photograph clearly illustrates a 1977 Rolls Royce Corniche which has a padded parcel seat in the back and two front seats which must be folded down to get into and out of the back – and no rear doors to grab a handle of…he’s another one who will be trotted out in defence, to prove that you can never trust allegations of pedophilia. And this helps genuine victims how? The media have a lot to answer for when it comes to helping genuine victims.
What of Karin Ward? I have taken a lot of schtick over the past few days for daring to question any part of her story. Or indeed, that of Bebe’s initially. It seems that if you were a resident of Duncroft who claims to have been abused you must be believed, protected, defended. If you were a resident of Duncroft who was not claiming to be abused – then you can only be ‘muddying the waters’, or ‘have an agenda to prevent the truth being known’ – because such is the power of the media, that ‘everyone knows the truth’. If only. There is only one story in town.
I had some evidence of this before I started, I detailed my initial attempts to talk to some in the media. ‘Commercial suicide’ and Career suicide’ were phrases said to me by two top flight investigative journalists when I attempted to point out where the evidence could be found that would disprove some of what was being put around. They didn’t care to open that box…
Since then, I have been approached by The Times:
I’ve just been reading your posts, Past Lives and Present Misgivings. Very moving and interesting, and naturally enough I’m very intrigued by what will be in the next chapter. . .
It makes me wonder whether I could have a chat with you about the possibility of you writing of your Duncroft experience for the opinion pages of The Times. What do you think?
Mr G is framing that one for me as we speak…needless to say, when they saw from the next chapter that I wasn’t abused by Jimmy Savile – they lost interest. Ditto, Radio 4 who wanted to fly a journalist over to France hot foot before I revealed what happened when Jimmy Savile visited the school, a scoop for them, er, lost interest when they discovered I was not claiming to have been abused! I am not alone getting in this reaction, far from it, for I have finally this morning tracked down, shall we say, an elderly member of staff from those Duncroft years. We chatted for hours on the phone. I am not going to reveal who she is, for very good reason. She is waiting patiently to make a statement to the Police. And that is going to put the cat firmly amongst the pigeons.
She has no interest in speaking to the media, not because she is old, or infirm, or uncooperative – but because the media have already had ample opportunity to speak to her. The Daily Mail, the Sunday Telegraph, the Independent were among those whose names she remembered from the days when, after some ‘helpful person’ had fed her address to the press, she found herself besieged by so many journalists and camera crews that she was unable to leave her home, nor were her neighbours; finally this elderly woman was forced to vacate her home and stay with friends. Nothing wrong with that you say, it is right that those in a position to throw light on this matter should be rigorously questioned by the media. I would agree – had any of the media been interested in what she had to say. Had even one of them quoted her. But you see, she didn’t make the girl’s story stand up either, in fact what she had to say was in direct – and provable – opposition to some of the claims – and they didn’t want to know! There was only one story in town.
I didn’t think I could still be shocked by the British media. I can. Here was someone who had direct and in many cases, documentary evidence, that the media were chasing a stuffed rabbit rather than a hare, and they just looked the other way. Her testimony will be damning. And damaging.
Damaging because more people will be proven to be liars. Just because they were blinded by the lure of five minutes of fame. They will have to live with that, and it saddens me; already damaged lives will be further damaged. Some will say – ‘serves them right’ – but I don’t hold with that view. I would rather say, it serves all of us right. We have the media we pay for every time we buy a newspaper or pay our television licence. We encouraged them to make a living out of feeding us pap – and they obliged.
The media, quite rightly, consider Jimmy Savile to be their own creation, as was Garry Glitter; now they delight in taking him down. Despite my knowledge of specific allegations being false, I think on balance, that I accept he was a man of many sexual preferences – mostly illegal. There are too many allegations now to think that they can all be without foundation.
Karin Ward undoubtedly met him, as a 14 year old at her children’s home in Norfolk, and possibly again when he visited Duncroft in ’74. She was certainly in a party of heavily supervised children (these were mainly children who had been locked up to prevent them from running away!) from Duncroft which visited the set of Clunk-Click, not the dressing rooms, not Top of the Pops at all. She was 16 on March 25th 1974. The media persist in saying she was 14 when on Clunk-Click. The first episode which she attended was the one featuring Olivia Newton-John – can anybody tell me the date of that? She was quite possibly one of a small number of children who were allowed in groups of three to take ‘a short trip round the block’ with a member of staff in the vehicle in Savile’s Rolls Royce as a special treat.
It remains entirely possible that she met up with Savile again after leaving Duncroft.
There have been many people working in the background of this story. Somebody forged the letter that Fiona produced saying the investigation into Savile was being dropped due to his age. Somebody, I am alarmed to tell you, set up a Facebook entity in the name of a former member of staff encouraging former residents to tell them their story. How many children – now adult – felt safe communicating with what they thought was a trusted member of staff? It took a high level call to a Director of Facebook before that entity was taken down – it has never been established who set it up. Certainly not that member of staff. The entire Facebook group which had been urging girls to come forward with tales of abuse was taken down just before the broadcast of the story. I am not alone in having received threats for having ‘dissed’ the tale of ‘institutional child abuse over a number of years’. Someone in the background has had a keen and determined interest in building this story.
Why were the Home Office records of girls who had been sent there by the justice system, handed to Barnardos, a private charity? Why were later records, of girls who were sent there under the auspices of the mental health regime, handed to Barnardos, a private charity? Why are they still listed as safely in the possession of the National Archive? Who has seen them?
Savile did spend one night on the premises. He was opening a fete in the area the next day. It can’t have been pleasant for him. He was billeted in a spare room in the newly built staff quarters, not the cosy headmistress’s flat – the other side of the secure unit which had been built by MIND by that time to house girls whose behaviour was considered exceptionally challenging. The corridors leading to and fro that area were permanently locked – not to protect the girls, but to protect the staff sleeping there, and that included Savile who would surely not have got a minutes sleep that night, when you think about it, if all those girls had been able to access him during the night – I must admit, so great were the allegations that he might have had access to the girls that I had never considered his fate had the girls had access to him!
Miss Jones did indeed stay on to 1974ish. The answer should have been obvious to me – I had always believed that she left when it ceased to be an approved school and became a secure unit for girls with far more profound mental health issues. Of course, the nature of the school might have changed overnight with one fell swoop of the bureaucratic pen, but her dedication to her experiment didn’t. There were still girls there in the old part, finishing out their allotted time in her charge as determined by the courts, and so she remained – until the last of her charges had gone their way into the world. Typical.
MIND built her a house in the grounds, Duncroft was no longer the comparatively cosy environment it had been, where she could sleep in a room next to her girls. Her sister did visit her there; she brought her young son, 7/ 8 years old with her.
Little Meirion, getting his first peep – from a distance – of the place that he was to turn into the ‘story that any journalist would want’.
Of such slim pickings is a media storm created.
* I have now amassed a body of documentary evidence. I am not handing it to the media either. It is going straight to the Police, and I remain ready to make a statement as do several other people.