Another afternoon, and the boredom of Duncroft was relieved by a coach turning up (Wot! Still no Rolls Royce? You’ll never get the media to publish this!) – a rather special coach with tables between pairs of facing seats. Susan was getting annoyed with Jimmy Savile – she was taking all the jealous remarks and schtick from the other girls for her ‘special place’ in his heart – but he showed no signs of taking any interest in her over and above a proper one as the daughter of his friend. The coach took them all, and some staff, to the BBC centre for tea in the canteen and a chance to meet some of the celebrities. Susan managed to sulk all the way through a meeting with Una Stubbs. Teenage angst.
But then came an afternoon when Savile called in to see her – or rather to watch the TV in the common room! It was the first showing of the reality programme featuring a Reading family and he was especially keen to see this pioneering programme. He was excited and as the chairs were lined up in the common room to allow everyone to watch this programme, staff included, Susan managed to sit next to her ‘special friend’. No ‘sofas’, no ‘blankets’, just ordinary open sided chairs, and she did sit next to him. As the programme started he grabbed her hand – ‘he was so excited’. At last! We have Savile in the TV lounge, sitting next to a girl, and sorry, he didn’t abuse her in any way…
Savile called on another occasion, this time accompanied by a younger man who had introduced TOTP a few times. The other girls were far more interested in this younger man (name withheld) with his spiky multi-coloured hair and exotic clothing, and Susan was able to sit chatting to Savile unnoticed by the other girls. Funny, no one has ever mentioned him before.
I can quite understand that by this time the build up of resentment of the preferential treatment Susan appeared to be getting from the staff on account of her celebrity visitor was getting on everyone’s nerves. Some of the older girls had been there for a long time, and nothing exciting ever happened to them. Here was this little slip of a girl who seemed to be living a charmed life, and it wasn’t fair.
Ms Jones decreed that in future she was only to be allowed to meet Savile in Ms Jones office, away from prying eyes, but under Ms Jones gimlet eye. It didn’t help; it was still ‘special treatment’.
Susan would tell you that she was badly bullied following these visits, that photographs and other Savile memorabilia were stolen, that she was told to ‘stay away from Savile’ – other older girls had decided that they were more entitled to his attention – indeed had made up their mind that they would have it – or at least ‘him’.
There were some worrying incidents – at a swimming class her head was held under water repeatedly by one of the girls, when she believed the staff were not observing – they were, and Susan was rescued. One of the other girls was subjected to an unprovoked attack over an unrelated matter that had ended with her having her head seriously and repeatedly bashed against a chest of drawers – later that night, the perpetrator was moved to what used to be called the London Country Mental Hospital – later St. Bernards in Southall.
Susan had good reason to be frightened of some of the older girls, they didn’t just suffer from ’emotional or behavioural’ difficulties, some had far more profound mental health troubles. Eventually, the staff moved her into the ‘isolation flat’ for her own protection. She was to stay there for several weeks until some of the older girls (who have figured in media reports, but shall remain nameless here) had moved on to Norman Lodge, the hostel for working girls. She only left the flat for daily lessons, but was still separated from the other girls.
The isolation wing consisted of a lounge, kitchen, and bathroom; it was housed in the new block that had been built onto the old Duncroft Manor to house girls who a decade before would have been in a secure mental hospital, but the law had changed, and now 16 was the school leaving age. There were but two identical rooms with a window, bed, magazines and a bell call. Next door was what has been termed the ‘padded cell’ – a room without any sharp objects, just soft furnishings, for the use of girls who were starting to return from home leave suffering from the effects of drugs such as LSD – very fashionable at the time, but a difficult time for the Duncroft staff.
Susan didn’t enjoy her time in isolation, even though it was for her own protection rather than punishment; and she wrote to Savile telling him of her unhappiness. He called to see her.
He had already said ‘Hello’ to the other girls as he passed them in the upper corridor when he appeared at the door of the isolation wing with, she thinks it was Anne O’Niall, a senior member of staff, at around 9.30pm. The girls were all sent to bed ‘en masse’ at 9.30pm, Ms Keenan or Mrs Kellagher would switch off the TV in the common room and announce ‘everybody upstairs’; they slept in dormitories of either four or six, so no one was alone in a dormitory.
Savile was holding a set of keys with which to let himself out of the isolation wing. Susan told him he shouldn’t have the keys, he explained that he had been told to lock himself in. He gave her a hug and they sat on the sofa watching television. He shared his cigar with her, and explained why he couldn’t give her cigarettes directly – he always gave them to Ms Jones to ensure equal distribution amongst the girls to avoid conflict. He was particularly concerned about (name withheld) who had become, in his words, very ‘clingy’ and demanding of attention.
Susan told him that she had been told by other girls that this particular girl ‘had fallen in love with him’ and that was part of the reason for the bullying she had been subjected to. Savile concluded that this was no more than a ‘teenage crush’, but that it might be wiser if he didn’t visit her at Duncroft any longer. He would still be a friend though.
After three quarters of an hour, Ms O’Niall tapped on the communicating door and Savile let himself out and left with Ms O’Niall.
Shortly after this, Susan was called in for interview by Janet Theobald, the most junior member of staff. Miss Theobald referred to unspecified allegations made by girls against Savile. Susan was not told what the allegations were, who they were made by – nor, more importantly, who they were in respect of. Had somebody alleged that Savile had touched Susan inappropriately? Or was it that she was suspected of receiving more than her fair share of the cigarettes? She simply doesn’t know. To this day she doesn’t know.
Later, Ms O’ Niall told her that (name withheld) had called out to him as they passed that dormitory and asked him to ‘tuck her in’ – she said the girl was acting strangely and she thought that this was where the allegation may have originated from. This was one of the girls who had demanded that Susan ‘stay away’ from Savile, for she was determined to ‘have him’.
Susan would tell you that Savile had never touched her inappropriately from the moment he discovered that she was just 15. He had been a good friend to her – although he had had more than ample opportunity to abuse her, if abusing 15 year old girls was his desire. She was also interviewed by Dr Mason, one of the two school psychiatrists. Again she reiterated that nothing untoward had ever taken place. She was repeatedly pressed on the matter, something that upset her greatly, and left her feeling she hadn’t been believed – but Ms Theobold took other girls to meet Savile in London, so she felt that any concern was directed towards her position with him, and that, she felt sure, was entirely circumspect.
No other member of staff ever made reference to this matter, and after six weeks or so, the older girls who had been so unkind to her left and moved onto Norman Lodge, and Susan was able to leave the isolation wing and return to the main building and resume her education.
To be continued…..