Since we represented Deborah Cogger over her claims that Jimmy Savile groped her when she was 14, a number of people have asked us why are women only coming forward now? Here we explain the reasons…
Every day at Featureworld we receive at least one email from someone wanting to ‘expose’ someone. Often it’s a partner for cheating or a relative for abusing them. But in fact many peoples’ stories stand no chance of getting into a any publication – for legal reasons.
The law of libel
Put simply… you cannot publish defamatory allegations against anyone in a newspaper or magazine. Had any publication published allegations of sex abuse by Jimmy Savile when he was alive, then they would surely have been sued. The only time you can publish such allegations is if they are made in a court during a trial (which is then legally privileged so can be reported.) And of course if someone is convicted of an offence then that is proof and can be printed. However, legally as the law stands in the UK, you cannot libel the dead. So you can theoretically say anything about someone who’s died (although in practice publications do take into account feeling of relatives and would need good reason and feel it was in the public interest to print an allegation.)
Any publication printing allegations about Jimmy Savile when he was alive could have risked a huge backlash – after all Jimmy Savile was a ‘Sir’ and known for his enormous amount of charity work. Thus, whenever an article was going to be printed, it fell down legally. As far as that publication was concerned legally any article boiled down to just one woman’s word against a very well respected and very wealthy individual who vehemently denied it and who could have sued. Compensation in libel cases – where someone’s reputation is lowered – could theoretically run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. And therefore such stories would have been too risky to print.
Life was different in the 70s and 80s.
As young journalist I can recall sat opposite a sports desk with completely naked women plastered all over the walls. There is no way such sexist behaviour would ever be tolerated in any office these days. But there was no point in me complaining – this was usual office life then. Our interviewee Deborah Cogger says when she tried to complain to the school where she was about Jimmy Savile’s behaviour, the head told her, ‘it was Jimmy’s way’ and in fact one pupil who complained was disciplined for doing so.
The Police investigated but that was all.
It’s been reported that a number of different police forces investigated complaints but nothing ever came of it. So it seems complaints were not taken seriously.
The BBC has been accused of a ‘cover up’.
After shelving its own Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile, the BBC has now been accused of trying to cover up the truth. An investigation will shortly be underway to review practices at the company and ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.
So the reason these allegations are only coming out now is mainly because of legal reasons. Papers were able to report it because there was no risk of being taken to court for libel. At first only a handful of girls came forward to say Jimmy Savile had molested them – but legally these allegations could be aired because Jimmy Savile is now dead. Of course once you make something public, others realise they were not alone. So other women have also come forward. These women who were also abused – but thought it might only be them all those years ago or felt no-one would believe them – have discovered they are not alone. It is a huge relief to many of those victims to at last feel their claims are being taken seriously.
A word about privacy laws
It’s worth mentioning that new privacy laws have recently come in that makes it much harder anyway to print any allegation in the press. Only a few years ago exposes on celebrities or ‘kiss and tell’ stories were far more common – but due to new legal restrictions they are now a rarity. Some might think this is a good thing – after all everyone has the right to a private life. But the downside to this is that increasingly it is harder than ever for publications to expose any scandals.
Deborah Cogger appeared on ITV THIS MORNING and will shortly appear in a women’s magazine.