On Sunday, the former glam rock star Gary Glitter was the first person to be arrested by Operation Yewtree, Scotland Yard’s investigation into allegations against the former BBC DJ Jimmy Savile, in what has become one of the largest child-abuse inquiries in British history. The 68-year-old musician was questioned for nine hours in London and released on bail until early December.
Described by the head of Britain’s child protection charity, the NSPCC, as one of the most prolific offenders ever encountered, the police investigation into Savile has already identified 400 leads and 300 potential victims. Since the allegations first came to public attention in early October, when ITV aired a documentary on the purported abuse, 30 police officers have already conducted 130 interviews, in what officials vow will be a “landmark investigation.” Detectives have indicated that more arrests are likely in the coming weeks.
Glitter’s arrest was widely anticipated following the on-camera appearance of Karin Ward, who alleged that she was a victim of Savile while a pupil at a children’s home investigated in the original ITV documentary. Ward had originally recorded an interview with BBC’s Newsnight after Savile’s death in October 2011, but the television investigation was controversially canceled around the time that three tributes to the former celebrity got the green light from the BBC brass. Last week, Panorama—the BBC’s flagship current-affairs weekly program—screened the entire interview, in which Ward also claimed she had seen Glitter sexually assaulting a young girl in Savile’s BBC dressing rooms in the 1970s. (Glitter strongly denies the allegations made in the BBC Panorama documentary.)
An iconic figure from the glam-rock era, Glitter topped the charts with songs like “The Leader of the Gang (I Am)” and “Rock and Roll: (Part One and Two).“ He had sold 15 million records by 1975, and regularly appeared with Savile on popular TV shows such as Top of the Pops and Clunk Click. But the pop star fell into disgrace in the late ’90s, when he was sentenced to four months—and served two—in a British prison for possessing thousands of images of hard-core child pornography. He later served two and a half years in Vietnam after having been found guilty of child sex offenses there in 2006.
Glitter’s arrest is unlikely to be the last in the ongoing scandal. Ward alleged there were other celebrities involved in sexual abuse of children during Savile’s time at the BBC, though she did not name them on camera. However, BBC Director-General George Entwistle told Parliament last Tuesday that they were investigating up to 10 case of sexual abuse on BBC premises.
According to reports over the weekend, a dozen former Savile associates and celebrities on both sides of the Atlantic are allegedly hiring public-relations executives for fear of being implicated in the scandal. According to The Daily Telegraph, it is suspected that those due for questioning may include “a legendary radio producer, a well-known photographer, and a DJ.”
Judging from the official response to the Savile inquiry, the scandal will surely rumble on for months, threatening more arrests, and creating turmoil in key British institutions. Though the deceased Savile himself cannot challenge his accusers, his reputation is now toxic. Four weeks ago, his family removed his expensive headstone from his grave, pulverized it, and placed the remains in a landfill. Over the weekend one of Savile’s holiday homes in Scotland was vandalized with graffiti calling him a “beast.” His great niece Caroline Robinson also recently claimed she was abused by Savile when she was 12 and 15.
And as the examples mount of instances in which the police, the BBC, the NHS, and various charities and children homes apparently failed to respond to previous warnings about Savile, a whole era of British life—when the predatory attitudes of celebrities to underage girls was either ignored or tacitly condoned—stands in the dock.