'Urgent Invite': Securing a data set on allegations of sexual abuse made against the former disc jockey, Jimmy Savile

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Social and Political Science


In 2012, a year after his death, allegations of historical sex abuse by the former disc jockey, Jimmy Savile, began to emerge following an ITV 'Exposure' programme. The case generated massive public interest; initial allegations led to hundreds of others. It caused public outrage; Savile's grave was desecrated, his holiday cottage vandalised. The reverberations of the case have engulfed major institutions in controversy leading, for example, to the resignation of the BBC's Director General and to two reports (Pollard, 2012 and Smith, ongoing) into the organisation's handling of the affair. It has also led to investigations of sex crimes by other celebrity figures from the 1960s and 70s and more currently. Previous allegations of abuse in North Wales children's homes re-surfaced, implicating (wrongly) the Tory peer Lord McAlpine in child abuse.
The scale of the allegations against Savile led the Metropolitan Police in the Yewtree Report (2013) (in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to children) to identify those making allegations against Savile as victims and, by implication, Savile as a perpetrator of abuse, a 'predatory paedophile'. Alison Levitt QC, Principal Advisor to the Director of Public Prosecution, in her report regarding Savile, notes that the term 'complainant' is inappropriate and substitutes the term 'victim' throughout the report. This is a new and arguably troubling development inasmuch as Savile was never tried or convicted through due process of law. There is a wider concern that the sexual mores of a particular time period are being examined and judged, perhaps, against standards of a different age.
While the general mood against Savile is one of revulsion, voices are beginning to be raised questioning the veracity of some of the allegations against him. Initial allegations emanate from former residents of Duncroft School, a residential school for 'wayward but intelligent girls', which operated in the South of England over the course of the 1960s and 70s and into the 80s. One former resident of Duncroft went on to become a lawyer, now lives in France and blogs under the name of Anna Raccoon. She disputes the picture of Duncroft painted by other former residents and the extent and nature of Jimmy Savile's alleged abuse there. Dozens of other former residents have contacted her to question aspects of the story that has found its way into the public domain. Members of Jimmy Savile's family have similarly disputed claims made against him by a relative.
Picking up on Mark Smith's interest in moral panics, Anna Raccoon contacted him to reveal that she was suffering from terminal cancer and would like to ensure that the information she holds on the Savile case is not lost but is subjected to proper academic scrutiny. This research proposal is to collate the 'urgent' electronic data she holds but also to interview key informants on the Savile case who are known to 'Anna'. The subject of our proposed research takes us onto contested ground: proponents of the approach that has been taken to investigate the 'Savile affair' argue that victims are at long last being afforded justice and the possibility of 'closure' and that to raise questions of the process might put off others from coming forward; critics see it as a witch-hunt or as Furedi (2013) claims, the latest episode in a wider 'moral crusade' against child abuse. Our proposal raises, among others, questions of human rights and civil liberties, the rule of law, memory, identity and perceptions of trust in social relationships. As such it will be of interest to a range of academic disciplines and publics. It should be of particular relevance to the workings of the criminal justice system in the UK. It is also of international significance as jurisdictions across the world struggle with how best to address vexed questions of historical child abuse.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?
The research proposed has potential impact across a swathe of civil society including:
1. Investigators of alleged historical abuse, e.g. Forensic and clinical psychologists; ACPO Association of Chief Police Officers; Crown Prosecution Service (CPS); Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRS)
2. Organisations which support victims of abuse e.g. Victim Support; The Survivors Trust (TST); National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC)
3. Those supporting people accused and alleging innocence e.g. The Innocence Network UK (INUK); Falsely Accused Careers, Teachers and other professionals (FACT); Falsely Accused of Sexual Offences (FASO);
4. Defence solicitors and barristers specialising in charges of child/sex abuse;
5. Professional organisations e.g. NASUWT - the largest teachers' union; Scottish Residential Child Care Workers Association (SRCCWA);
6. Charities and institutions affected by Savile's legacy. e.g. The Jimmy Savile Stoke Mandeville Hospital Trust; The (Leeds-based) Jimmy Savile Charitable Trust; The BBC.
7. Newspaper and broadcast media organisations e.g students on journalism courses
8. Policy makers

How will they benefit from this research?
We would hope to distinguish between the allegations about Savile at Duncroft which can be supported and those which can't be supported or which are contradicted. With lessons to learn from each type, the findings will have relevance to those investigating allegations, to supporting victims of abuse, and to recognising false allegations. They may indicate circumstances in which there is a greater risk of abuse and also motivations which might prompt inaccurate claims. Whether the findings conform or contradict the picture of Savile as (a) a predatory paedophile, (b) involved in organised sexual exploitation of girls in care, and (c) in satanic abuse, will be an important basis for all the above mentioned organisations to proceed in making appropriate judgements on a case-by-case basis and in the implications drawn about similar claims of institutional historical abuse. The findings should assist charities and institutions affected by Savile's legacy to gain perspective on what took place and move forward based on a more substantiated appraisal.

It is our hope that our research might increase the effectiveness of public services and policy, especially in the workings of the legal system but also in respect of how best to address the needs of those who allege historical abuse. While the focus of this research is a particular case in the UK, jurisdictions across the world are struggling with how to best deal with allegations of historical abuse, so the research has potential international significance. The currency and the profile of this case is likely to ensure that the research will be picked up and used as soon as it becomes public.

A subsidiary impact of this research may be in developing skills among the research team in applying insights and methods relating to the use of social media in social scientific research.


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Description We have collated a large amount of electronic data (blog posts and associated comments) on the Jimmy Savile case. These have been safeguarded and archived along with official reports into the case and qualitative interview data with former pupils and staff members at Duncroft School, from whence early allegations against Savile emerged. These three strands of data can be cross-referenced. Much of the data challenges existing accounts of the Savile case as presented in the press and in official reports. The data will be made available to a wider academic and professional audience and is likely to take open up avenues for further research that take understandings of the Savile case in different and more nuanced directions.

The project has involved Social Work and Criminology academics working alongside a computer scientist and a digital librarian. The research highlighted a number of areas regarding, levels of recursion in accessing data, confidentiality and ownership of web-based data, many of which remain untested or unresolved in practice or law. We are aware of these issues as we proceed with reporting findings and are approaching these on a case by case basis.

We had to re-appraise our idea for a reference group - rather than try to bring together a geographically and ideologically disparate group we took soundings from people with varying perspectives on this issue

The project has opened up a range of possibilities for further research, which will be of interest across a range of academic disciplines. Examples of avenues for further research might be:
• History of residential child care
• Changing social norms
• Our relationship with the past
• Presumption of innocence
• Defamation of the dead
• Memory - individual and collective
• Relationship between the police, voluntary sector, media and litigation lawyers
• Digital archiving, anonymity, ownership, law and ethics
• Status of accounts/stories
• The role of agents/claims makers/moral entrepreneurs
• Moral crusades - good versus evil
We brought the project to the attention of wider academic and professional audiences through a knowledge exchange event
held in January 2015, attended by 30 people. This has resulted in some useful connections. For example Mark Smith has had a paper accepted for a forthcoming Sociology and Social Work conference along with Dr Jo Woodiwiss from Huddersfield University, who attended the KE event. Dr Woodiwiss has also been successful in attracting ESRC Festival of Science funding on a theme of From Jimmy Savile to Rotherham, at which Mark Smith will speak. An extended abstract for an article in a special issue of British Journal of Social Work on a theme of sexualities has been accepted.

The project team has presented at several conferences and is working on a variety of publications at the moment. A proposal for a short book has been submitted to Policy Press and four articles are at different stages of completion.
Exploitation Route Issues of data access will be reported separately but, basically, we have collated a mass of data on the Savile case, which will be available to wider academic and professional communities subject to some confidentiality restrictions.
Mark Smith has submitted a proposal for a 'short' book to Policy Press. Despite reasonably positive reviews this was declined (for reasons of the subject's sensitivity and need for legal advice prior to publishing). Publishers say they would welcome a proposal for a full book, which will be submitted. The purpose of the project was to safeguard the annaraccoon blog. The need for this became imperative when she took her blog down in 2017 following hostile attention. She then decided she wanted it restored. We were able to assist in this process through providing the dataset for reconstruction. Annaraccoon died in 2017, justifying the project's intention to collate and safeguard her work.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description still early stages but short piece published in The Justice Gap - other non-academic outputs likely. A further piece was published in the Justice Gao in 2017. Academic peer reviewed articles have been published in International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy and in British Journal of social work. A book chapter has been completed for publication later in 2018
Sector Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Title Securing a data set on allegations of sexual abuse made against the former disc jockey, Jimmy Savile 
Description In this work we look at the initial phase of an ESRC funded project involving academics from Social Work, Criminology, Informatics and the University of Edinburgh Library.This project collected and analysed a data set on allegations of sexual abuse made against the former disc jockey, Jimmy Savile. The Savile affair has taken place in a public and highly charged, arena. It has generated massive media attention and spawned several public reports, most notably that which was produced as a result of Operation Yewtree. Early allegations against Savile emanate from former residents at Duncroft, a residential school for `wayward but intelligent young women'. This project stems from data produced and collected by the blogger `Anna Raccoon' herself a former resident at the school. Through her blogs on the subject of Savile and Duncroft she was contacted by others and has collected a variety of information on the subject. The data harvested from the blog are supplemented by official reports and other blogs. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Description Presentation at ESRC Festival of Ideas 
Organisation University of Huddersfield
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Presented on Savile findings to ESRC Festival of Ideas event. Led to submission and acceptance of abstract to special issue of British Journal of Social Work on Savile case and Dr Woodiwiss' work
Collaborator Contribution Jointly submitted article abstract
Impact Brings together Sociology and Social Work
Start Year 2015
Description Dealing with data 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation on data collection/management issues related to the project in University of Edinburgh Dealing with Data event
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description European Social Work Research Association, Bolzano 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Introduced project to group of social work researchers as part of moral panics discussion
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description European Social Work research Association, Llubjana 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation on aspect of project - discourse analysis - S. Kirkwood
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Presentation at Sociology and Social Work Conference, Chester 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to mixed professional/academic audience on initial findings from project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Workshop at Moral Panics seminar Glasgow Caledonian University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact With Susanne Nundy presented workshop on Savile case
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description presentation to Socio-Legal Studies Conference, Aberdeen 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation of initial findings from project to major academic/policy conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014