Operation Yewtree is a British police investigation into sexual abuse allegations, predominantly the abuse of children, against the English media personality Jimmy Savile and others. The investigation, led by the Metropolitan Police Service, started in October 2012. After a period of assessment it became a full criminal investigation, involving inquiries into living people, notably other celebrities, as well as Savile.
The report of the investigations into the activities of Savile himself was published, as Giving Victims a Voice, in January 2013. Operation Yewtree continued as an investigation into others, some but not all linked with Savile. By October 2015, 19 people had been arrested by Operation Yewtree; seven of these arrests led to convictions. The "Yewtree effect" has been credited for an increase in the number of reported sex crimes, while the operation also sparked a debate on police procedure and rights of those accused of sex crimes.
An ITV documentary, Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, researched and presented by former police detective Mark Williams-Thomas, was broadcast on 3 October 2012, almost a year after Savile's death. The programme contained several allegations by women who said that, as teenagers, they had been sexually abused by radio and television personality Jimmy Savile, who had gained access to them through the television programmes he had presented and his charity work. Following the broadcast, many other people came forward to make allegations about Savile's conduct towards young people, including sexual abuse that had taken place on BBC premises and in hospitals to which Savile had access.
On 4 October 2012, the Metropolitan Police said it would take the national lead in a process of assessing the allegations. The assessment was undertaken by the Serious Case Team of the service's Child Abuse Investigation Command, led by Detective Superintendent David Gray working closely with the BBC. The police said, "Our priority will be to ensure a proportionate and consistent policing response putting the victims at the heart of our enquiries", and that "it is not an investigation at this stage".
The Metropolitan Police announced on 9 October that the inquiry into the allegations would be called Operation Yewtree, and would be undertaken jointly with the NSPCC. The police had formally recorded eight allegations against Savile, but announced they were following 120 lines of inquiry, covering up to 25 victims of abuse, mainly girls aged between 13 and 16. The allegations covered four decades, from 1959 until the 1980s, and were on "a national scale". Commander Peter Spindler, head of specialist crime investigations, said, "At this stage it is quite clear from what women are telling us that Savile was a predatory sex offender."
"Yewtree" was chosen from a list of names which are intended to be neutral and unrelated to each particular case. This system, dating back to the 1980s, is used for operations which are started to handle specific crimes, as opposed to more general, pro-active operations with names connected to their intent.
The Metropolitan Police launched a criminal investigation on 19 October 2012 as, in addition to the historic allegations of child sex abuse by Savile, there were "lines of inquiry involving living people that require formal investigation". The criminal investigations within Operation Yewtree were led by Detective Chief Inspector Michael Orchard as the Senior Investigating Officer and overseen by Chief Superintendent Keith Niven, head of the Metropolitan Police's child abuse investigation command, and by December 2012, 30 officers were involved with the case. In saying that the operation was "dealing with alleged abuse on an unprecedented scale" and that it "empowered a staggering number of victims to come forward to report the sexual exploitation which occurred during their childhood", Commander Peter Spindler said that: "We are dealing with a major criminal investigation. This is a watershed moment for child abuse investigations and Yewtree will be a landmark investigation." The operation follows three strands: allegations against Savile, allegations against Savile and others, and allegations just involving others. On 11 December, the Metropolitan Police stated that the investigation of the abuse undertaken by Savile had been completed and the report into his alleged offending, Giving Victims a Voice, was released in January 2013.
The investigation into "others" continued after the Savile investigation concluded. In May 2013, The New York Times reported that "at least 69 police officers and staff members" were involved in the operation and that many of the suspects were celebrities. The operation passed files to South Yorkshire Police in the investigation of Cliff Richard, and passed files to North Yorkshire Police in the investigation of Jimmy Tarbuck. Neither case resulted in charges. In June 2016, after child abuse allegations regarding Clement Freud were made public, it was reported that Operation Yewtree had been passed information about Freud in 2012 when two alleged victims made accusations to the NSPCC. A December 2015 freedom of information disclosure revealed that Scotland Yard spent £2.2m a year on Operation Yewtree.
Arrests leading to convictions
|28 October 2012||Gary Glitter||Former glam rock pop star and previously convicted sex offender||
Glitter was questioned and released on bail until 5 June 2014, when he was charged with eight child sex offences dating back to the 1970s. On 5 February 2015 he was found guilty of attempted rape, four counts of indecent assault, and one count of having sex with a girl under the age of 13. He was acquitted of the three other counts.
|Sentenced on 27 February 2015 to 16 years in prison.|
|15 November 2012||Dave Lee Travis||Disc jockey, radio and television presenter||Arrested in Bedfordshire on 15 November, Travis was later released on bail. The police said allegations against him were unrelated to Savile, and Travis said his arrest had been on matters not linked to children. Travis was re-arrested on 13 March 2013 on suspicion of further sexual offences. Travis was charged on 15 August 2013 on suspicion of twelve historical sex offences. Following a trial at Southwark Crown Court, on 13 February 2014 Travis was found not guilty on twelve counts of sexual assault, with the jury unable to reach a decision on a further two counts. Travis faced a retrial on the two outstanding counts in September 2014 and also faced a new charge of indecently assaulting a researcher working on TV's Mrs Merton Show in 1995. He was found guilty of this charge by a majority verdict of 10–2. Travis was found not guilty on one count, and on the third count the jury were unable to return a verdict.||Sentenced to three months in prison suspended for two years.|
|6 December 2012||Max Clifford||Publicist||After his release on bail, he denied what he termed the "damaging and totally untrue allegations". On 26 April 2013, Clifford was charged with eleven indecent assaults against girls and young women between 1965 and 1985. On 28 April 2014, Clifford was found guilty of eight charges of indecent assault, acquitted of two charges of indecent assault and the jury was hung on one charge of indecent assault.
Clifford was rearrested by Operation Yewtree police on 12 March 2015 and charged with an additional count of indecent assault on 3 July 2015. He was cleared by a jury of the charge on 7 July 2016.
|Sentenced to eight years' imprisonment on 2 May 2014 in HM Prison Wandsworth. Later moved to HM Prison Littlehey.
Clifford died in December 2017 after collapsing in his prison cell.
|28 March 2013||Rolf Harris||Australian-born musician, singer-songwriter, painter, and television personality||In late November 2012 an unnamed man in his 80s was questioned by the Metropolitan Police and his Berkshire house was searched. He was arrested in Berkshire on 28 March 2013. On 19 April this was stated by the BBC and other media sources to be Rolf Harris. On 29 August Harris was charged with 13 separate offences relating to the abuse of minors. On 23 December 2013, Harris was charged with 3 further separate sexual assault charges which are against females aged 19 in 1984, aged seven or eight in 1968 or 1969, and aged 14 in 1975. Harris's trial began on 6 May 2014, involving him being accused of grooming a friend of his daughter's from the age of 13 with evidence being an 'apology letter' allegedly written by Harris to the victim's family. Sasha Wass QC, prosecuting, said "Mr Harris was too famous, too powerful and his reputation made him untouchable". He was found guilty on all twelve counts on 30 June 2014.
It was reported in July 2014, October 2014 and February 2015, that he was being investigated by police over other alleged sexual offences. On 12 February 2016 the CPS announced that Harris would face seven further indecent assault charges involving seven complainants aged between 12 and 27 and having allegedly occurred from 1971 to 2004. On 8 February 2017, Harris was cleared of three charges. The judge discharged the jury from deliberating on the further four counts of which he was accused. After facing a retrial in May, the jury were unable to reach verdicts and prosecutors announced that they would not pursue another retrial.
|Sentenced to five years and nine months in prison on 4 July 2014. Incarcerated at HM Prison Bullingdon, before being moved to HM Prison Stafford. Released from prison on 19 May 2017.|
|June 2013||Chris Denning||Former Radio 1 disc-jockey and previously convicted sex offender||Arrested in June 2013 and bailed until September. On 22 May 2014, he was charged with 41 sex offences. Denning pleaded guilty to 29 charges on 5 August 2014. He pleaded guilty to the remaining charges on 14 November 2014. The offences took place from 1967 to 1987 and involve 26 male victims, the youngest having been nine at the time.||Sentenced to 13 years in prison.|
|17 December 2013||Michael Salmon||Medical doctor at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where Savile allegedly abused some of his victims, and previously convicted sex offender||Initially charged with assaulting four girls under the age of 16 between 1972 and 1985, including one count of rape, Salmon pleaded not guilty. On 6 February 2015 he was found guilty of nine indecent assaults and two rapes, with victims' ages ranging from 11 to 18 and having occurred between 1973 and 1988. Despite working at Stoke Mandeville at the same time as Savile there is no known link between them.||Sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2015 and an additional four years in 2016.|
|13 May 2015||Geoffrey Wheeler||BBC employee N.B. This is not the late broadcaster Geoffrey Wheeler||In September 2016, Wheeler was charged with five counts of indecent assault. He pleaded not guilty and his trial at Southwark Crown Court began in March 2017. On 3 April 2017, Wheeler was convicted on one count of indecent assault and cleared of four other charges.||Sentenced to 50 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay £150 in restitution to the victim and £500 towards the prosecution's costs.|
|1 November 2012||Freddie Starr||Comedian||Arrested four times by February 2014. On 6 May 2014, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that Starr would not be prosecuted.
Starr later filed a defamation claim against an accuser who claimed that he groped her in Jimmy Savile's dressing room after appearing on Clunk Click when she was 15 in 1974. The judge dismissed the claim and stated that the accuser had proven that he had groped her.
|No prosecution. Died in 2019.|
|11 November 2012||Wilfred De'ath||Author, journalist and former BBC producer||Arrested in Cambridge on suspicion of connected sexual offences; he was later released on bail, denying the claims made against him. No charges were brought against De'ath after the complainant withdrew her statement in March 2013. De'ath was later told that he would not face any charges, and said that the police action had been "overzealous".||No prosecution. Died in 2020.|
|10 December 2012||David Smith||Chauffeur||Smith was the first suspect to be charged in the investigation on 3 April 2013 having been arrested on 10 December 2012. On 28 October 2013, Smith was found dead after failing to appear for a court appearance. Although sometimes described as a "(former) BBC driver", the Corporation could find no evidence that he had ever been employed by them. The coroner found that he had committed suicide.||Deceased.|
|19 December 2012||Ted Beston||BBC radio producer||Arrested on 19 December. On 14 May 2013, it was reported that Beston would not face prosecution due to insufficient evidence.||No prosecution.|
|2 January 2013||Jim Davidson||Comedian||Arrested on 2 January 2013. It was later announced that he would face no further action.||No prosecution.|
|January 2013||Mike Osman||Disc jockey and impressionist||Arrested around the same time as Davidson. He was released without charge.||No prosecution.|
|5 February 2013||Unnamed 65-year-old man||Unknown||Arrested in South London on 5 February.||No prosecution.|
|4 April 2013||Unnamed 65-year-old man||Unknown||Arrested in Somerset on 4 April. On 16 October it was confirmed he would not be prosecuted.||No prosecution.|
|29 October 2013||Paul Gambaccini||American-British radio and television presenter and author||Two unnamed men aged 64 and 74 were arrested on 29 October at separate addresses in South London, on 1 November 2013, and it was reported that BBC broadcaster Paul Gambaccini was the 64-year-old man arrested on suspicion of historical sexual offences as part of Operation Yewtree. Gambaccini was given bail, and his spokesman said that he denied the allegations. On 10 October 2014, it was announced that he would not be prosecuted.||No prosecution.|
|29 October 2013||Unnamed 74-year-old man||Unknown||Arrested in South London, and given bail, alongside Gambaccini. On 10 October 2014, it was announced that he would not be prosecuted.||No prosecution.|
|8 April 2014||Walid Moussa||BBC Arabic translator||Arrested in North London on suspicion of sexual offences. On 20 February 2015 he was charged with seven counts of indecent assault on a woman over the age of 16 between July 1983 and July 1984. He pleaded not guilty, and a jury at Harrow Crown Court found him not guilty on 28 November 2016.||Acquitted.|
|7 October 2015||Unnamed 79-year-old man||Unknown||The man was held in Essex and released on bail until early December.||On bail.|
Giving Victims a Voice
The joint report prepared by the Metropolitan Police Service and the NSPCC, Giving Victims a Voice, was published in January 2013, and marked the end of investigations under Operation Yewtree into Savile alone. It reported that sex offences were committed by Savile on 450 people (328 being children at the time), across England and Scotland, with allegations also made in Jersey. The vast majority of offences occurred in his home town of Leeds and in London, his main place of work.
Allegations associating Savile with abuse at Jersey children's home Haut de la Garenne were made in 2008, during Savile's lifetime. He commenced legal action against The Sun newspaper in response; Savile's lawyer said "The reported events are the antithesis of everything Sir James has worked tirelessly to prevent". No action was taken against Savile at this time.
The victims were "mainly not known to each other". His youngest victim was aged 8 years, the oldest 47. Most were aged 13–16, with 73% being under 18 and the majority being minors. The attacks included 18 girls and 10 boys under the age of 10, and were mostly against young girls aged under 16.
The offences were mostly opportunistic, although child grooming was involved in some cases. The first and final known offences were in 1955 and 2009 respectively. The period containing most frequent offending was between 1966 and 1976 (when he was aged 40–50), coinciding with his "peak [celebrity] status". The most frequent offending was during 1975 and 1976 with each year having 15 offences recorded in it.
Most allegations had not previously been reported to authorities, with victims stating reasons of fear of disbelief or distrust of the judicial system. At least seven allegations of sexual assault made to police during Savile's lifetime were not linked. The CPS said prosecutions "might have been possible" in connection with allegations made to Surrey Police between 2007 and 2009.
Savile's celebrity status meant that he was considered to have been "hiding in plain sight". Operation Yewtree's senior investigating officer, DSI David Gray, said Savile used Jim'll Fix It "as a vehicle to gain access to victims".
Approximately 600 people had provided information at the time of the publication of the Savile report, Giving Victims a Voice, of which 450 related to Savile. A total of 214 criminal offences were formally recorded across 28 police forces. The NSPCC described Savile as "one of the most prolific sex offenders in its 129-year history". The BBC restated a "sincere apology to the victims".
Other high-profile arrests
During Operation Yewtree, several other high-profile British public figures were investigated for sexual offences. These included television and radio presenter Stuart Hall, who was convicted of 15 counts of indecent assault, ITV Granada weatherman Fred Talbot, who was jailed after being found guilty of sexually assaulting two schoolboys, and DJ and friend of Savile, Ray Teret, who was found guilty of seven rapes and eleven indecent assaults and was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. Coronation Street actors William Roache and Michael Le Vell were both separately found not guilty of all charges made against them, and DJ Neil Fox was acquitted of several charges.
Although these allegations, investigations and prosecutions were not directly connected to Operation Yewtree, they were linked in public imagination. In particular, Roache's defence argued that Operation Yewtree had created an atmosphere in which allegations of sexual abuse against celebrities were more likely to be taken to prosecution, while several other commentators speculated that the decision in particular to prosecute Roache and Le Vell may have been influenced by the high profile of Yewtree.
In response to a large increase of complainants coming forward in the summer of 2014 in the wake of the Savile scandal, Operation Hydrant, a new operation into historic child sex abuse allegations was launched by the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC). As of 20 May 2015, 1433 suspects – including 261 of "public prominence" (135 from TV, film or radio) and 666 from institutions (including 154 from schools, 75 from children's homes, 40 from religious institutions and 14 medical establishments) – have been identified. Operation Hydrant is not responsible for conducting independent investigations; it gathers information from other inquiries, including Operation Yewtree.
Operation Ravine is an investigation by Surrey Police into alleged sexual abuse connected to the Walton Hop disco. A previous investigation into the Walton Hop disco, Operation Arundel, resulted in the convictions of Chris Denning and music mogul Jonathan King for child sex offences in the early 2000s. In January 2014, Merseyside Police carried out an independent review of Operation Arundel and related materials were shared with Operation Yewtree. On 10 September 2015, three men were arrested as part of Operation Ravine, including Jonathan King. Denning was charged with 6 offences stemming from the investigation on 7 June 2016, and he pleaded guilty to 21 offences on 22 August 2016. On 7 October, Denning was sentenced to 13 years for these additional offences. King stood trial in June 2018 but the jury was discharged for legal reasons. On 6 August 2018, King received an apology for the collapse of the trial, with Judge Deborah Taylor saying that Surrey Police had made "numerous, repeated and compounded" errors during the investigation, describing the situation as a "debacle".
In response to increasing public outcry and government pressure in the wake of the Savile scandal, Metropolitan Police launched Operation Midland in November 2014, to investigate allegations of child abuse against several high-profile British citizens in positions of authority. The operation was conducted over eighteen months against a group of 12 men, but unlike other child abuse cases being investigated, detectives conducting the investigations made several critical errors in regards to the allegations made, the treatment of those accused, and the evidence supplied to them, and failed to find sufficient evidence to support the accusations against the group. The operation ended in March 2016 as a complete failure, causing considerable damage to those accused, damaged the likelihood of genuine victims of abuse coming forward, and cost the Metropolitan several millions of pounds in operation fees, compensation, and subsequent investigations against the individual who made the allegations. A 2016 inquiry into the conduct of the police taskforce damned the operation for its failings and left considerable questions over the investigative conduct into the accountability of officers for misconduct. The individual who made the false allegations, Carl Beech, was later charged in 2018, and jailed for eighteen years in 2019.
Reactions and analysis
Yewtree was credited for an increase in the reporting of sexual offences. Dubbed the "Yewtree effect", reports of sexual offenses recorded by police rose 17% by 2013. In 2019, Louis Theroux compared Operation Yewtree to sexual abuse allegations made against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, which led to the Weinstein effect and created a global trend in which powerful men were accused of sexual misconduct.
In response to some having labelled Operation Yewtree a "witch-hunt", Joan Smith of The Guardian stated that the conviction of Max Clifford vindicated the operation, and Martin Evans of The Daily Telegraph said that despite several high-profile failures, Rolf Harris' conviction vindicated it. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe denied claims of a witch-hunt, commenting that the alternative would be to ignore allegations. Paul Gambaccini, who was arrested and bailed repeatedly for a year before being told he would face no further action, testified before the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on 3 March 2015. He told MPs he was the victim of a witch-hunt and that he was used as human "fly paper" to encourage other people to come forward and make allegations against him. Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders denied the allegations. In a November 2015 debate organized by the NSPCC on whether investigations into historic sexual abuse had turned into "media witch-hunts", former Metropolitan Police commander Peter Spindler said that police "got some things wrong" and that they "didn't have sufficient resources in place".
In an article for The Spectator, Rod Liddle criticised the handling of these cases by police, especially in the case of Freddie Starr, who was arrested four times and bailed nine times before being told he would not be charged, claiming: "the way the police have conducted the process is hugely unfair". In the aftermath of Cliff Richard's August 2014 property search, human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson wrote in The Independent that the long delays before announcing charges amounted to "outrageous treatment", adding: "This has been one of the most intolerable features of other high-profile arrests for 'historic' offences, namely the inability of police and prosecutors to deliver Magna Carta’s truly historic promise that justice will not be delayed." After others, including Jim Davidson and Gambaccini, were left on bail for many months before being told they would not face charges, then-Home Secretary Theresa May proposed that bail time be limited to 28 days. The 28-day limit came into effect in April 2017.
At a Labour Party conference in July 2014, comedian and friend of Gambaccini Stephen Fry criticised the operation, pointing out that fewer than half of those accused at the time had been found guilty, and called for tougher laws to prevent false sex abuse allegations. MP Nigel Evans, who was cleared of unrelated sexual assault charges, has called for individuals to receive anonymity until charged.
Rosie Millard criticised the operation after Dave Lee Travis was convicted on one count of indecent assault for groping a woman's breast for 15 seconds in 1995, saying: "one has to ask whether the Operation Yewtree fervour, fuelled no doubt by the frustration that one of Britain’s sickest and most evil perverts died before he could come to justice, has simply gone a bit crazy. If we started jailing every man who has ever squeezed a breast, there would be no time for any other sort of case in our courts, and our prisons would be the size of a small city." Carole Malone claimed the case against Travis was a "witch-hunt", adding "if police spent more of their limited time and resources hunting dangerous sex criminals – and less on celebrity gropers – the world would be a safer place."
In February 2016, the late Irish Supreme Court Judge Adrian Hardiman criticised the methods used by Operation Yewtree, particularly the treatment of Paul Gambaccini, as well as the investigations of Cliff Richard and the Operation Midland cases of Leon Brittan and Edwin Bramall, for what he described as the radical undermining of the presumption of innocence. Richard Henriques conducted an inquiry into the Metropolitan Police's sexual abuse investigations and was critical of the handling of Operation Midland but reserved praise for Operation Yewtree. Gambaccini, Bramall and Harvey Proctor, who had been investigated by Operation Midland, sued the Metropolitan Police for £3m in February 2017. In November 2018, Gambaccini reached an out-of-court settlement with the Crown Prosecution Service and received an undisclosed amount in damages.
Operation Yewtree was the inspiration for a drama, National Treasure, starring Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters and Andrea Riseborough. Coltrane played Paul Finchley, a fictional light-entertainment performer accused of rape, Walters played Finchley's wife Marie, and Riseborough played their daughter Danielle ("Dee"). The four-part series, by The Forge, was broadcast September–October 2016 on Channel 4.
- Bill Cosby sexual assault cases
- Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse cases
- Me Too movement
- Post-assault treatment of sexual assault victims
- Sexual abuse in Hollywood
- Weinstein effect
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