The temptation of celebrity power: the Police and Jimmy Savile

Mount of Temptation

Mount of Temptation (Photo credit:

The temptation of celebrity affects us all. In this regard, the police are not alone. Like many others, the police succumbed to the temptation of Jimmy Savile’s celebrity status.  They wanted to get to know a celebrity and a celebrity wanted to know them. What could be the harm in that relationship? Besides, they were doing it to “engage with the community”. What they failed to realize was that such behaviour gave the appearance of an improper relationship between Savile and the Police.  What is particularly worrying is that even with hindsight, the police continue to defend the relationship and insist that there was nothing wrong because it did not influence their work.

The West Yorkshire Police report into Jimmy Savile makes it appear that the Police do not understand the power of appearance. They fail to realize how powerful it is when a public figure, or anyone, is able to demonstrate a close relationship with the Police or any powerful person.  Unlike politicians who traffic in relationships and exchanging influence, the Police seem almost institutionally incapable of understanding the threat of appearances. What may have happened is that the police are so used to dealing with reality that they have an institutional bias towards pragmatism.  They take the appearance as reality. They seem oblivious to the way that appearances can be manipulated and how the appearance of power is as strong as power itself.

Do the Police lack self-awareness?

We are often told that actions speak louder than words at times, but we seem to forget that actions create appearances. What speaks louder than words are not the actions but the appearances those actions create.  We are taken in by the changed appearances, which is more than words can do at times.  In the West Yorkshire Police report, the issue comes into focus. In the report, the police have defended their handling of the evidence of the allegations made over the years regarding Jimmy Savile. In the report the coffee mornings, known as Friday Morning Club (FMC) with Jimmy Savile illustrate the issue.

10.13 The meetings held at Savile’s home on Friday mornings had been portrayed by some, as Savile using his friendship with police officers to provide him with protection from allegations of sexual abuse.  WYP recognised the seriousness of this suggestion and placed great emphasis on establishing the truth of what actually took place.

10.14 No evidence has been found to conclude that there was any impropriety or misconduct in relation to the FMC

10.15 All of those people spoken to who had knowledge of the Friday Morning Club described it as of a ‘coffee morning’. Non police attendees commented on how professionally the police officers who had attended Savile’s home conducted themselves.

The meetings themselves may have been harmless. Yet, one would have been surprised if anything had happened at the meeting. Instead, what is important for corruption to occur is that they were to happen and be seen to be happening. The FMC allowed Savile to create a good impression with the police. He probably understood that they would be investigating any complaints about him.

At this stage, it is only being unable to pierce the veil of appearances. If they fail to address the potential for corrupting relationships, it becomes wilful blindness.  When organisations fail to consider how their actions and those of its employees can create improper relationships and the appearance of such relationships, it can become institutional wilful blindness. The FMC could be used to create the impression that he had a “special relationship” with the police. Even if that special relationship never existed, the mere fact that they associated could be used to present the image that Savile had a relationship with the police.

 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.

When a powerful person uses influence in the attempt to corrupt someone it is rarely done in a grossly overt manner.  Instead, it is done by degrees and over time. The occasional favour, the occasional gift, the occasional invitation to an event, all adds up to developing a relationship.  Once the relationship begins the other party, in this case the police and the police officers, may not realize that the other part has ulterior motives for the gifts, favours and invites. Seductions are subtle and rarely brazen so that there can be no opportunity to have a rupture.[1] The stakes are too high to risk so much by a brazen act such as a bribe or a vulgar quid pro quo.  Instead, what is used is a gradual approach.

To see the power of influence we only need to consider how the Sun newspaper sponsors a police awards ceremony.  Here we find a great way for the press to seduce and patronise the police all under the guise of “Police Bravery”.  Who could be opposed to honouring police bravery? Yet, what would we say if the Lawyers Guild or the Reformed Prisoner’s society sponsored such an awards ceremony?  The Leveson inquiry showed us the many ways in which institutional and personal corruption occurred and the way that the powerful were seduced and seduced in turn to achieve their results.

By sponsoring the awards, the Sun can have access to the Police in a venue that will be completely respectable. They can then begin relationships and continue to nurture them. Who, after all, does not want to be honoured? The Police will be grateful for the publicity and appreciate a sponsor who understands what they need. Yet, no one appears to be asking, what is in it for the Press? Why did they initiate the sponsorship? Yet, who could fault Neil Wallis for setting up such an arrangement.  He had created the perfect venue for creating and nurturing his contacts with the Police.  Now, the Sun would be seen as honouring the police and the police would be grateful for the positive publicity such sponsorship brings.

Despite the Leveson Inquiry, (and the Hillsborough revelations) this sponsorship continues uninterrupted and unquestioned.

Dominic Mohan, Editor of The Sun newspapers says:

“The Sun is extremely proud of our continuing sponsorship of The Police Bravery Awards and it is a great honour for us to have this unique opportunity to recognise Britain’s exceptional police service.

“Every day our policemen and women risk their own safety to protect the public and we owe them all a huge debt of gratitude. All the winners deserve the highest possible praise and I hope these awards are seen as a fitting tribute to every member of Britain’s Police Force.”

When senior police officers both nationally and locally do not see this as a problem, they reveal a deeper problem within their approach to corruption. They have not stopped the bravery award or insisted that other people sponsor it or that it be held by a neutral agency. Instead, they continue to be honoured by the industry they were charged with investigating and with whom they had a flawed and corrupt relationship. The police seem to be able to see the problems for frontline officers but fail to see how the whole force can be influenced. The potential for corrupting relationships with is discussed in this Police report regarding steroid use.

Learning from a master of influence and manipulation

What Neil Wallis did at a tactical level with the Police, Rupert Murdoch did at a grand strategic level with his media empire. Rupert Murdoch has used his media empire for advantage and influence to support his business interests. He understands the power of appearance as well as the reality of power.  Yet, even his best-laid plans can be undone by time and scrutiny.  We can see for example a less subtle relationship, probably because of the time constraints, in the way that Jeremy Hunt was lobbied. Was it by happenstance that a News Corp lobbyist was developing a close relationship with Jeremy Hunt?

People in power rarely have friendships that are without the taint of reciprocated favour. For this reason, most powerful people only socialize with friends they had before they became powerful or they have known for a very long time. What the police have to realize is that they have an important type of power within communities.  The appearance of a relationship with the police can give people status as well as deter others from questioning them for fear that they may be seen to be questioning the power of the police.  For that reason, powerful people or popular people, like Savile, will want to nurture the relationship. Someone like Savile would not discourage the relationship with the police because it can give the veneer of respectability or plant the seeds of doubt with the police regarding any allegations.

 What is to be done?

Perhaps if the Police wish to reform and address the problem of corruption, they need to educate their officers to the gap between appearance and reality. For this to happen though it may be time for the senior police officers to be like Saul so that the scales fall from their eyes.  They need to teach officers to understand why people will want relationships.  Perhaps it is time for them to read Machiavelli.

Machiavelli best explains how appearance shapes reality.

…[M]en judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, too few to come in touch with you. Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them;

Instead of the majesty of the state, Savile used relationships with the BBC and the Police to promote and nurture his appearance and deflect attention from what he was. To counter this possibility, the police need to be trained to understand that the appearance of a relationship or a favour can be as powerful as if it happened. Unless they become aware of the power of appearance, they will continue to be used as a shield.

He can’t be such a bad guy; we had coffee with him last Friday.

[1] For the formal intelligence version of recruiting an agent, very similar to seducing someone, see the following link.  In many ways, when an agent seeks to encourage someone to betray their country, they act like a serial philanderer trying to corrupt the target while remaining faithful to their own country.

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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3 Responses to The temptation of celebrity power: the Police and Jimmy Savile

  1. rob says:

    I’m afraid that a good section of the public believe that our police forces are helping covering up cover ups of corrupt individuals and corporations at the top end of society. We have the Daniel Morgan murder, the Cleveland false inprisonment of a solicitor case, the Hillsborough debacle, the Hackgate (still further revelations on PC hacking alleged to come), the Savile and other paedophile rings still being investigated, the Stephen Lawrence murder etc etc. Most if not all have been a result of failings at the top of the system.
    What is needed is a full Inquiry into our police forces and whether the current set up is fit for purpose if only for bring back public confidence in our police service and increase morale in the lower ranks.

    • Rob,
      Thanks for the comment. I am not sure if they think that the police are corrupt. I would not think that from the events you describe. Yes, there are problems, but I would say that most police, if not nearly all, become police to help others. When people complain about rogue cops, they need to consider how they are hired, trained, and managed. In each of those stages, managers and senior managers are directly responsible. You may be correct that a large scale review is needed, but I do not agree.
      The police have been reviewed recently in a number of different ways. What is clearly changing is how police are hired, trained, and managed. The review of pay and conditions is a first step in that long process.
      I would say that when compared to police forces around the world, the UK police are among the best, if not the best, in the world. However, there is an important, if subtle, difference in that a regime may have a good police force, but still have issues to address regarding transparency, equality, freedom, and accountability.
      On your final point, I agree completely. My posts always have the frontline officer in mind because they know the issues. I think that there is no truer friend of the police than someone who is willing to point out what is not working in the hopes of making it better for the police. To critize for the sake of criticism is easy. To criticize with the intent and objective of improvement is more difficult. Yet, it is our responsibility as citizens.

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