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Dark life of a national treasure

For decades he was hailed as a national treasure who made children's dreams come true.

But for countless youngsters, the "great" Jimmy Savile was the source of unremitting torment, his name synonymous with nothing more than nightmares.

Yet his litany of depraved crimes remained one of Britain's darkest secrets until his death.

On October 29 2011 the radio disc-jockey, television personality and friend to the royal family went to the grave a hero.

He was lauded for his indefatigable charity work and the "miracles" he brought about for more than 1,500 children who appeared on Jim'll Fix It.

His public image - largely defined by his shock of platinum-dyed hair, chunky jewellery, tracksuits, Havana cigars and inane patter - had been one of a loveable, if enigmatic, entertainer.

And while his admission that he did not, in fact, like children, raised eyebrows, it was largely dismissed as a bizarre eccentricity.

After all, here was a friend to prime ministers who dedicated so much of his time to good causes.

On the face of it, charities had much to thank him for.

Savile raised more than 30 million, including 12 million to rebuild the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

But behind this worthy facade lurked one of the UK's most prolific sexual predators.

The cool-headed Yorkshire businessman, who was also a member of Mensa, is now believed to have used his once-revered charitable deeds to gain access to some of the most vulnerable members of society.

Savile abused his victims at 14 medical sites including hospitals, mental health units and even a hospice.

Allegations against him include 14 offences relating to schools.

His celebrity status enabled him to "hide in plain sight", a report by Scotland Yard and the NSPCC has now found.

This meant his sordid crimes only came to light last year, nearly 12 months after his death.

A total of 214 offences have been recorded against the disgraced TV presenter. Of his victims, 73% were children, with youngsters aged as young as eight when they were targeted.

But the true extent of his crimes may never be known.

During his lifetime, Savile consistently escaped justice and, according to his own autobiography, felt safe from prosecution.

Referring to a brush with the law in the 1960s, he apparently concluded: "Were I to go I would probably take half the [police] station with me."

By this stage he was already a vicious offender and when his victims dared to speak up, their voices went unheard.

Savile was the youngest of seven children born to a poor bookmaker's clerk in Leeds in 1926.

Success was founded on a totally overweening belief in his own abilities and a tremendous energy, which led him away from the Yorkshire minefields and on to TV stardom.

He almost died from pneumonia when just five months old but recovered after his mother, whom he always referred to as the redoubtable "Duchess", went to the local church to pray to a deceased Scottish nun.

He narrowly escaped death for a second time as a teenager during his first job as a miner.

An underground explosion brought down the coal face on his back, damaging his spine to such an extent that he was told he would never walk again.

But he defied medical expectations and after three years he was able to throw away his sticks.

He soon latched on to what was then an unheard-of-venture: taking a wind-up gramophone to entertain people at dances.

Savile, who claimed to have set up the world's first disco in Leeds in 1948, was later spotted working in the dance-halls and was asked to move on to radio where he rapidly found national fame.

But he had not hit 30 when he committed his first recorded offence in Manchester in 1955.

As his showbiz career went from strength to strength - taking him on to host the BBC's Top of the Pops - his sex attacks gathered pace.

Each airing of the popular music show - from the first programme broadcast from a converted church in Manchester to the last, which Savile co-presented in 2006 - brought him into contact with hordes of adoring teenage fans - and potential victims.

Police now believe that Savile was still preying on women when the show came off air - with one allegation linked to the final recording.

The last reported claims relate to 2009 - just two years before his death at the age of 84.

But while he was alive, such accusations were confined to rumours and these were never brought to public attention.

This allowed Savile to be held up as something of a national institution, famed for his Tarzan impressions and catchphrases such as "How's about that guys and gals" and "clunk-click, every trip" (this related to a car seat belt TV campaign).

He was exulted at Radio 1 where he presented Jimmy Savile's Old Record Club for many years, counting down the charts of yesteryear on Sunday lunchtimes.

Charity work appeared to consume him in later life, when he worked as a voluntary helper at Stoke Mandeville, Leeds General Infirmary and Broadmoor.

The reasons for his visits to such establishments have now been inextricably linked to his perverted fixations.

Since his death, concerns have been raised over Savile's access to such places, where he was apparently able to select sex victims according to his whim.

Questions also surround his privileged access to the royal family - Savile became an intermediary in an attempt to resolve the differences between the Prince and Princess of Wales shortly before their split.

His own name was never associated with any woman and he claimed he had never been in love.

When asked about his feelings by psychiatrist Professor Anthony Clare during a radio interview, he replied: "I haven't got any emotions. Feelings aren't logic."

In reality, he was consumed by a debased obsession with sex offending, something police now believe he must have thought about "every minute of every waking day".

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