The outpouring of evidence about Jimmy Savile shows that scores of people working in the BBC, Hospitals, childrens’ homes and even the police knew – not had heard gossip, really knew – about Savile’s paedophilia, but did not blow the whistle.
To me this correlates with the fact that scores of people in the FCO, MI6, MI5, Cabinet Office and other government agencies knew about extraordinary rendition, but did not blow – indeed still have have not blown – the whistle.
Savile had come to be seen as a big and peculiarly “Establishment” figure. The extreme rarity of whistleblowing in society is a strange phenomenon it is worth taking a few minutes to consider. Why did none of those now coming forward with their stories – not the victims, but the eye-witnesses – come forward at the time? Fear is probably the main answer, in particular fear of losing your job if you rock the boat. One problem in modern society is that people’s job is too central to their identity – most people when asked who they are, will reply what work they do. It is not just the need to earn money; your social status and personal relationships are often dependent on your position at work. To lose your job, or to become a social pariah within the organisation where you work, is too much for most people to contemplate.
That is why BBC producers who knew about Savile, saw him at it, did not blow the whistle on one of the Corporation’s biggest stars. It is why so few whistleblowers spontaneously come forward who have seen corruption in local government planning departments or defence procurement, to give an example. For most white collar crime there are people who are not directly involved bu see it and keep quiet. There is also the deterrent of self-incrimination – after a time silence becomes complicity.
In my own case of blowing the whistle on the international torture network, I know for certain that many other Ambassadors and diplomats knew just what was happening, most of them didn’t like it, but nobody but me blew the whistle. One Ambassador sent me a cheery “Rather you than me!” Some were actively complicit by being involved in rendition arrangements, others passively by not trying to stop it. This is why the Gibsom Inquiry into Complicity in Torture was shelved – it could not have proceeded without revealing that scores, possibly hundreds, are guilty, many of them still high-ranking civil servants. It was to protect them and the institutions in which they work, rather than to protect the high profile war criminals like Blair, Straw and Campbell, that the Establishment closes ranks. I always knew I would never be allowed to testify before an Inquiry into Complicity in Torture.
Whistleblowers are not just thrown out of their jobs. They almost never find new employment, as the one quality every employer values above any other quality is loyalty to the employer, right or wrong. Nobody wants a “disloyal” employee, whatever their motives. And if your whistleblowing involves the world of war and spying, they will try to set you up on false charges, like me, like Julian Assange, and not just sack you but destroy you.
Whistleblowers are rare because it is a near suicidal vocation, and everyone else is too scared to help. The Savile case teaches us far more important lessons than the prurient detail of a lurid life. Think about it.