LONDON (Reuters) - The first in a list of ageing celebrities accused of sexually abusing young fans over many years went on trial on Tuesday in an investigation that has rocked confidence in the BBC, Britain’s publicly funded broadcaster.
One of Britain’s best-known radio DJs in the 1970s and 1980s, Dave Lee Travis, who counted Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi among his fans, is facing 14 charges involving 11 women aged from 15 upwards that date from between 1976 and 2008.
British-based Australian entertainer Rolf Harris also appeared in court on Tuesday where he pleaded not guilty to 12 counts of indecent assault, one allegedly involving a girl aged seven or eight. He is due to stand trial in April.
The charges stem from a police investigation launched after the 2011 death of one of the BBC’s top TV presenters, Jimmy Savile, who turned out to have been a prolific sex predator over six decades.
There are now several investigations into Savile’s case with victims mulling compensation and calling for a single judge-led inquiry into how he was able to evade justice for so long.
The BBC has ordered an independent review into revelations that Savile abused hundreds of children in hospitals and on BBC premises. The report is due within weeks.
To date, police have arrested 16 former celebrities and showbusiness figures, laying charges against four, releasing six on bail and taking no further action against six.
Critics have asked why the BBC and police did not act at the time when victims complained. Some celebrities have voiced concern the investigation has become a “witch-hunt” with innocent people linked to pedophile Savile but never charged.
Child welfare campaigners said the publicity had encouraged people to speak up. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said reports of sex abuse of children aged under 11 rose 16 percent last year.
Travis, on bail, arrived at Southwark Crown Court in London on Tuesday to a waiting scrum of media. The 68-year-old presenter has denied 13 counts of indecent assault and one of sexual assault. His trial is set to last six weeks.
Harris was released on bail after pleading not guilty to 12 charges of indecent assault which date from 1968 to 2012, with one involving a girl aged seven or eight. He is also facing four counts of making indecent images of a child but these have yet to be put to him formally in court.
Harris, 83, a family favourite in Australia and Britain for over 50 years, made his name hosting TV shows and producing chart hits including “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport”. A keen artist, he painted Queen Elizabeth’s portrait in 2005 and performed at the Queen’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee concert.
The inquiry has also led to charges being laid against celebrity publicist Max Clifford who faces trial in March. He denies all wrongdoing. A former BBC chauffeur who was also charged and due to stand trial committed suicide last October.
Editing by Alison Williams