London (AFP) - Late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile sexually abused vulnerable patients in scores of British hospitals over decades and claimed to have performed sex acts on dead bodies, investigators said on Thursday.
Savile, one of the biggest TV stars in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, abused girls, boys, men and women aged from five to 75 as he enjoyed unrestricted access throughout state-run National Health Service (NHS) institutions, they found.
In one particularly distressing case at a hospital in Leeds, central England, he fondled the breasts of a teenage girl through her hospital gown as she lay prostrate on a trolley following a lengthy medical procedure.
Witnesses told investigators that Savile also claimed to have performed sex acts on bodies at the same hospital's mortuary, and even bragged about having jewellery that he had had made from glass eyes taken from the deceased.
Investigators said they could not confirm his claims but concluded that his interest in the mortuary was "not within accepted boundaries".
- 'We let victims down' -
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt apologised to victims on behalf of the government for not protecting them from a man once held up as an "eccentric national treasure" who turned out to be a "sickening and prolific sexual abuser".
"We let them down badly and however long ago it may have been, many of them are still reliving the pain they went through," Hunt said in a statement to parliament.
Savile was a hugely popular figure during his career on radio and TV and was knighted in 1990 for his extensive fundraising for charity, but after his death in 2011 at the age of 84, his dark side was exposed.
A police investigation last year concluded that he was a prolific paedophile and sex offender who used his celebrity status to attacks victims on BBC premises, schools and hospitals.
The health ministry ordered investigations into Savile's behaviour in 28 NHS hospitals, including the high-security mental health hospital Broadmoor.
The conclusions published on Thursday revealed how Savile took advantage of the extraordinary access his fame and charitable works game him to prey on patients and staff.
The worst offences occurred at Leeds General Infirmary, one of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe with 15,000 staff and almost 1.5 million patients, where Savile worked for four decades as a volunteer porter and fundraiser.
Investigators were contacted by 60 people who claim they were abused by Savile, who was born in Leeds, in incidents ranging from inappropriate touching to rape and involving victims from children to pensioners.
Another investigation into Broadmoor found Savile likely abused six people and made countless advances towards others, many of whom did not speak out because they thought it was part of his public persona -- "just Jimmy".
He watched female patients as they stripped naked for bathing, and would also look through doorways at female patients bathing and make inappropriate remarks.