LONDON - The child abuse scandal consuming the legacy of the late entertainer Jimmy Savile netted its second celebrity arrest Thursday as police swooped in on British comedian Freddie Starr, media reported. Executors of Savile's estate also said they were freezing his assets, clearing the way for a host of potential lawsuits.
Scotland Yard said in a statement released late Thursday that a man in his 60s from the English county of Warwickshire had been taken into custody on suspicion of sexual assault. It didn't name the suspect, but nearly all major British media outlets identified the man as Starr, who is in his 60s and lives in the village of Studley, in Warwickshire.
A phone number for Starr — a 1970s variety show favourite known for his good looks and roguish humour — could not immediately be located. Police refused to answer any questions about the arrest, but the development had been widely anticipated. Starr himself volunteered to speak to detectives after being accused of having groped the woman whose claims are at the centre of Savile scandal.
He had previously denied any wrongdoing. "Never would I go with an underage girl," he told the BBC last month. "Never, ever, ever."
Starr stands accused by Karin Ward, who says she was 14 when the comedian "had a very bad attack of wandering hands" when the pair were backstage at a television show hosted by Savile in the 1970s. Ward's claims have received particular attention because she was the first alleged victim of Savile to speak publically about her ordeal. Her allegations helped touch off an avalanche of sex abuse claims against the eccentric BBC star, resulting in a massive scandal which has pulverized Savile's reputation, rocked the BBC, and horrified Britons.
Police have since launched an investigation into claims that Savile was part of a ring of powerful abusers who traded on their celebrity to exploit vulnerable children. Officers said last week that Savile and others linked to him may have abused some 300 victims. Although Savile died last year at the age of 84, officers promised to go after his associates, and on Sunday detectives made their first arrest, questioning 1970s glam rock star and convicted sex offender Gary Glitter before releasing him.
Lawyers for victims also are getting ready to fight for compensation. News of Starr's arrest came after Britain's National Westminster Bank said it had frozen Savile's assets to make it easier for potential victims to get payouts.
The bank gave few details, citing confidentiality rules, but victims' lawyers welcomed the decision, which means Savile's estate will be kept intact while claims are pursued.
"It's what they needed to do," said lawyer Alan Collins, who represents 12 women who say they were abused by Savile in the 1960s and 1970s. "Obviously it's welcome news, otherwise you would have to go to court to get a freezing order. This makes it easier."
He said that under British law it will be possible for Savile's alleged victims to seek financial compensation based on pain and suffering even though he has died. Savile's estate is reportedly worth 4.3 million pounds ($6.9 million). He left much of it to a charitable trust.
Georgina Calvert-Lee, a lawyer with the firm AO Advocates that specializes in child abuse that occurred years ago, said women who claim to have been abused by Savile will be able to bring civil cases forward even though the suspected abuse happened decades ago.
Many crimes have a three year statute of limitations, but that doesn't apply to child sex abuse cases because of a 2008 ruling by Britain's top court, she said.
"They decided the strict framework was not appropriate for dealing with child abuse because the nature of the damage is insidious, it causes damage for years, and people often don't come forward until much later," she said.
Calvert-Lee said it is also possible that some alleged victims may choose to seek damages from the BBC, Savile's main employer, by arguing that his alleged abuse was connected to his work, and that he wouldn't have had access to his victims if he didn't work at the national broadcaster.
Financial claims against Savile's estate are likely to multiply. Collins said the number of alleged victims he represents is "12 and rising."