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Jimmy Savile's Broadmoor role came with a bedroom and keys

Allegations that TV presenter's role as 'voluntary assistant entertainments officer' was used to abuse inmates with impunity

In August 1988, shortly before the publication of a highly critical report into its operating procedures, the entire management board of Broadmoor secure psychiatric hospital was suspended by the Department of Health, which at the time had joint responsibility for its direct management.

The running of Broadmoor, the highest-profile facility of its kind in the country and the home to many of Britain's most notorious criminals, was placed in the temporary control of a "taskforce", according to reports at the time, to be headed up by a somewhat unexpected figure.

It was Jimmy Savile, the then 61-year-old TV presenter, charity fundraiser and national eccentric. "There's nothing that can't be solved," he told an approving Sunday Times reporter at the time of his appointment, stabbing the air with his trademark cigar for emphasis.

"It is the simple 'fix it' attitude he brings to all areas of his life," noted the interviewer, adding that six months later, it would fall to Savile to appoint the first general manager to be responsible for the day-to-day running of the hospital.

As the trickle of allegations against Savile, who died in October last year, has swollen in the past week to a torrent of ever more distressing accounts of rape and serious sexual assault against scores of girls and young women, one of the most disturbing and perplexing aspects has been the apparently untouchable position he held at a number institutions – places where we now know young women were particularly vulnerable to serious sexual abuse.

Savile had been involved with Broadmoor for quite some time – West London Mental Health NHS Trust, which now runs the hospital, believes his involvement as a volunteer began in the late 1960s or early 70s. He had become part of the furniture, being given, no one seems to know quite when, an office in the grounds of the hospital, a bedroom, which he called his "cell", above it, and – astonishingly – his own personal set of keys to the hospital wards.

But it now seems clear the apparently genial celebrity, while telling reporters he was the "voluntary assistant entertainments officer", had been using his position to abuse inmates with impunity.

One young female patient, the Guardian reported this week, told a psychiatric nurse that she had been repeatedly raped by Savile under the stage in the hospital during the early 1980s, before he moved on to other patients. Another former resident said that when she was 17, Savile had groped her breasts while she watched TV in a ward.

Broadmoor may be the institution where Savile was given the most senior position, but allegations of abuse have now been linked to at least five other establishments – the BBC, Stoke Mandeville hospital, Leeds general infirmary, the Haut de la Garenne children's home in Jersey and Duncroft approved girls' school in Staines, Surrey. At Duncroft, according to some reports, he would stay in the headmistress's quarters. At Stoke Mandeville, too, he had his own room, as well as an office .

This week a disabled woman, Caroline Moore, said that in 1971, when she was 13, Savile had forcibly "shoved his tongue down [her] throat" while she was sitting in her wheelchair following an operation. Another woman, June Thornton, described witnessing a serious sexual assault on another patient she believed to be brain damaged.

Some, it seems, did take claims of abuse seriously. John Lindsay, a detective inspector at Thames Valley police during the late 1970s, told the BBC that he was told by a nurse at Stoke Mandeville that Savile was abusing patients, and reported it to his superiors more than once.

"I was not believed, no, no. I think purely because at that stage and for many, many years Savile was an icon," he said.

A senior colleague told him: "Jimmy Savile is a high-profile man. He must be OK. He could not be doing anything irregular. Don't worry about it." Lindsay said: "I wasn't satisfied but there was nothing I could do about it."

In 1988, Penny Jenkins was a 22-year-old trainee occupational therapist at Stoke Mandeville, when for a period of a few months she found herself occupying a bedroom a few doors down from Savile, on a corridor of about 10 rooms above the occupational health department. The other rooms were occupied by other trainees, the overwhelming majority of whom were young women.

Savile had been given the room at the end of the corridor, next to the shared shower and toilet facilities, she said, while his secretary would bring him breakfast every morning from the main building where his office was.

Jenkins does not consider herself a victim of Savile, but this week reported to the NSPCC children's charity an incident which at the time, she says, she found "disconcerting", but which she now fears might have been part of a pattern of behaviour.

She had taken a bath and was walking towards her room wearing only a towel when all the lights in the block suddenly went out. "I heard someone coming up the stairs, and suddenly Jimmy Savile was very, very near," she told the Guardian. "Before I realised it, he was right there in front of me."

She asked what was wrong with the lights and he replied: "Jim'll fix it." He grabbed her arm, she said, and started kissing it, before she was able to shrug him off and make her way back to her room. She reported it this week, she says, because she has always wondered if Savile tripped the switch to turn off the lights.

Despite the incident, Jenkins insists neither she nor her fellow trainees had any suspicion that Savile's behaviour could be even more sinister – "we just thought he was a leerer" – and is convinced no one in the hospital management would have knowingly overlooked abuse by Savile. "I just don't think that anybody was aware that that was going on. I just think they thought he was a funny old man, a pervy old man."

Like all the other institutions concerned, Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, which administers Stoke Mandeville, and West London Mental Health Trust have expressed shock at the swelling tide of allegations against Savile, and promised to co-operate fully with the police investigation.

Fri 12 Oct 2012 22.56 BST

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