Wires

BBC star may have abused girls over four decades

* Jimmy Savile suspected of abusing up to 25 girls

* TV star, a household name in Britain, died last year

* Police following up 120 lines of inquiry

* Allegations have put BBC in spotlight

By Michael Holden

LONDON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Jimmy Savile, the late BBC TV starat the centre of a child sex scandal that has shaken Britain'sstate-funded broadcaster, may have abused up to 25 victims someas young as 13 over four decades, police said on Tuesday.

Detectives said they were looking into 120 lines of inquiryabout Savile, the eccentric children's presenter who was aBritish household name for both his TV and charity work, sinceallegations against him were first aired just over a week ago.

A number of the alleged victims have gone public, triggeringa media storm that has raised awkward questions for the BBCincluding suggestions the broadcaster covered up Savile'scrimes, some of which were said to have taken place on BBCpremises.

The BBC's new boss George Entwistle was forced to apologiseon Monday to the women alleging abuse by Savile, who died lastyear aged 84.

Eight women have already made criminal complaints againstSavile, two of rape and six of indecent assault. Commander PeterSpindler, who is heading the police inquiry, said he expectedmore to follow as other victims came forward.

"We think we will come up with between 20 and 25 victims,"he told reporters, adding the eight who had already come forwardhad mostly been aged 13 to 16 at the time of the alleged abuse.

"The pattern of his offending behaviour does appear to be ona national scale," Spindler said. He added the abuse spannedfour decades with the earliest reported case in 1959.

Cigar-chomping Savile, instantly recognisable by his shockof blonde hair and garish outfits, is accused of using hiscelebrity status to abuse the girls.

The former DJ travelled around London in a Rolls-Royce andwas knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his charitable work in 1990.When he died last year, he was buried wearing a tracksuit afterhis gold-coloured coffin was put on public display in a hotel.

"CULTURE OF SEX ABUSE"

Some of the alleged victims have said there was a culture ofsexual abuse inside the BBC when Savile was at the height of hisfame in the 1970s and 80s, and that other well-known stars wereinvolved.

"We're not investigating the BBC, the only people we will beinvestigating are specific individuals should there be anyevidence," said Spindler, rejecting a suggestion that they werelooking at a sex ring inside the broadcaster.

"I'm very satisfied with the level of support the BBC haveprovided. They are fully cooperating," he added.

As Savile is dead, he himself will not be the focus of anycriminal probe. Instead, Spindler said their primary objectivewas to get recognition for the victims and have the issues outin the open.

"Information is coming in as we speak. The reality is thisreally has captured the public's mind," Spindler said. He saidthe police inquiry was an assessment rather than a formalinvestigation at this stage.

Detectives aim to produce a speedy report in conjunctionwith the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty toChildren (NSPCC) charity to see what conclusions can be drawn.

Last year, an investigation by Newsnight, the BBC's flagshipnews show, was shelved, prompting critics to suggest that BBCbosses had known about the allegations but kept quiet.

The BBC has denied that. Newsnight's editor Peter Ripponsaid his decision not to run its story was because theallegations against Savile could not be substantiated.

Prime Minister David Cameron has waded into the scandal,calling on the BBC to conduct an internal investigation.

(Editing by Pravin Char)

((michael.holden@thomsonreuters.com)(+44 207 542 3213)(ReutersMessaging: michael.holden.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: BRITAIN SAVILE/