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LONDON (Reuters) - Jimmy Savile, the late BBC TV presenter revealed two years ago to have been one of Britain's most prolific sex offenders, might have sexually abused dead bodies in a hospital where he worked as a volunteer, health investigators said on Thursday.
In 2012 police said Savile, one of the Britain's best-known celebrities in the 1970s and 1980s, had sexually abused hundreds of victims, mainly youngsters, at hospitals and at BBC premises over six decades until his death aged 84 in 2011.
A series of reports covering 28 hospitals where he had worked showed Savile had used his fame and charitable work to get unsupervised access to patients, raping and sexually abusing boys, girls, men and women aged between five and 75 in wards, corridors and offices.
"As a nation at that time, we held Savile in our affection as a somewhat eccentric national treasure with a strong commitment to charitable causes," Britain's Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told parliament.
"Today's reports show that in reality he was a sickening and prolific sexual abuser who repeatedly exploited the trust of a nation for his own vile purposes."
In one disclosure, it was reported that Savile, who had publicly spoken of his fascination with the dead, had sexually abused bodies in the mortuary of Leeds General Infirmary in northern England, taking advantage of his role as a volunteer porter.
"The allegations about his behaviour in the mortuary are incredibly harrowing and disturbing," Sue Proctor, who led the investigation at Leeds, told reporters.
She said Savile, a one-time professional wrestler who became famous as a pioneering DJ in the 1960s, gave the account of his actions at the mortuary to a student nurse who worked at a different hospital.
"It was a quiet night and Savile was talking to this student nurse about what happened when it was quiet at Leeds general Infirmary and said that he went to the mortuary at night and played with the bodies, and committed sex acts on them," Proctor said.
"We have no way of verifying if that was true or not. We do know his interest in the dead was pretty unwholesome and that the controls around access to the mortuary up to the early 1980s were not robust."
Two witnesses also told investigators Savile, famed for his long blonde hair, penchant for garish outfits and flashy jewellery, wore rings which he said were made from the glass eyes of dead bodies from his friends at the hospital.
Savile was knighted by Queen Elizabeth and honoured by the pope for his voluntary work at hospitals which he exploited to gain unprecedented access to patients. Hunt, the health secretary, said the nation felt revulsion at his crimes and apologised to his victims.
"We let them down badly," he said.
Thursday's reports are the latest to have been commissioned into how Savile was able to get away with his crimes and why victims were ignored or disbelieved.
The authority which monitors the police has said it is seriously concerned about mistakes made by police forces, while an inquiry in 2012 cleared BBC bosses of covering up allegations against Savile but said they had missed warnings. A lengthier analysis into BBC failings is due later this year.
Savile's crimes also prompted a large police operation which has led to the arrest of numerous high-profile ageing British celebrities. In May, Britain's best-known celebrity publicist Max Clifford became he first person to be convicted in the operation, for indecently assaulting teenage girls in the 1970s and 1980s.
Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge/Jeremy Gaunt