The Honours Forfeiture Committee has said Jimmy Savile would have been stripped of his knighthood if he was still alive, as it announces a new policy to recognise serious allegations against recipients.
Knighthoods and other honours can only be held by a living person, so fall away upon their death and therefore cannot be removed posthumously.
However, the government committee has now introduced a new policy of acknowledging when the holder of an honour has been seriously discredited.
The first public figures to be targeted by the policy are Jimmy Savile, the disgraced television presenter who was exposed as a prolific sexual predator following his death in 2011, and Cyril Smith, the late MP accused of abusing young boys in Rochdale care institutions.
The late disgraced Cyril Smith was also targeted by the new policy
Credit: Keystone/Hulton Archive
“The Forfeiture Committee can confirm that had James Wilson Vincent Savile been convicted of the crimes of which he is accused, forfeiture proceedings would have commenced,” the committee said, noting that the Director of Public Prosecutions found that Savile should have been prosecuted in his lifetime.
It said the same applied to Smith, highlighting Greater Manchester Police’s conclusion that there was “overwhelming evidence” the politician had sexually and physically abused young boys.
Under the new policy, the committee is now able to “consider specific cases where a recipient has been accused of a crime after their death” with a view to “issuing a statement that confirms action would have been taken had that individual been convicted”.
Cases will only be considered if allegations of criminal behaviour are drawn to the committee’s attention within ten years of the death of the recipient. The crime must also be reported to the police, who must decide that the allegation is so serious it warrants taking a full witness statement from the accuser.
Anyone convicted of a sexual offence now risks being stripped of their honour
Further updates to the policy also introduce new “hard triggers” for the committee to consider proceedings against living individuals.
Anyone convicted of a sexual offence now risks being stripped of their honour, regardless of the sentence they receive.
Honourees unfit to stand trial but who are found to have committed such an offence in a “trial of the facts” could also have their awards rescinded.
A member of the committee was called to give evidence to the long-running Independent Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry in March 2019 about orders of chivalry given to serial abusers.
Their evidence covered calls from the public to have some mechanism of removing honours from deceased individuals.
The committee, which has existed for about 50 years, has a majority of independent members. It is chaired by Sir Tom Scholar on delegated authority from the Head of the Civil Service. The other members are the Treasury solicitor and three permanent, independent members.
Names of those who have had honours revoked are usually published in the London Gazette. The committee retains the right not to publicise its decisions.
When an honour is revoked, the person is asked to return their insignia to Buckingham Palace and they can no longer make any reference to their having an honour in the future. This would include use of the honour post-nominals on websites, publications or business cards.