David Cameron raised the prospect today that Sir Jimmy Savile could be posthumously stripped of his knighthood amid allegations of sexual abuse against young girls.
But the move would require a change in the law as technically, when the former DJ died last year, the honour ceased to exist.
The British Prime Minister stopped short of revealing whether he felt Savile should lose his knighthood, but suggested that the case should be considered by a Whitehall committee which has the power to recommend forfeiture.
“These stories are deeply, deeply troubling and I hope that every organisation that has responsibilities will have a proper investigation into what happened, and if these things did happen, and how they were allowed to happen, and then of course everyone has to take their responsibilities,” Mr Cameron told ITV1’s Daybreak programme today.
Asked if Savile should lose his knighthood, Mr Cameron said: “We have something called a Forfeiture Committee. It is not chaired or sat on by me but it is responsible for looking at honours and the removal of honours, and obviously they have to do their job too.”
But the Cabinet Office said Savile no longer had a knighthood to revoke, as individuals cease to be a member of the order when they die.
“It’s a living order and then you cease to be a member when you die,” a spokesman said. “There isn’t an honour to revoke.”
A campaign by The Sun newspaper is calling for a change in the law so that honours can be revoked posthumously by the Forfeiture Committee.
The Prime Minister’s intervention came after the chairman of the BBC Trust gave his backing to inquiries by police and the corporation.
Lord Patten said the allegations against Savile could not be excused as behaviour from a time when “attitudes were different”.
He told a business dinner in Cardiff last night that it was “no excuse to say ’That was then’ in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, and attitudes were different then.
“It’s no excuse to say ’I’m sure the same thing used to happen with pop groups and others at the time’. Those things may be true but they don’t provide an excuse.”
The radio and TV presenter and charity fundraiser, who died in 2011, has been accused by a growing number of women in the last few weeks of sexual abuse over a number of years.
BBC Director-General George Entwistle yesterday apologised to victims of Savile’s alleged sex abuse and pledged the corporation would hold its own inquiry following a police probe.
Lord Patten echoed Mr Entwistle’s announcement and outlined how the BBC would act.
He said: “Immediately these allegations came out, we went to the police, we agreed with Acpo (the Association of Chief Police Officers) the way we should handle this and they told us the police inquiry should come first and we shouldn’t undertake our own investigation until there had been a police inquiry or we might get in the way of it.
“So there will be a full police inquiry and we will encourage people to co-operate with it and, when that is completed, we will then look at the issues which still remain to be resolved in a way which will have to command credibility in the wider community.
“Because the BBC exists above all on trust and the relationship between the wider public and the BBC itself. And when the BBC is at its best, it’s not only because it is providing terrific, creative, challenging TV and radio, it is because the public think they own it and can identify with it. Just think of the Olympics, the torch, the cultural Olympiad – all of those helped bring the community together.”
Last week the BBC said it would work with police in examining the claims and on Friday Mr Entwistle wrote to staff urging them to come forward with information.
A growing number of women have come forward to claim they were either abused - many of them under-age – or that they saw others who were victims. A number of former colleagues have told how they were aware of rumours about the former Top Of The Pops presenter.
Unease about the claims has led to a number of memorials to the star being removed. Yesterday it was announced that an inscription on the wall at Leeds Civic Hall in recognition of his charity work will be taken down.
A street sign in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, has also been taken away.
Former Radio 1 DJ Liz Kershaw said at the weekend that when she joined Radio 1 in 1987 – the year Savile left – his behaviour was an “open secret” at the station.
She described how she was routinely groped by another presenter as she was broadcasting.
Broadcaster Janet Street-Porter previously revealed that she was aware of rumours about the television and radio presenter’s alleged abuse of under-age girls when she worked at the BBC in the late 1980s.
Police child abuse officers have met BBC officials to discuss the allegations concerning Savile.
Officers said they were contacting all individuals who have made claims about the late presenter and should know how many reported victims there are some time this week.