LONDON – The scale of the child sex abuse scandal engulfing the BBC expanded on Thursday as authorities announced that 300 potential victims had come forward with accusations against one of the broadcaster's most popular children's entertainers and that others might have acted with him.
The scandal swirling around one of Britain's most respected news organizations also prompted a spirited defense from New York Times chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. of the paper's incoming CEO, the former top executive of the BBC.
In a letter to staff, Sulzberger said he was satisfied that Mark Thompson, who was the BBC's director general until last month, had no role in the decision to scrap an investigative segment about the abuse allegations against the late Jimmy Savile.
The well-known children's TV and radio host is accused of using his fame to coerce teens into having sex with him in his car, his camper and even in dressing rooms on BBC premises.
Police Commander Peter Spindler, head of the Scotland Yard inquiry into the scandal, said Thursday that 300 potential victims had come forward so far and even more were expected to contact authorities. He said all but two of the cases involved girls and that detectives had interviewed 130 people.
The police commander acknowledged he had been stunned by the volume of abuse allegations reported to his team of 30 officers in the three weeks since accusations about Savile's activities first came to public attention.
"It is quite staggering, the number of women ... and this is primarily women; we have only got two men in the system so far," Spindler said.
Spindler said Savile, who died last October at age 84, was "undoubtedly" one of the worst sex offenders in recent British history.
Since the allegations aired on British television this month, London police have received three times the usual number of calls about allegations of past sexual abuse. "I have no doubt that we are in a watershed moment for child abuse investigations," Spindler said.
Previously feted for his charity work at hospitals and homes for children, Savile is alleged to have deliberately supported such causes to target troubled youths whose credibility would be questioned if they reported the alleged sexual abuse.
Spindler said that although the majority of cases related to Savile alone, some involved the entertainer and other, unidentified suspects. In addition, some potential victims who reported abuse by Savile also told police about separate allegations against unidentified men that did not involve the BBC host.
He confirmed that police could seek to prosecute any suspects who are still living but said no one has been arrested or questioned so far.
Spindler also revealed that a retired London police officer had contacted Scotland Yard to report that he investigated Savile in the 1980s after a young woman accused him of assaulting her inside his trailer while it was parked on BBC premises. The ex-officer said there hadn't been sufficient evidence to prosecute Savile at the time, Spindler said.
Police have also discovered that a woman contacted Scotland Yard in 2003 to allege that Savile had touched her inappropriately in the 1970s but did not seek to press charges. In addition, authorities acknowledged that Savile was questioned in 2007 over an allegation tied to a school in Surrey but prosecutors declined to bring charges.
The Savile scandal has rocked the BBC and prompted disbelief that the TV host's crimes could have gone unnoticed or unreported by colleagues or managers.
Thompson, the incoming New York Times CEO, who was BBC director-general from 2004 until last month, is among those facing questions from lawmakers. Thompson has insisted he never met Savile, was unaware of rumors about his behavior and had little knowledge of the expose that was canceled late last year just as other BBC divisions were planning tributes to the late entertainer.
In his letter to Times staff, Sulzberger said Thompson had thoroughly explained his handling of the issue.
"Mark has provided a detailed account of that matter, and I am satisfied that he played no role in the cancellation of the segment," Sulzberger wrote.
"Our opinion was then and remains now that he possesses high ethical standards and is the ideal person to lead our company," the letter said.
For almost 20 years, Savile made children's dreams come true on a popular TV show, "Jim'll Fix It." He was also the original host of the music program "Top of the Pops," which ran from 1964 to 2006, featuring performances by everyone from The Rolling Stones to the Sex Pistols.
Savile championed a host of good causes, frequently running marathons to raise money. He helped to collect millions for the creation of a national spinal injuries center at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in southern England and bequeathed money for a heart unit at Leeds infirmary called the Savile Institute.
He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to charity and entertainment and received a papal knighthood from the Vatican. Prince Charles was among those who paid tribute when Savile died last year.
David Caruso in New York contributed to this story.