- "This wasn't the man we knew and loved," family says of abuse revelations
- Family statement is first response to the scandal involving late UK TV star Jimmy Savile
- Police say around 300 victims have come forward in the past month
- Senior archbishop calls for the Vatican to strip Savile of his papal knighthood
The family of disgraced UK TV presenter Jimmy Savile made its first public statement Saturday since a slew of claims of sexual abuse of under-age girls destroyed the reputation of a man they had regarded as a hero.
Savile's nephew, Roger Foster, had defended his late uncle -- who hosted shows watched and heard by a generation of young Britons -- in a newspaper interview before the allegations emerged in a TV documentary a month ago.
But as those few claims snowballed into hundreds, the family had to face up to the horrific truth: that the man they were so proud of as a media star and indefatigable charity fundraiser had a far darker side to his past.
A statement released Saturday by Foster spells out the family's anguish -- and their deep sympathy for as many as 300 victims preyed on by Savile.
The documentary made them aware of "allegations of a darker side to him that we knew nothing about," Foster says -- and the claims swiftly began to overwhelm the family.
"I watched the program in horror and could not believe that these allegations were about our uncle. This wasn't the man we knew and loved," he says. "We began to have doubts as to our own feeling towards our uncle. How could the person we thought we knew and loved do such a thing?
"Why would a man who raised so much money for charity, who gave so much of his own time and energy for others risk it all doing indecent criminal acts? How could anyone live their life doing the 'most good and most evil' at the same time?"
The family took the "difficult" decision to remove Savile's headstone, only placed on his grave a couple of weeks earlier, as they feared it could become a target for spiraling public outrage and so disrupt the peace of the cemetery for others.
"A vilification of his name, his achievements and everything he stood for followed. People are moving as quickly as possible to disassociate themselves from him," Foster continues.
"We recognize that even our own despair and sadness does not compare to that felt by the victims. Our thoughts and our prayers are with those who have suffered from every kind of abuse over so many years and we offer our deepest sympathy in what must have been a terrible time for all of them.
"We can understand their reluctance to say anything earlier and can appreciate the courage it has taken to speak out now."
Meanwhile, Savile's family waits to see what new horrors may emerge.
"Where will it all end? Who knows? The repercussions of this scandal are enormous. We, as his closest family, have to endure further revelations on a daily basis. Our feelings are in turmoil as we await the next turn of events," Foster concludes.
In another blow to Savile's legacy, a senior archbishop has urged the Vatican to strip him of his papal knighthood, awarded by Pope John Paul II in 1990.
The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, wrote to Pope Benedict XVI to ask if the honor could be posthumously removed, "recognising the deep distress of all those who have suffered abuse and the disquiet at Mr Savile's name remaining on Papal Honours lists," a spokesman said.
"While the outcome of the current police investigation is awaited, the allegations of abuse are deeply shocking and our thoughts go first to all those who have been abused," said the spokesman for Nichols, who heads the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
Police say they are preparing an arrest strategy for "others," still living, against whom allegations have been made in connection with the Savile case.
Commander Peter Spindler told reporters Thursday that police investigating the scandal were dealing with about 300 apparent victims, of whom all except two are women. They had spoken to 130 as of Thursday and identified 114 offenses committed, he said.
Officers are following more than 400 lines of inquiry in the case, most of them involving Savile, he said, but no one has been arrested or interviewed under caution.
"I have no doubt we are at a watershed moment for child abuse investigations," Spindler said.
He said he wanted to reassure victims that they will no longer be "uncredible" and that they will be given a voice.
Many of the allegations date back to the 1960s and '70s, complicating the current investigation.
Some police forces also face questions over reports made in the past to police regarding Savile, which did not result in any prosecution.
Countless Britons who grew up watching Savile on TV's "Top of the Pops" and his children's program "Jim'll Fix It" have been left reeling by the slew of claims against him in the past month.
The reputation of the British Broadcasting Corporation, for whom he worked, has also been tainted by the scandal amid questions over how his abuse went undetected, and its decision to drop a program investigating allegations him last year.
The BBC, on whose premises some of the sexual assaults occurred, has said it is horrified by the revelations and has launched two independent inquiries.
Savile died in October 2011 at age 84, soon after being treated in a hospital for pneumonia. His death was followed by a series of glowing tributes, including two BBC Christmas specials.