Cyril Smith abuse claims: police investigate Rochdale cover-up

Apr 28, 2014

Police are already investigating allegations of decades of abuse, made after death of the larger-than-life MP

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AFTER HIS death in 2010, a flood of victims came forward to accuse politician Sir Cyril Smith of sex abuse including rape and assault, leading police to conclude he was a repeat sexual offender in the vein of DJ, and fellow knight, Jimmy Savile.

Now, the BBC has learned Greater Manchester Police are investigating whether there may have been a criminal conspiracy at Rochdale Council to cover up crimes committed by the obese Liberal and Lib Dem MP.

Claims against Smith first appeared in the national press in 1979. How did prosecution, or even investigation, for more than 30 years until his death from cancer in a Rochdale nursing home?

Who was Cyril Smith?
Cyril Smith was one of the most recognisable - and largest - figures in British politics during the 1970s and 80s. Born to an unmarried chambermaid in 1928, the MP for Rochdale stood six foot two and weighed 29 stone. A tireless champion of his home town, he was known as Mr Rochdale, says the BBC. His broad Lancashire accent and enormous size endeared him to the public and he made many TV appearances - once with Jimmy Savile, singing a Lancashire ballad - and even featured in a video for girl band Bananarama. He was knighted in 1988 for services to charity.

When did abuse allegations first emerge?
The allegations first became mainstream in 1979, when satirical campaigning magazine Private Eye picked up a story previously published in a Rochdale underground magazine: that Smith had spanked and sexually abused boys in the 1960s in a care hostel he co-founded, Cambridge House, which closed in 1965. Smith never publicly commented on the allegations but his family have recently said he denied them.

What happened after Smith died?
After his death in 2010 at the age of 82, three former residents of care homes made sworn statements to a solicitor alleging abuse by Smith. Within two years of his death, Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Smith's old seat, was calling in Parliament for an inquiry into claims against him he that said had "circulated for years", the BBC reports. Danczuk went on to claim that Smith had raped some of his victims. He has subsequently published a book detailing the allegations.

How widespread were Smith's alleged crimes?
The abuse is said to have taken place in several care homes and residential schools, including Knowl View School in Rochdale, which closed in 1992. Smith's offences may have taken place over several decades. In January 2013, The Independent said Smith had been "credibly identified by two sources" as visiting a London B&B where children are alleged to have been trafficked and abused.

Was he guilty of the crimes?
In November 2012, Greater Manchester Police publicly acknowledged that "young boys were victims of physical and sexual abuse committed by Smith". Assistant chief constable Steve Heywood said: "Although, Smith cannot be charged or convicted posthumously, from the overwhelming evidence we have it is right and proper we should publicly recognise that young boys were sexually and physically abused." They continue to investigate the allegations - and are now looking into suggestions of a cover-up at Rochdale Council.

What did police do at the time?
In the same statement, the police revealed that Lancashire Police had carried out a "thorough investigation" in the late 1960s and concluded that "he appears guilty of numerous offences of indecent assault" in a report passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In 1998 and 1999, two separate reports into the incidents were passed to the CPs. In all three occasions, the decision was then taken not to pursue the matter any further.

Who is now alleged to have covered up Smith's crimes?
When the allegations were restated in 2012, there were claims that there was a party political motive behind them - Labour had taken Rochdale from the Lib Dems. Now The Guardian quotes Tim Farron, Lib Dem president, as saying not only does his party need to answer "serious questions" but so does Labour. Smith became a Liberal councillor at 32 but switched to Labour after two years. He became mayor of Rochdale as a Labour party member the age of 37 in 1966. (A lifelong bachelor, he made his mother Lady Mayoress.) He rejoined the Liberals in 1970 when he became MP for Rochdale, by which time it is thought he had already committed serious abuse. Farron concluded: "Rochdale civic society as a whole [needs] to answer serious questions as to who knew what and when."

As for why the dossiers compiled by Lancashire Police did not lead to anything, police say they have no doubt that the CPS would now prosecute on the basis of the evidence they contained - but the criteria on which a decision is made have changed. In 2012, the Daily Telegraph reported a former special branch officer in Lancashire, Tony Robinson, as saying his file of allegations against smith had been "seized" by MI5 and never returned. It was later said to be "lost".

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