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Friday, 13 April 2018

'Valuable opportunity' missed to prosecute ex-Rochdale MP Cyril Smith over abuse

Written by Kim Pilling

A "valuable opportunity" was missed to prosecute Rochdale's former Liberal MP Cyril Smith during his lifetime in the late 1990s, a child sexual abuse inquiry found.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) concluded authorities in the town showed a "total lack of urgency" to address the sexual exploitation of boys at council-run Knowl View School over a 20-year period from 1969 with victims regarded as "authors of their own abuse".

Smith (pictured), a prominent councillor before he represented the town in Parliament from 1972 to 1992, acted as a governor for several Rochdale schools, including Knowl View.

Before he died aged 82 in 2010 he was the subject of sex abuse accusations and investigations but never faced trial and received a knighthood in 1988.

A Lancashire Police investigation into the MP concluded in 1970 - the year he first ran for public office - that he was hiding behind a "veneer of respectability" and had used his "unique position" to target eight boys at Cambridge House Boys' Hostel in Rochdale during the 1960s.

But the then director of public prosecutions (DPP) Sir Norman Skelhorn chose not to charge him.

From 1997 onwards Greater Manchester Police investigated allegations of physical and sexual abuse in residential homes, with the Lancashire Police file concerning Smith and a further witness statement submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service in 1998.

Two additional statements were submitted in 1999.

The IICSA panel said the CPS branch crown prosecutor advised Smith - the hostel's honorary secretary - should not be charged despite coming to the view there was a "realistic prospect of conviction".

The panel said: "His review of that advice in 1999 did not consider that those new complaints were capable of lending further support to the case. A valuable opportunity was, therefore, lost to prosecute Smith during his lifetime, and for the complainants to seek justice."

It also noted that Smith's "ascent to a position of considerable prominence and respect" was marked in 1988 with a knighthood for his political services.

The panel said the political honours scrutiny committee considered the 1970 police investigation and press articles, and they concluded it was open to then prime minister Margaret Thatcher to recommend Smith for a knighthood.

There was nothing to suggest any conspiracy in the way he obtained his knighthood, said the panel, and on the contrary there were some "frank discussions at the highest political level".

The panel said: "While there was never any expression of concern for boys who had made allegations against Smith, there was considerable discussion about whether it would be fair to Smith to refuse him a knighthood, and worries about the potential reputational risk to the honours system.

"There was little further investigation into the allegations against Smith by the political honours scrutiny, demonstrating a considerable deference to power and an unwillingness to consider that someone in a position of public prominence might be capable of perpetrating sexual abuse."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA Wire.