On 13th November Lib Dem Voice covered an article by Paul Waugh in the Spectator which publicised allegations of child abuse against the former Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith.
Yesterday the Crown Prosecution Service issued a statement about Cyril Smith.
It begins by describing decisions that were made in 1970 about a file of evidence handed to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The file, from Lancashire Constabulary, contained allegations made by eight men that they had been subjected to indecent assaults by Cyril Smith as teenagers. The allegations were very similar in nature, and were allegedly conducted on the pretexts of either a medical examination or punishment for misbehaviour. All the boys were either living at Cambridge House Children’s Home in Rochdale (six of them), or were dependent on Cyril Smith for either employment, financial support or some sort of guardianship. It is noted that 80 pages of evidence was supplied to the then DPP’s office with a covering note dated 11 March 1970.
The only documentation of the decision making is a one page letter to the Chief Constable of Lancashire Constabulary. It is dated 19 March, 1970, and reads:
“I have considered your file and I observe that eight young men, whose ages range from nineteen to twenty-four years, allege that between 1961 and 1966 Smith subjected them to various forms of indecency and I also observe that Smith denies their allegations. Any charges of indecent assault founded on these allegations, as well as being somewhat stale, would be, in my view, completely without corroboration. Further, the characters of some of these young men would be likely to render their evidence suspect.
“In the circumstances, I do not consider that if proceedings for indecent assault were to be taken against Smith, there would be a reasonable prospect of a conviction. I do not, therefore, advise his prosecution.”
It is important to note that this way of thinking bears little resemblance to how such cases are assessed today or in recent years.
The statement goes on to discuss allegations in 1997 and 1998.
In April 1997, South Wales police began an investigation into sexual and physical abuse within care establishments in Wales, during which helplines were publicised by the media inviting potential victims to come forward. One man who rang the helpline alleged he was abused by Cyril Smith at Cambridge House Children’s Home in Rochdale between 1965 and 1968. This allegation was passed to Greater Manchester Police, who submitted a file of evidence, which also included the 1970 documentation, to the CPS in May 1998.
The request was to review the 1970 decision making and this was provided in a written advice from the CPS lawyer on 17 June 1998.
In light of the greater understanding of sexual abuse, the reviewing lawyer concluded that there was sufficient evidence to charge, but that a prosecution should not proceed because:
- Cyril Smith had been told that he would not be charged for these alleged offences 28 years previously. The law and procedures followed by prosecutors in 1998 made clear that long-standing charging decisions could only be reversed in very limited circumstances, namely new evidence coming to light. This rule applied to all cases and the evidence submitted by police against Smith in 1998 was the same as in 1970.
- If Smith had been charged, a court would have likely stopped the prosecution for the same reason.
Victims of historic sexual abuse are entitled to justice and prosecutions that would not have been attempted in the past are now brought successfully. As is clear from the 1998 decision making, there have been significant developments in the way the criminal justice system approaches cases such as these, and these developments have continued to this day. Prosecutors, police officers and judges have a much better understanding than ever before of how these offences are committed.
Any victims who are considering coming forward should not be dissuaded by the decisions of the past. The legal barrier to prosecution in 1998 has since been relaxed and the approach demonstrated in 1970 has now long been one rejected by the entire criminal justice system which can be seen through not only a change in attitude, but a change in the law on corroboration in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
The decision made in 1970 would not be made by the CPS today.
You can read the full statement here.