Farron on Cyril Smith allegations: there is a “need to answer serious questions as to who knew what and when”

Tim FarronLib Dem party president Tim Farron has said a police inquiry is the best way to deal with allegations – previously covered here and here by LDV – that former MP Cyril Smith committed a series of sexual assaults and that this was covered up by the authorities. Here’s how the BBC reports his comments:

Police are investigating allegations that the former MP for Rochdale, who died in 2010 aged 82, sexually abused boys at homes and hostels in the town. Mr Farron said the police inquiry was the best way to deal with the claims. The Crown Prosecution Service has said Sir Cyril should have been prosecuted.

It was alleged he raped boys at Knowl View residential school, which closed in 1992, and abused boys at the privately run Cambridge House children’s care home, which closed in 1965. He had a long association with Knowl View where he was on the management board when he was a councillor. Sir Cyril was originally a Labour councillor in Rochdale, and later a Liberal then Liberal Democrat MP for the town from 1972 to 1992.

Mr Farron said: “The party absolutely, as the Labour Party must also… and indeed Rochdale civic society as a whole need to answer serious questions as to who knew what and when.”

Last year, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg described the allegations against Sir Cyril as shocking and appalling, and said they must be investigated “to the bitter end”.

Lawyers for those who have made allegations of abuse said they were considering taking legal action against the Lib Dems. sir Cyril’s family have said he always denied such accusations made against him when he was alive and they were saddened that allegations were now being made when he could no longer defend himself.

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31 Comments

  • I am bemused at the idea that the Liberal Party and then the Lib Dems were ever in a position to pull strings to protect anyone from due legal process or indeed an investigation from the media. It simply doesn’t seem very plausible

    Why didn’t the Mail and other newspapers tackle the story a couple of decades ago? Perhaps the newspapers are running their own internal inquiries.

  • Martin
    Because the Liberals were not in a coalition government

  • Has any one else noticed that among Des Wilson’s unfriendly comments on Cyril Smith and on the then Liberal Party in today’s Mail on Sunday, there is not one syllable to suggest that he, Des Wilson, had at the time any knowledge of sexual misbehaviour, or indeed of allegations of such misbehaviour, by Sir Cyril.

  • Is it correct that back in the 60s Cyril was arrested for this and the charges dropped. I think he was a member of the Labour party then. After that he moved to the Liberals.

    It is clear to me that if there is an pattern of offending behaviour then it started when he was a Labour politician, yet all the media want to go on about is Nick Clegg . Shouldn’t they also be attacking Ed Milliband under the same reasoning?

  • Jayne Mansfield 27th Apr '14 - 11:21am

    @ Hugh p,
    My jaw dropped when I read what Des Wilson wrote.

    It is devastating.

  • Who cares why it has come to light now. There are times when politics should be set aside. Many innocent vilnerable young people were abused in the most appalling manner. Justice for these people is the priority. The political ins and outs are secondary.

  • Wilson’s Mail article is curious in that he accuses all but a few named Liberal MPs as behaving like spoilt divas but through his intemperate tone comes across something of a diva himself. If Des Wilson knew of information and knew that others knew too, rather than bluster he should tell what he knew and when it was he knew it.

    Wilson has his reasons to dislike Smith, though none are connected to sexual impropriety, however, not only has Wilson made it clear what an unpleasant character he found Smith to be, he has also gone out of his way to rubbish the Party from 1980 to the present day. Why? I hope Des Wilson was well paid for the article – I would like to feel there was some way in which it was worthwhile.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Apr '14 - 12:17am

    Martin

    Wilson has his reasons to dislike Smith, though none are connected to sexual impropriety, however, not only has Wilson made it clear what an unpleasant character he found Smith to be, he has also gone out of his way to rubbish the Party from 1980 to the present day.

    No. He’s attacking the leadership of the Liberal Party, but praising its activists. This is the first article I have EVER read in a British newspaper that has done this. Every newspaper for all the years I’ve been a member of the party, which is since the 1970s, has always taken the opposite line.

    Of course, the Mail is happy to do this now, when it’s all long gone, and the whole thing can be used as an attack on the party as a whole. I happened to have come across a copy of the Mail this morning (it’s not my normal read!), didn’t know this article was in it, but came across it and read it right through. It’s a very partisan article. I’ve just written some pretty strong things about the politics of the time myself here, in part because I think this aspect of history needs to be recorded and those of us on the losing side rarely get chance to get our views recorded in history. However, I’ve never gone nearly as far on this as Des has here. I know Des has reasons to be bitter, and some of them are good reasons, but also, sure, Des himself IS a bit of diva, as much as the others. I suspect he’s long gone past caring about the consequences of writing as he has here, and just wants to get his side recorded, and no doubt he has been handsomely paid by the Mail to put it this way. Still, just maybe he felt it was worth doing this to finally get that point in print – we activists were doing a damn fine job in the Liberal Party of the 1970s and 1980s, and much of that was sabotaged by the party’s national leader.

    Having said that, while I never warmed to Cyril Smith, always felt there was something a bit creepy about him, I did like David Alton, and Des has some pretty nasty things to say about him here, which I was sorry to read.

    On the general issue, to me it is another indication of what no-one yet has the honesty to say – there really were different views about child sex abuse in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, it really was taken far more lightly than it is now, the idea that the natural reaction to it then would be to report it to the police and see the perpetrator sentenced to long terms of imprisonment is wrong – and people who were around at the time KNOW it is wrong. We do know now how damaging it can be, and looking back we can see how callous it was when it was not taken that seriously back then. However, it seems to me it is pointless to throw it around now trying to pretend that those who took it lightly then were evil people rather than people who were just behavIng as was fairy much the norm back then.

    I remember trying to point this out when this issue was being used for Catholic-bashing, making out that it was a problem unique to the Catholic Church, that it was all caused by aspects of Catholicism, that no other organisation would have treated it as the Catholic Church did. I got nowhere with this point, could never get that view published anywhere. Now we are beginning to see that actually child sex abuse was widespread in many organisations, and they nearly all behaved towards it in exactly the same way the Catholic Church. It particularly ironic that the BBC ran several anti-Catholic documentaries on this issue at the same time it was protecting one of the most prolific child abusers around in just the same way that it was accusing the Catholic Church of being a uniquely evil organisation for doing.

    So, my feeling is that rather than use the line Tim Farron is using here, we should just acknowledge, it’s history, we wouldn’t treat it now as people did then. Rather than use it in a partisan way to bash people today, I think we should make sure we have mechanisms in place to ensure it can’t happen now, and perhaps have something of an amnesty attitude to the past in order to encourage HONESTY about what really happened. Wouldn’t it work better if people who let it go in the past now felt free to come out and say “Sorry, I now realise how wrong I was to treat it that way”? All the time we are threatening draconian punishments, that won’t happen, we’ll just get endless cover-ups. Wouldn’t an atmosphere which encourages honesty and openness about the past help more to uncover cases where it happened, and so to offer help to victims?

  • “Has any one else noticed that among Des Wilson’s unfriendly comments on Cyril Smith and on the then Liberal Party in today’s Mail on Sunday, there is not one syllable to suggest that he, Des Wilson, had at the time any knowledge of sexual misbehaviour, or indeed of allegations of such misbehaviour, by Sir Cyril.”

    Well, he points out that the allegations had been published in Private Eye in 1979:
    http://theneedleblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/untitled4.png

    Surely you’re not suggesting that in those circumstances the party leadership could have been unware of the allegations?

  • of course Labour has questions to answer here. Though i would caution against drawing conclusions in any of this. Given the police and CPS inability to garner concrete evidence in cases linked to people still alive, how much real confidence can we have in their investigations of the deceased? I think there needs to be some way of investigating these allegations (and others relating to deceased indviduals) in a Crown Court style setting. Both alleged victims and Smith’s family are hugely impacted by all of this and it seems only fair to me that we should start to develop a way of investigating things more fairly. It seems to me that if someone is dead you can just throw whatever mud you want without any real scrutiny. A Crown Court style situation with a jury would be able to find, beyond reasonable doubt, whether something happened or didn’t happen. Ok, it would be minus the defendant but i am sure a defence could be mounted to ensure things were properly scrutinised. May be my call here is fantasy but it does concern me how many more situation we will have in the future of peoples’ reputations be ruined after they’ve died with the inevitable conseqences that has for people close to them

  • @Chris. “Well, he points out that the allegations had been published in Private Eye in 1979” Private Eye has published a lot of stories that have proved to be totally untrue. I take it the police will have also seen it in Private Eye. At the end of the day the police interviewed Smith in the 1960s, but did not subsequently charge him (we don’t know if the Labour Party pull strings for him). There is a presumption of innocent until proven guilty, what possibly could the Liberal Party – which was in reality a collection of autonomous associations do? If the police with all their recourses and powers couldn’t or wouldn’t charge Smith. The Daily Mail and other mainstream newspapers (most hostile to the Liberals) weren’t prepared to publish the allegations. Has the Unitarian Church or the Freemasons been asked to investigate?

  • Fred, David Steel knew at least some of it. He said “All he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms”. He continued to support Smith.

    We also have the mystery of Clegg claiming he asked the party’s Peers, and they said they knew nothing. That is clearly not the case, not least because Lord Greaves commented on this very site to say he’d, like others, had heard the rumours.

  • Steel’s phrase “All he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms” is, in fact, a clear demonstration of the point Matthew Huntbach is making – that back in the 1980s, people simply didn’t understand the nature of child sex abuse properly. Steel didn’t, and nor did those who heard Steel’s comment.

    Nowadays, “All he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms” would be a ridiculous comment to make, if one wanted to play down an allegation and argue that it was trivial. A politician might just as well have said “All he seems to have done is raped a few people”. Today, both that statement and Steel’s actual statement would have led to instant condemnation and probably rapid resignation – for Steel as well as for Smith. So why didn’t Steel face calls for resignation in 1980? Because by and large, people shared the view in those days that spanking a few bare bottoms was no more than slightly odd behaviour. Of course, they were wrong. But if Steel’s listeners didn’t know that at the time, then Steel can’t be too harshly condemned for saying it at the time. It is more recent behaviour, when paedophilia had become better understood, which is more reprehensible.

  • David Allen, spanking the bare bottoms of young boys under the care of the state is not ‘slightly odd’. It has never been anything other than a sinister abuse of authority. Do not try and normalise it, or pretend that everybody was at it in the 60s and 70s.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Apr '14 - 4:30pm

    Ashley B

    Given the police and CPS inability to garner concrete evidence in cases linked to people still alive, how much real confidence can we have in their investigations of the deceased?

    Exactly. Wanting to impose draconian penalties if it can be proved – not just on those who did it, but on those who maybe knew something about it and didn’t stop it – means it is going to be hidden if it can, and subject to a long drawn out trial where it’s one person’s word against another and the victim is subject to harsh cross-examination if it is pulled out and goes legal, and chances are “innocent until proven guilty” means the truth never comes out. We need a way in which those who do these things can surface and seek help about it, and give something of an insight into whatever weird impulses causes it.

  • @g. Really? can you prove David Steel said those exact words? I think you might want to take a look at page 10 of Private Eye issue number 1329. The comments are attributed to an the press office. Never let the truth get in the way of slurring the Libs er!

  • Fred, whether it was Steel or his press officer someone said it on behalf of the Liberal Party. Who said it is actually relatively unimportant, it does not change the facts that Steel and the Liberal Party were aware of the allegations.

  • David Allen 28th Apr '14 - 7:00pm

    g, you’ve completely misread my post, and made some quite uncalled for comments. I am not “trying to normalise” spanking bare bottoms. I am not trying to “pretend that everybody was at it in the 60s and 70s”. To put those false words into my mouth is offensive.

    My point is that IF people in the 1970s had correctly understood the evil nature of child abuse, WHY didn’t Steel’s remarks bring down a storm of protest – on Steel’s head, as well as on Smith’s?

    The answer has to be – Because it wasn’t only Steel who (quite wrongly) thought he was saying something broadly reasonable. It was his listeners as well.

    Now do you get my point?

  • Steel never said those words, someone from his press office is alleged to have said them. We don’t know the context or indeed if anyone really said those exact words. Smith could have stopped if police had charged him in the sixties.

  • John Barrett 28th Apr '14 - 7:46pm

    Whatever Cyril Smith did or did not do regarding the recent allegations relating to sexual assaults, his track record, inside and outside Parliament, relating to the asbestos industry and to those suffering from asbestos related diseases was shameful enough on its own to warrant caution – before the party leadership heaped praise on him as a Liberal to be proud of.

  • Fred

    “Private Eye has published a lot of stories that have proved to be totally untrue.”

    Do me a favour – go back and read the sentence I quoted of the comment I was replying to, and then read what I said in reply to it.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 28th Apr '14 - 10:05pm

    There is also a need for the Liberal Democrats, and especially the Party in Rochdale, to apologise to all those who they tries to bully, threaten and ridicule over the years for keeping the case about Smith’s child abuse, and also his support of the asbestos manufacturers in the limelight. The Liberal Democrats and Mr Farron should look at the conduct of Paul Rowan’s agent in this regard (I forget his name, but I believe he is reasonably prominent ) and if they have any integrity he should be expelled from the Party.

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/cyril-smith-the-decision-made-in-1970-would-not-be-made-by-the-crown-prosecution-service-today-31830.html

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/rip-cyril-smith-20986.html

  • David Allen

    My point is that IF people in the 1970s had correctly understood the evil nature of child abuse, WHY didn’t Steel’s remarks bring down a storm of protest – on Steel’s head, as well as on Smith’s?

    Because there was an alleged coverup by the local council, politicians and the police to prevent either prosecution or wider publication of the full accusations.

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/apr/28/cyril-smith-abuse-police-alleged-rochdale-cover-up

  • David Steel has finally made a statement
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27203110

    Frankly, it’s very, very poor.

    It is worth noting that he says Clegg didn’t ask him if he knew anything, despite Clegg saying everybody around then had been asked.

    Who is not telling the truth?

  • Steel shows poor judgement, which is one of the greatest faults of any leader. Steel should have employed an ex-detective with relevant contacts to investigate C Smith. By the mid 80s there was sufficient rumour for a retired detective with good contacts to collate a dossier with sufficient evidence to make uncomfortable reading. What appears to the case with Smith, Saville , etc, where rumours have been flying around for years, is that leaders deliberately stop any investigation to ensure no evidence is discovered. While the rumours are are just that they can be ignored; once evidence collated by a respectable ex-detective is uncovered , action would have to take place . After Thorpe , any case against Smith would have been very bad for the Liberals.

  • g: What percentage of schools in the 50s, 60s and 70s did not use corporal punishment? I think you would have a hard job trying to find any. I would guess the frequency of its use declined over that period. Many activities which were then accepted as ‘discipline’ would be categorised now as abuse.

    I agree that it is hard to believe that Clegg would not have at the very least have asked Steel to brief him on the issue. In any case the issue for the Liberal party and latterly the Lib Dems is the allegation that the Party had conspired to protect Smith by acting behind the scenes to quash any criminal investigation.

    I would be utterly astounded if the Liberal Party had any power whatsoever to do anything of the kind

  • Jayne Mansfield 30th Apr '14 - 2:52pm

    @ Matin,
    Schools certainly used corporal punishment but it was usually a thwack from a ruler on the hand.

    I worked as a Saturday volunteer in a children’s home in Rotherham whilst still at school and there was, to my horror, corporal punishment there but no spanking of bottoms.

    I disagree that there was a different attitude to child abuse. In my working class community, there was no liberal attitude to those who ‘interfered’ with children, we were told to report any untoward behaviour to our parents and it was quite possible that summary justice would be doled out as well as the police being informed.

    Once more there seems to have been an abuse of power by a clever paedophile who chose his victims carefully, ie vulnerable children whose word against his would probably not have been believed.

    It seems unfair to those concerned to speculate on who knew what, ( if anything) and an enquiry should get the facts.

  • Jayne Mansfield 30th Apr '14 - 3:13pm

    @ Martin,
    Apologies for typing your name incorrectly.

  • Jayne, I do think that there was a different attitude to what counted as abuse. Certainly I recall concern about ‘interfering’ with children and certainly would not say that there was any general tolerance towards those who at that time would have been classified as ‘perverts’. I do recall being told never to accept sweets from strangers, without having a clear idea why – as a kid I would have thought it had something to do with kidnapping.

    At this stage, for most of us, knowing the truth about Cyril Smith would be a good start, so I agree with your last sentence, however I do have the lingering suspicion that were Lib Dems not in government we would not be hearing anything about this.

  • g’s last post quotes me and makes a response.

    The quote from me: “My point is that IF people in the 1970s had correctly understood the evil nature of child abuse, WHY didn’t Steel’s remarks bring down a storm of protest – on Steel’s head, as well as on Smith’s?”

    The response from g:

    “Because there was an alleged coverup by the local council, politicians and the police to prevent either prosecution or wider publication of the full accusations.”

    g, your answer is a complete non-sequitur. You clearly didn’t even try read what I had said, you just blasted away with an ireelevant accusation.

    Yes, there may very well have been a coverup of a whole lot of things. However, nobody covered up the remarks attributed to Steel, “All he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms”. Those remarks were floating around in the public domain. Nobody screamed at Steel, as they would have rightly done nowadays, that his remarks were outrageous, irrespective of whether they were a correct description of Smith’s behvaiour or an under-statement. Why on earth didn’t they? Because Steel was not alone in failing to understand the true nature of child abuse. The community at large failed to understand. That’s why the community didn’t put Steel in the dock.

    Clearly, Steel was attempting to downplay what he depicted as a misdemeanour by one of his MPs. So yes, he was shielding Smith, and no doubt g, you will pounce on this as evidence of grave misconduct by Steel. But you are wilfully missing the point. To shield Smith by describing his actions as “only spanking bare bottoms”, only worked because the public at large understood this phrase to be describing something that could be considered a relatively minor misdemeanour. Now that we understand child abuse better, no Party leader (however venal) could have adopted this approach. A cynical party leader would say to himself “Crikey! Well, I have only two options. One is not to defend Smith at all, and the other is to claim that there is no evidence of any spanking of bottoms (bare or not bare). There is no viable middle way that anybody will accept”.

    Sorry to those who think I am labouring this point ad infinitum. I am. I have to, because g insists on wilfully failing to read it. He can’t fail to read it this time.

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