Lib Dems: “Cyril Smith’s acts were vile and repugnant and we have nothing but sympathy for those whose lives he ruined”

cyril smith bookWe reported here yesterday the latest revelations of extensive alleged paedophile abuse by former Liberal MP, Cyril Smith, in a new book co-authored by his Rochdale successor, Simon Danczuk. Today’s Observer highlights the party’s response, and the responses of two current Lib Dem MPs, John Pugh and John Hemming:

In a statement the party said: “Cyril Smith’s acts were vile and repugnant and we have nothing but sympathy for those whose lives he ruined. His actions were not known to, or condoned by the Liberal Party or the Liberal Democrats.” Party sources said there were no plans to launch further investigations. …

On Saturday John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, said he suspected the establishment was still inclined to protect people in high places, even in this kind of case. “Awful abuses have happened in the past and our concern and sympathy has to be with those who have survived such abuse. The historic cover-up of such abuse should not be tolerated, but I am concerned that our system is still prone to such cover-ups.”

John Pugh, the Lib Dem MP for Southport, agreed: “I am as shocked as the next person by these revelations. I can confirm that they were not widely known until recently.”

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43 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Apr '14 - 3:54pm

    The party statement is weak. I may be a newcomer, but I am a voter and there needs to be solid action or the public reminded of the solid action taken in the past.

  • As the Labour MP for Rochdale, Simon Danzcuk is, of course, completely disinterested (in the correct usage of the word) in this story and is not making political capital on the backs of Cyril Smith’s alleged victims. Today’s ‘Observer’ and, I suspect, yesterday’s ‘Daily Mail’ do not make reference to Mr Smith’s long-standing membership of the Labour Party.

  • ”His actions were not known to, or condoned by the Liberal Party or the Liberal Democrats.””

    No one in the party read Private Eye ?
    They reported the allegations in 1979 after the Rochdale Alternative Press first brought them to light.

    & why was David Steel reported to have said, [? via the Liberal party’s Press Office] “All he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms”.

  • @ Paul Hunt.

    Smith belonged to:

    Liberal Party 1945 -1951, 1970 -1988 – 24 years
    Liberal Democrat Party 1988 -2010 – 22 years [so total time under Liberal/Lib Dems 46 years]
    Labour Party 1952 – 1966 – 14 years
    Independent 1966 -1970 – 4 years

    So hardly that ‘long standing’ [as you call it] membership compared to his allegiance to Liberals & Liberal Democrats.

    Also, and am quoting Wikipedia so am sure some diehards will tell he it is wrong ”after the poor general election results experienced by the Liberal Party in 1950 and 1951 he was advised by the losing Liberal candidate for Stockport, Reg Hewitt, to join the Labour Party.”
    If true he hardly qualifies as a true Labour supporter, more seeming someone with a big ambition and thirst for political power .

    Some victims say they were abused as late as the 1980’s when he was a Liberal or Lib Dem.

  • The timing of the publication of this book, and its serialisation in a hostile national newspaper, are hardly a coincidence coming as they do at the start of an election campaign. However, after recent disastrous responses to allegations about other prominent figures in the party I hope that there will be complete transparency on this one. I am older than the MPs quoted above and, because I read the underground press at the time (which they would not have done) was well aware of the allegations made against Cyril Smith by the Rochdale Alternative Press. I don’t have a clear recollection of my response, but I suspect that it would have been that they were muck-raking, and the fact that they were not able to justify their story and ceased publication soon afterwards supported that interpretation. But there would also have been great reluctance in the Liberal Party at the time to think ill of Cyril: when he won the Rochdale by-election in 1972 he immediately became a nationally known figure, and also gave the Party credibility by being northern, urban, working class, a self-made industrialist, a co-operator, a trade unionist, and a former locally prominent member of the Labour Party. True, he was a bit odd in some ways, and a lot of his views on social issues were not terribly Liberal, but the idea that he might be abusing children was not something that anybody in the Party would have wished to have contemplated. In additional mitigation, there really was not much awareness that the sexual abuse of children was a problem, although with hindsight we now know it was widespread and entrenched in a large number of institutions up and down the country. Something else that needs to be remembered is that the Liberal Party at the time did not have much of an organisation at a national level, as anyone who ever visited 7 Exchange Court could testify. None of this is an excuse if the allegations were not investigated as they should have been, but if, as must have been the case, Smith was questioned by senior party officials and told them in effect : “There is no truth in these allegations; I have issued proceedings against RAP which they have not defended; the police have investigated the story and are satisfied there is no truth in it – would you like to talk to the Chief Constable of Lancashire who will confirm this?” then what is the Party supposed to have done that it didn’t do?

  • I’m not sure complaining about Dancuk being a Labour politician or the Mail serialising it stands up to much.

    Smith was a serial abuser who caused much harm. Complaining when the truth is finally out, and close to an election seems disrespectful to his victims.

    There is never a good time to be abused as a child or young person.
    The party had a choice, they could have heeded the allegations [they weren’t that obscure, the idea that you had to be a hippy to know about them is nonsensical].

    As I posted above, probably won’t be allowed but will be censored, David Steel seems to have known about the allegations – who could possibly think smacking the bare bottoms of boys was not wrong ?

  • From Channel 4 Dispatches website – related to the expose they did on Smith.

    ”A former colleague of Steel, David, now Lord, Alton, tells Channel 4 Dispatches that he discussed the allegations made by the Rochdale Alternative Paper about boys being stripped, beaten and subjected to bizarre “hygiene examinations” or “chastisements” from Smith at Cambridge House, with Steel. He claims Steel made “a facetious remark” saying that what Smith was accused of was “no different” from what went on in public schools all over the country.”
    http://www.channel4.com/info/press/news/dispatches-reveals-how-cyril-smith-abuse-went-unpunished

    So the statement from the party again seems to be wrong and/or misleading.

  • Stuart Mitchell 13th Apr '14 - 7:33pm

    “His actions were not known to, or condoned by the Liberal Party or the Liberal Democrats.”

    Though as Tony Hill points out, the party was certainly aware of the allegations, which were published in an underground paper and then given wider circulation in Private Eye in 1979. Notoriously, David Steel’s press officer at the time gave this response: “It is not a very friendly gesture, publishing that; all he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms.”

    Those were different times.

  • Tony Greaves 13th Apr '14 - 10:58pm

    RAP was well known for pursuing a strong anti-Liberal agenda particularly against Cyril Smith and it was denounced frequently by him. So rightly or wrongly anything it said about him was not taken too seriously. The allegations in Private Eye were very less substantial than the ones now made by Danczuk and if I recall correctly referred to a time in the past when Smith may well have been in the Labour Party. They were not really taken up by anyone else. I would be surprised if any formal complaints were made to the party.

    Tony Greaves

  • It was when Cyril Smith was a Labour councillor/alderman that he allegedly abused teenagers in a hostel. Did the local Labour leadership know anything? The Channel 4 programme alleged that a prosecution of Cyril Smith blocked in the 1970s by the Labour government.

  • It was a different world Sandy. Kids got bvtheir bottoms spanked and not just in “public” schools.

  • Charles Rothwell 14th Apr '14 - 8:02am

    Having supported and voted Liberal/Liberal Democrat on most occasions since the 1970s, I despair at how often the Party with the best policies and ideas on any number of issues seems to become repeatedly mired in such matters (Thorpe, Oaten, Rennard (allegedly) and now Smith). In my view, there is no point at all in trying to “pass the buck” (“it was a different world”, “the timing now before the elections”, “semi-written by his Labour successor as MP”, etc.) True as much of this undoubtedly is, the only way the Party can tackle this is by being FULLY open and, if it is the case that prominent figures like Steel knew what was going on but ignored/dismissed it, they need to get on the TV and radio and apologise sincerely and fully plus re-emphasise the loathing with which they now regard Smith (and even back this up by, for example, supporting the ex-Conservative Children’s Minister’s proposal that Smith be stripped posthumously of his knighthood or some other ‘concrete’ actions to back up their contrition). The public in its current mood will take on board the making of mistakes in the past and the frank and full admission of such mistakes, but, post-Miller/expenses etc., it will NOT take on board any attempt at appearing to cover up/dismiss major issues with any form of excuses (and for the many young men who, it can now be positively said, suffered at the hands of this repellant monster, the things he did do not “belong to another world” but are seared into their psyches forever).

  • Tony Dawson 14th Apr '14 - 8:11am

    The Daily Mail, today, is reporting that:

    “The leader of Rochdale’s Liberal Party tried to bully local detectives into dropping inquiries into Smith in the 1960s”

    Who was this ‘powerful Liberal’ with bullying powers who would take up the cudgels in favour of someone who throughout the ’60s was a Labour and then Independent councillor? As I recall it, Smith rejoined the Liberal Party shortly before he became Liberal parliamentary candidate in 1970.

    Such questions of judgement, as have arisen so far, appear to fall at the door of David Steel and his inner office during the late1970s. I am surprised and disappointed that someone in the Lib Dems appears to be wanting to ‘jump the gun’ about not holding any inquiry before there has been an assessment of all the prima facie evidence. Perhaps, if there is something worth pursuing, we should hold a joint inquiry with the Labour Party?

  • [email protected]
    Smith is also alleged to have abused at later dates, you do realise that ? Not only when he was involved the Labour party [when he temporarily stopped being a Liberals because they were an electoral liability]
    Blaming Labour is not going to be a valid defence, even if Lib Dem party members & leaders use it as a default position.

    The victims lawyers are carry out investigations, so that will take its course and we’ll see what they uncover.

  • Private Eye was constantly being sued for libel and losing cases being brought against it in the 1970s. I did read Private Eye and have no recollections of these allegations which were not known by most party members.Private Eye is not the London Gazette.

  • There should be more concern for the victims and not glib comments about it being ‘a different world’. In MY world that would not have been acceptable ever. This just shows up how power corrupts. Less about damage to the party please and desperate pathetic attempts to blame Labour. How many politicians and others involved are now quaking in their boots?Another question. How much was freemasonry involved and was. this another sphere of influence letting him get away with it?

  • [email protected]

    Smith did not sue Private Eye though did he.

    The idea that no one from the Liberal party saw it, or was asked what they thought about the allegations seems hard to believe to me.

    Here’s the Private Eye piece: It starts by saying that the Rochdale free press piece had been sent out to major newspapers and tv companies. So again, it is hard to believe that not one of them approached the Liberal party to ask for a comment, even if they did not publish the allegations.

  • [email protected]

    Smith did not sue Private Eye though did he.

    The idea that no one from the Liberal party saw it, or was asked what they thought about the allegations seems hard to believe to me.

    Here’s the Private Eye piece from May 1979
    http://theneedleblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/private-eyes-1979-cyril-smith-story/

    It starts by saying that the Rochdale free press piece had been sent out to major newspapers and tv companies. So again, it is hard to believe that not one of them approached the Liberal party to ask for a comment, even if they did not publish the allegations.

  • Michael Parsons 14th Apr '14 - 10:08am

    Cyril Smith: what Smith was accused of was “no different” from what went on in public schools all over the country.”
    as Sandy reports. Well, there you go! Bring back the Grammar Schools and end bare-bottom smacking!

  • @Sandy
    The party WAS aware of the allegations, and David Steel’s office provided a pretty jaw-dropping response – see my earlier post.

    @Tony Greaves @Manfarang
    I’m well aware that Private Eye is not always accurate, nor I suspect were the Rochdale Alternative Press. However one could say the same about the Lib Dem party – would that be reason enough to dismiss serious allegations coming from people within the Lib Dems?

    As the Eye and RAP both made clear, there were sworn statements from victims which could and should have been investigated. These allegations were not just the say so of journalists. The Liberals made no attempt to do so.

    Those who are trying to drag Labour in to this are rather spectacularly missing the point. The Liberals have a case to answer because Smith was a senior Liberal politician at the time the claims to light, and the allegation is that the party made no effort to investigate. As far as we are aware, no allegations were made at the time when Smith was in the Labour Party, so there is no reason to suspect that anybody in Labour was involved in a cover-up.

    “It was a different world Sandy. Kids got bvtheir bottoms spanked and not just in “public” schools.”

    On bare buttocks? Then soothed with a wet sponge afterwards? And the testicle examinations? Has any of this behaviour really been the norm in any school in the UK during our lifetimes?

  • I think this is being treated far too lightly by many here, and the Lib Dems have clearly learned nothing from the Reynard affair. The lessons that ought to have been learned are :
    1) Treat this seriously. (Were talking about the alleged molestation of many children, Not as David Steel suggests a few spanked bare bottoms) and
    2) Initiate an internal investigation NOW! (Don’t leave this to fester and leave the public with the impression that Lib Dems are complicit in their wish for the cover up to continue, until this matter just ‘goes away’)
    Several people who were around at that time, need to be asked what they knew of those events? Two people who must surely be worth talking to are David Steel, who promoted Mr Smiths knighthood, and Liz Lynne, who ‘took the helm’, of the local Lib Dem party when she became MP after Mr Smith, and must at the very least, have something to add to how the mood of things were in Rochdale back then?
    In short, be proactive instead of being ‘back~footed’ yet again!

  • Is it true that Danchuk is bringing out another book – on domestic abuse?

  • A lot of this kind of thing was ignored in that era and to an extent probably still is.

  • Mick Taylor 14th Apr '14 - 2:45pm

    I actually worked in Rochdale at the time of the RAP allegations. They were reported to the police at the time and no action was taken, for reasons that only became clear after Cyril Smith’s death.
    I remember the Private Eye allegations too.
    The proper way to deal with all such allegations would have been by a prosecution. No such prosecution was ever undertaken, whilst Cyril was alive.
    In the absence of legal and police action, could someone explain to me how the Liberal Party could have investigated what the police couldn’t or wouldn’t?
    My conclusion at the time was that if the allegations were true – and Tony Greaves is totally correct about the long campaign against Smith and the Liberals by RAP and that anything RAP said was suspect – then Smith had been warned by the police and had stopped his offending and offensive behaviour. It is now clear that that didn’t happen and that the abuse continued whilst Smith was an MP. Since posthumous prosecution isn’t possible and there is no action that the Lib Dems can take in respect of the allegations then I do really wonder what many of the posts on this topic are about?
    If I thought for a moment that the current Labour MP for Rochdale was doing this for the victims, then I would be cheering him on. But he isn’t. He’s doing it to damage the Lib Dems by association.
    The party has deplored the actions of Cyril Smith and offered their heartfelt apologies to his victims. There is absolutely nothing they can now do to right the wrongs perpetrated by Smith. Our procedures on sexual allegations have recently been rigorously rewritten and we now have in place a clear mechanism for dealing with abuse in the future.
    Cyril Smith has now been shown to be a pervert and child abuser. It’s a very sad end to a political life that showed much promise and it’s absolutely dreadful that he was allowed to get away with it to the severe detriment of his victims.

  • John Dunn and Sandy
    I believe there is an investigation going by those who are better placed to undertake such an investigation.
    To suggest that all the members of the Liberal Party must have know about it is stretching things.
    It costs a lot of money to bring about a defamation action and it wasn’t so common to bring such actions in the past.
    Remember it was Sir James Goldsmith who was constantly sueing Private Eye and he was very rich.
    I failed to notice that item in 1979. Can you recall everything you read 30 yeares ago. 50 years ago I realised what I read in newspapers may not in fact be true. In fact tabloids are mostly works of fiction which is why I stopped reading them.

  • John and Sandy
    I did know an Irish ex-Catholic priest. I feel sure you would have been quick to say he must have been guilty of something but you cannot make serious allegations about someone without any real proof.
    A guilty looking face is not enough, a fact which I feel sure will greatly sadden you.

  • @ Mick Taylor
    “….no action was taken, for reasons that only became clear after Cyril Smith’s death.”
    Given that you seem to have historic information on the Rochdale situation back then , what were those reasons for ignoring Cyril Smiths abuse until his death?

  • Times have changed. We now have both Chris Rennard and Mike Hancock who have been suspended by a Party by a leadership prepared to sacrifice long serving distinguished members both of whom have been investigated by the Police but not charged. Instead the leadership have been content to stand by whilst both have suffered trial by media.
    It isn’t as though Nick Clegg has any residual credibility to protect!

  • @Sandy. Whilst ‘temporarily’ in the Labour Party for electoral expedience , Smith was elected as a councillor and chairman of the Education committee. He was allowed to undertake ‘medicals’ and dispense corporeal punishment, didn’t anyone in the Labour Party notice? Events elsewhere make you wonder if the comrades closed ranks. Labour has questions to answer on this.
    http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/liverpool-teacher-acccused-downloading-child-3445705

  • @Sandy. The first police investigation into Smith took place whilst he was a Labour councillor. He could have been stopped; but Channel 4 News claim Labour MP for Rochdale Jack McCann helped to stop police taking action against Smith. Labour has questions to answer.

  • Fred “@Sandy. The first police investigation into Smith took place whilst he was a Labour councillor. He could have been stopped; but Channel 4 News claim Labour MP for Rochdale Jack McCann helped to stop police taking action against Smith. Labour has questions to answer.”

    And what about the police?

  • The offences alleged to have been committed by Cyril Smith actually concerned pederasty, the homosexual abuse of boys.

  • Well Phyllis, whilst Smith was still a local Labour councillor, Lancashire Constabulary carried out an investigation into Smith’s strange behaviour, it seems that they were ready to prosecute. Smith’s offending would have ended there; however Labour MP Jack McCann (Smith’s predecessor as MP for Rochdale) spoke to the DPP on Smith’s behalf and the case was dropped. So the Labour Party were certainly aware of the allegations at the time, not from RAP or Private Eye, but from the police. Worse than ignore them they actively sought to protect Smith from prosecution. The Labour Party had a choice, they could have heeded the allegations, they could have let the justice system taken its course; instead they helped cover things up. Tying to say Labour doesn’t have questions to answer seems disrespectful to the victims.

  • @Fred. Well if Labour have something to answer so do the LibDems. It seems that Clegg is being disrespectful. A can of worms is about to open for those still living who took part in the cover up whatever party they belonged to.

  • @Fred
    I’d question the way you seem to be using “Jack McCann” and “the Labour Party” as interchangeable terms there.

    But more pertinently you are seriously exaggerating when you say :-

    “Channel 4 News claim Labour MP for Rochdale Jack McCann helped to stop police taking action against Smith”

    The following quote is from http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/party-activist-mp-cyril-smith-5939800 :-

    “In last night’s Dispatches programme, former Rochdale councillor Eileen Kershaw said she witnessed a meeting between Smith and the MP for Rochdale at that time, Jack McCann, shortly before the case was dropped. She claimed McCann, an influential deputy chief whip and a senior member of the Labour government at the time, told Smith he would discuss the case with the DPP. Mrs Kershaw… said: ‘He said ‘I’m going to go to the DPP and tell them they’ve either to get on and prosecute, because it’s gone on long enough, or they’re to drop it. It certainly got Cyril off the hook. Whatever Jack McCann said to the DPP, they listened to him.'”

    So in fact, all C4 actually did was broadcast an allegation from an individual who claims she witnessed Jack McCann telling Cyril Smith of his intention to speak to the DPP and urge him to decide whether to prosecute or drop the case (which, I’m led to believe, is the DPP’s job anyway). There is no evidence such a meeting actually took place, and if it did, nobody knows what was said in it or whether it had any bearing on the decision.

    I would agree with you that Labour do have questions to answer here. But since Jack McCann died in 1972 and Smith had long since defected to the Liberals, I suspect the only answer you’re likely to get is “we have no idea” – which you will no doubt take as evidence of a conspiracy whether it’s true or not.

    The questions the Liberals have to answer are much more serious because the allegations were well out in the open while Smith was a Liberal MP, and your leader’s office even issued a statement saying they thought smacking bare bottoms was no big deal.

    Incidentally I note from Caron’s twitter that Nick Clegg has told his radio listeners this morning that he had no idea about the allegations and nor did any Lib Dem peers when quizzed in 2012. Given the number of people here who have known about it since the 1970s, this is – what’s the word? – surprising.

  • Fred “Tying to say Labour doesn’t have questions to answer seems disrespectful to the victims.”

    I did not say that. Trying to say that ONLY Labour has questions to answer seems disrespectful to the victims and to justice.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Apr '14 - 1:59pm

    Manfarang

    I did know an Irish ex-Catholic priest. I feel sure you would have been quick to say he must have been guilty of something but you cannot make serious allegations about someone without any real proof.

    When this sort of thing first surfaced, people jumped on it with a Catholic-bashing agenda. It was made out that there was something unique about the Catholic Church in the way it happened there and the way it was dismissed or covered up, and the pretence was made that in the past this sort of thing was treated as it is now.

    I’m old enough to remember that in the past what we now recognise as sexual abuse just was not treated anywhere near as seriously as it is now. The pedophile imagery that was defended in the Oz trial, still considered a landmark of liberalising society, would probably now be regarded as even more shocking and unacceptable as it was then. The Rocky Horror Show with its underlying message “sexually inhibited people need to be raped to liberate them” would be regarded with disgust if it were a new release today. It took time to move from the “sex is fun and we should not be ashamed of it” attitudes that were liberating in the 1960s, and rightly so, to accepting that it can very much not be fun, especially when it is someone with power inflicting it on someone else.

    There really was a widespread attitude in the past that the best way to handle sexual abuse was to try and get the victim to “forget all about it”, and that any attempt to make a fuss about it would damage the victim as he or she got dragged through formal proceedings. This was ignored when was put about that only the Catholic Church acted that way – when now we see that in entertainment, in education, in sport, and in so many other areas where adults had contact with children, this abuse happened.

    So I think it is silly trying to throw around the blame, pretending that back in those days it was the norm to report such actions straight to the police and immediately initiate criminal action. We know better now, and that is good, let’s accept that and move on.

  • David Allen 15th Apr '14 - 3:24pm

    I see that the Party has now issued a 35-word statement. It reminds me of a certain 32-second apology. Nevertheless it is something of a first. Most of the “revelations” by Danczuk have also been aired on a number of occasions in recent years, by Dispatches for example, and have been met by stony silence.

    I suspect that Steel, who brushed things under the carpet in 1979, did not really recognise that he was explaining away anything much more than a somewhat eccentric bit of behaviour. Modern day politicians have less excuse.

    Only just over a year ago, I was at a Lib Dem event at which the speaker more than once chose to make favourable reference to Cyril Smith. Apparently Smith also had a catch phrase, repeated with glee by our speaker, which if I recall correctly was “Always tell the truth, but not always before the election”. So, paedophilia isn’t the only thing we should condemn Smith for.

  • Mick Taylor 15th Apr '14 - 4:40pm

    @john dunn

    Well, I was working in Rochdale from 1974-1987 and I did know Cyril Smith quite well. I never saw any credible evidence at the time apart from the allegations in RAP and Private Eye. (Given the nature of both magazines, it has always been my belief that you have to take much of what they say with a large pinch of salt). Like many other people at that time, I assumed – wrongly as it turned out – that if the allegations were true then a police investigation would follow and prosecution would result.
    I watched the channel 4 programme and that led me to believe that the DPP was leaned on to put up or shut up by Jack McCann MP. I did know Eileen Kershaw and have no reason to doubt what she said on the Channel 4
    programme.
    No special knowledge apart from that.

  • Gojam, isn’t it also clear that Jack McCann and the Labour Party were also aware of Smith activities. The RAP article suggests McCann got Smith off the hook. Different versions of the story have “Gentleman Jack” talking to the DPP and/or the Cheif Constable . There are discrepancy in the versons of events between the RAP article and Ch4 Dispatches programme, concerning McCann’s role.

  • Anonymous Coward 20th Apr '14 - 12:45pm

    I see the Green Party’s Daniel Cohn-Bendit is retiring from politics…

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