Daily Mail attacks Nick Clegg for Cyril Smith RIP tribute. Why?

mail cyril smith lib dems‘Squirming of the Lib Dems’ is the Daily Mail’s front page splash today. It’s the second successive day the paper has tried, a bit desperately, to pin blame on Nick Clegg for the extensive abuse allegedly committed by former Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith in the 1960s and ’70s.

The basis for the paper’s accusations is that Nick Clegg issued a tribute on his 80th birthday and when Cyril Smith died. As Nick has pointed out, “I would never have dreamed of saying the things that I said about Cyril Smith on his 80th birthday and when he died if I was aware of the truly horrific nature of the actions which he is alleged to have undertaken over a long period of time.”

Disagree with Nick Clegg’s politics all you like, but the idea he’d have covered up allegations of paedophile abuse is nothing but offensive. I’ve no idea if he’d heard any rumours about Cyril Smith. They were reported in Private Eye in 1979 (when Nick was 12), but not picked up elsewhere.

It’s easy to view these things through a post-Savile mirror and assume he must have both heard them and believed them to be true – but BBC Newsnight’s airing of false allegations against Lord (Alistair) McAlpine show the dangers of believing every story that circulates of prominent people who are alleged to have a liking for boys.

Of course, the party and all its politicians still alive who knew Cyril Smith should cooperate fully with any and all enquiries. It may well be that some knew more than just rumours and have questions to answer about what they did with that knowledge. If so, that should all be properly investigated and made public. The Mail’s focus on Nick Clegg is an unjust distraction.

And as for issuing tributes of public figures when they die — well, Nick Clegg is by no means alone. Here’s the Daily Mail’s eulogistic coverage of Jimmy Savile’s death on 31 October 2010…

mail jimmy savile death

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Why is it that when someone dies they lose the presumption of innocence.

    Multiple accusations against living “celebrities” eg William Roache, Nigel Evans and Michael Le Vell have been tried in our courts recently and the juries concerned have not been convinced of the accusations.

    The dead are not able to mount an active defence on their own behalf but does that mean that we should assume that if they had been tried they would have been found guilty.

  • Yes Richard., but what if Smith had ended up in court ?

    Can imagine Smith would have hired very expensive lawyers, his victims would have been called liars & fantasists or worse by his barrister.

    Friends from the ranks of the Establishment, some noted Liberals and probably tame people from other parties would have been paraded through the witness box stating that Smith was a fine upstanding fellow, they never saw him touch a child inappropriately, that it was all politically inspired to bring him down.

    Smith would probably have got off, even if guilty, and flogged ‘I’m the victim’ to every media outlet in the land.

    People like Smith abuse because they can, because they have the power.
    Cover ups are almost as damaging to victims as the original crimes.

  • Good post Stephen, especially exposing the Daily Mail Saville tribute.

  • Yes the Daily Mail are hypocrites. But, lets assume Clegg is honest in saying he had not heard of rumours concerning Cyril Smith. Given that these were apparently widespread in parliamentary circles, with former Liberal leader, David Steel, specifically commenting on them IN PUBLIC at the time and since, he must have a serious problem in listening.

    Hearing rumours and discounting them is a much more defendable position especially given rejected police enquiries, etc, saying you heard nothing, like Saville where rumours where rife for years but oddly those at the very, very top didn’t hear anything, is indefensible.

    This is a crisis, and the liberal democrats are showing that they can mishandle things in a worse way than the BBC ever did over Saville.

    Don’t blame Labour, don’t blame the Mail, don’t blame anybody for now, call for an enquiry, open up your files and permit senior Lib Dem Lords and Ladies to be interviewed, on oath if necessary, as part of any such investigation.

    As it stands, it looks like you are trying to wiggle out of responsibility for not challenging abuse rather than explaining why you did not.

  • Matt (Bristol) 16th Apr '14 - 10:29am

    This is in more or less the same category as the attacks on Harriet Harman and has (some of) the same qualities of ambiguity, ie:
    – We should have known about X; we did not know; we have to admit we did not correctly evaluate or trust what we did know
    – You may be able if you wish to call certain aspects of this behaviour a ‘cover up’
    – Ignorance or refusal to know was a fault and beahviour shared with a great many people at the time in this and many other situations
    – There were many people who made accusations about X, not all of them articulately or coherently or without malice, but they appear to have been proven right.
    – Innocents almost certainly have been hurt, but we cannot completely prove or disprove every detail of these allegations in court of law as many of the key people are not available or are dead.

    Very few organisations are totally innocent with regard to their past actions where people have suffered harm that was not fuly recognised as harm at the time due to the behaviour of individuals who authority derived form their conneciton with that organisation, but what is organisational ‘guilt’, particularly in volulntary, part-voluntary and non-statutory organisations, what punishment does society want for the ‘guilty’ and are we able or prepared to appy this evenly?

  • roger roberts 16th Apr '14 - 10:38am

    Thanks for the post – especially the Mail’s tribute to Jimmy Saville – a whole nation was taken in by him ! Is today’s Daily Mail team to be held responsible for the paper’s editorials and stories over the years – did they really back Mosley and the fascists ?
    As one of the older Liberals, very active, I met and shared platforms with Cyril Smith and heard not a whisper of any allegations until after he died.
    We must not let the Mail and Express succeed in destroying our party or select our leader.

  • Good luck with trying to convince the public that senior party members had no knowledge. The loudest sound this morning seems to be the slamming of doors as the great and the good of the LibDem party for the last 40 years are looking for a hidey hole to set up home in, until they hope it all blows over.

    Cyril Smith was protected by the establishment, that is an inescapable conclusion, and who but the Lib Dem establishment would want to protect him.

    Claiming ignorance hot on the heels of the obfuscation of the Lord Rennard affair is laughable.

  • “It’s the second successive day the paper has tried, a bit desperately, to pin blame on Nick Clegg for the extensive abuse allegedly committed by former Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith in the 1960s and ’70s.”

    I’ve read the article and I don’t see anywhere where the Mail tries to blame Clegg for the actual abuse, which would of course be absurd.

    Though 90% of the Mail’s story is trash, there is a legitimate story here and questions for Clegg to answer. The Mail’s vague claims that the allegations were known at Westminster are confirmed by at least three 1980s Liberal MPs. On the other LDV thread from a few days ago, several long-time party activists confirmed that they had known about the allegations for decades.

    But the real problem with Clegg’s statement is that he claims all Lib Dem peers told him in 2012 that they had never heard the allegations. We know for a fact that at least one of them DID know, since 1979. Somebody has not told the truth here and the Mail is perfectly right to point that out.

    There is also a serious problem with the Lib Dems’ statement from the other day :-

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

    It is known that a former leader of the Lib Dems and Liberal Party was aware of the allegations. Sure, knowing of allegations is not the same as knowing of actions; but most people would probably regard the statement as a typical example of politicians playing with words and avoiding giving a full and frank account of what they know.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Apr '14 - 12:03pm

    The Daily Mail interrupted Lord Steel’s holiday and Lord Steel responded with the words that he could not comment as he was going to sue them.

    I recognise that politicians must have broad shoulders, but I think that the allegations are so awful, in a case like this, politicians should take legal action.

    I remember Cyril Smith on television. He came across as a bluff plain speaking northern man. One has to ask why, if rumours were swirling so openly, the newspaper did not use its press freedom to air the allegations and investigate them.

    As with Savile, I remember the press treating him as a ‘character’, a ‘national treasure’ almost. I think the press should examine its own practices at the time.

  • The media uses front-pages to sell newspapers – just like today’s faked Daily Mirror front-page. In the past, newspapers used Saville and Smith’s popularity to sell newspapers too. Now they are feeling guilty.

  • Richard Church 16th Apr '14 - 12:55pm

    Just because one hears an allegation does not require you to act upon it.

    I have heard rumours constantly about people I know, about local and national politicians, both in my own party and in other parties. If they cannot be substantiated, then they cannot be acted upon. It would have been quite wrong, however grave the allegation, for Nick Clegg not to give a gracious tribute to Cyril Smith on his 80th birthday or on his death simply because someone had told him (if they had) of an unsubstantiated rumour.

  • Iain Sharpe 16th Apr '14 - 1:35pm

    There’s irony in all this cropping up at the same time that some people are questioning the decision to prosecute Nigel Evans.

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Evans case, at least he and his accusers got to face one another in court and it was decided by a jury. It is a fair bet that had Evans died prematurely before the case reached court, newspapers would now be full of stories assuming his guilt of the “crimes” which he has actually been acquitted, demanding to know why nothing was done to stop this “serial offender”, whether his offences were “covered up” etc.

    Similarly if Lord McAlpine had died two years earlier might the retracted allegations against him be now regarded as unquestionable common knowledge?

    Without such due process it is always going to be hard to get at the truth, the more so when the alleged offender is dead.

    As Richard Church rightly says, in politics (perhaps in any walk of life) one hears all sorts of rumours of wrongdoing by any number of people and there is usually no easy way of telling the difference between an unsubstantiated malicious smear and genuine cases where offences have taken place.

    To some degree one can do now more than trust that where there is real evidence the proper authorities will investigate and where appropriate take action. I appreciate that such trust may not always be justified.

  • @Richard Church
    “Just because one hears an allegation does not require you to act upon it.”

    No, but it does require you to answer in the affirmative if you are asked later whether you heard the allegation. Or at least it does if you want to tell the truth.

    @Colin Rosenstiel
    “The Rochdale Labour Party should also be pressed on this.”

    That’s an odd way of looking at it. It’s a former Rochdale Labour councillor (and still stalwart of the Lancashire Labour Party) who is the source for some of C4’s cover-up claims. It was a Rochdale Labour candidate who revealed the allegations on public hustings in 1987. It’s a Rochdale Labour MP who has just written a book on the whole affair.

    So in fact Rochdale Labour people are being pretty forthcoming about what they know. Shouldn’t Lib Dems do the same?

  • Tony Greaves 16th Apr '14 - 2:32pm

    To say that there were “persistent” rumours “swirling around Westminster or the Liberal Party for “decades” is complete rubbish. The only allegations I knew about were in the Rochdale Alternative Paper (RAP) which ran weekly
    attacks of all kinds on Cyril Smith and anyone to do with him for much of its existence, and briefly in Private Eye. In the absence of any follow-up or investgations by the police it was quite reasonable for people to assume they did not amount to anything substantial.

    The DM today talks about a “paedophile ring” at Westminster. Is it going to name names of the living? Or is it just about Danczuk taking the chance to attack Liberals by an assault upon the dead?

    Tony Greaves

  • @Tony Greaves
    “The only allegations I knew about were in the Rochdale Alternative Paper (RAP) which ran weekly attacks of all kinds on Cyril Smith and anyone to do with him for much of its existence, and briefly in Private Eye.”

    Did you mention this to Nick Clegg in 2012 when he asked you if you had heard of any allegations?

  • Richard Dean 16th Apr '14 - 2:52pm
  • Tony Greaves, did you mention these rumours to Nick Clegg when he asked?

    Also, the blog that Richard Dean posted predates Cyril Smith’s death. I remember it getting a bit of internet traffic at the time. Was this never discussed in lib dem circles when it was published?

  • Sadie Smith 16th Apr '14 - 3:21pm

    Usually there are better things to do than gossip. That seems to be mostly what this is apart from an obvious Labour smear.
    It is reasonable to treat with caution any source which has an agenda.

  • Did Danchuk turn up for Cyril’s funeral? And when is his forthcoming book on domestic abuse coming out? Is it true that it is being printed in Spain?

  • David Allen 16th Apr '14 - 4:30pm

    “As Nick has pointed out, ‘I would never have dreamed of saying the things that I said about Cyril Smith on his 80th birthday and when he died if I was aware of the truly horrific nature of the actions which he is alleged to have undertaken over a long period of time.’ ”

    This can readily be reinterpreted, using the simple principle that when a politician wishes to deny something that is partially true, he/she works out what part is untrue, and denies that. On that basis, we have:

    – I was aware of the actions which he is alleged to have undertaken over a long period of time. I was not aware of their truly horrific nature. –

    Well Nick, assuming that this is the real meaning of your statement, it seems to be a reasonably fair summary. It does rather look as if you and your predecessors tried quite hard to avert your gaze and avoid an adverse judgment. Some of your defenders in this thread point out how often such allegations prove to be unfounded. However, often they also prove to be well founded, don’t they?

    Frankly, the party has dealt with this badly, and if the Mail is (as often) going to win public sympathy with overstatement, I can’t feel too upset about it. Just like all the other parties, the Lib Dems have had to be dragged kicking and screaming before they would admit that one of their own was a wrong-un. For the party that once claimed the moral high ground over all their opponents in terms of truth, honesty and integrity, that’s a terrible way to behave.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Apr '14 - 4:48pm

    Personally, I’m not accusing anyone of a “cover up”, my complaints are that people aren’t taking allegations seriously enough because they come from a political enemy.

    I find it shocking that some people’s first reactions were to make sure Labour got smeared too and play it down as not credible. How can you know if something is not credible prior to an investigation? All allegations need investigating. You just boost your enemy by not doing so. I know there was an investigation a few years ago, but it seemed there should be a new one, even if just a small one, whatever is possible.

    The party has improved from its initial reaction, which seemed to be to try to bat them away with a tweet, but it does appear that the party still doesn’t know how to deal with criminal allegations.

    Finally, I reserve some criticism for the Daily Mail. The headlines and the article are very poorly written and contain serious allegations. All other businesses get regulated, so I think perhaps more liberals should support light regulation of the press. It’s about responsibility, at the moment the press can publish pretty much any rubbish and largely get away with it. The press is poisoning the minds of the young and the public with prejudiced nonsense.

  • Michael White. The Guardian.
    “…Political friends of mine, more savvy than me but no more inclined to conspiracy theory, say they suspect that even the intelligence services contained powerful figures protecting fellow paedophiles in those days.
    There is more to tumble from the closet.”

    This last sentence intrigues me.
    What more is going to tumble from the closet?
    Is The Guardian joining The Mail in anti-gay code words?
    Does Michael White know something about the intelligence services?
    Who are these political friends of his who are “more savvy”?

    Has the Chilcott Report been published ? Or is that less important than an allegations of a decades-old sex story ?

    Is it easy to start rumours on the Internet?

  • Stuart Mitchell 16th Apr '14 - 6:26pm

    I do hope Tony Greaves will pop back soon to clear this up.

  • Anonymous Coward 16th Apr '14 - 6:53pm

    There are allegations that in the 1960’s Cyril Smith was questioned at Rochdale Police regarding accusations of serious sexual abuse, he made pleas to Labour MP Jack McCann MP and the case was dropped. There are allegations that that when treasurer of Heywood & Royton Labour Party, the funds were quite a few shillings short. There are allegations that Labour Home Secretary Jim Callaghan ordered Cyril’s ‘paedo’ file to be taken by Special Branch from Lancashire Police’s HQ in Preston to London.

  • JohnTilly, I suspect Michael White is referring to the various stories that have appeared on the news website Exaro. This is run by an ex-Guardian journalist and has been investigating various allegations, I assume, despite mainstream newspapers not picking these up, they have credibility given the site is run by a professional and has avoided litigation.

    Whether they are true or not is more difficult to say.

  • Anonymous Coward 16th Apr '14 - 7:56pm

    The Daily Mail sent John Derricot to by a copy of the RAP, with the Cyril Smith story in it, in 1979. So they knew about the rumours; nevertheless there’s not hint about it in their obituary for Cyril Smith .

  • Stuart Mitchell 16th Apr '14 - 10:14pm

    @Anonymous Coward
    The Mail (in fact all major national news outlets according to Private Eye) were sent copies of the original 1979 RAP allegations. Only the Eye was brave enough to publish.

    So you’re right to question whether the media and some past Labour politicians participated in a cover-up.

    But I’m sure you’ll agree that the most pressing issue raised by this article is that the current leader of the Lib Dems has claimed that all Lib Dem MPs and peers told him they had never heard any of the allegations, but we know for sure that at least two of them WERE aware. This needs explaining.

    By the way, Jack McCann and Jim Callaghan are dead so no matter how cowardly you are there’s really no need to be anonymous.

  • Paul Pettinger 16th Apr '14 - 11:47pm

    ‘He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it’ Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Jayne Mansfield 17th Apr '14 - 8:06am

    @ Eddie Sammon,
    I agree with you Eddie up to a point, one can’t simply bat away the allegations now that they have been made, but I doubt that the public will be satisfied with some internal enquiry. I have been watching the Oscar Pistorius trial and having never been in a court house, I have been fascinated and impressed by the incisive questioning that witnesses face.

    Much as I regret that power of the Daily Mail to influence, although all credit to them for the way they pursued the Stephen Lawrence case, I believe that we have laws in place already when it or any other newspaper oversteps the mark. To accuse someone of a cover up of paedophilia if untrue, would I think be considered libellous, and the best way to test whether the newspaper or those printing allegations are true seems to me to be through the courts.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Apr '14 - 8:47am

    Interesting, Jane. I suppose I just feel bitterness that I think my industry (financial services) is too heavily regulated, whilst the press seem to get some divine right to act as irresponsible as they like. I wouldn’t mind if we could get away with self-regulation too.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Apr '14 - 8:54am

    Jayne, I know there are libel laws, so the press don’t have quite as much freedom as I make out, but I still think the status quo is failing and I am bitter about government attacks on financial services. If the press stop supporting more and more government attacks on us then maybe I will stop supporting it on them, otherwise they just look like hypocrites.

  • ‘Why?’ asked Stephen Tall. Because it’s the Daily Mail. Why else?

  • The tributes to Smith on his 80th birthday and death were hypocritical. He was loathed by many in the Liberal and the Lib Dem party as well as elsewhere.

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