Opinion: Why Sir Cyril was wrong

Now, it’s easy to pretend that your political hero is perfect. It’s easy to write hagiographical accounts of a life without mistakes.

I felt that about the late Sir Cyril Smith MBE, formerly MP for Rochdale. I shall forever feel proud about how Cyril took me under his wing. I will be forever proud now that Sir Cyril called me his friend and gave me so many tips, so many words of advice about how to do my job. (I was Lib Dem Agent in Rochdale from 2004 – 2009) I wrote about ‘our Cyril’ for his 80th Birthday

Cyril shot from the hip – you see, unlike many of our elected politicians – he put his patch first! He didn’t care for party politics, it was all about Rochdale. Any MP, or would be MP would be make a point of studying his respect in his beloved Rochdale.

I met Cyril too late in his life – aged 79, the chance to meet this legend will stay with me forever. He was a mentor, always willing to elicit a wise word, he was a critic, always willing to have his say but more than all – he kept me in politics, because I believed we could change people’s lives… and so we did. Hundreds of times more than I did, I did my bit, don’t get me wrong – but talk to pensioners in his beloved home town and you’ll begin to realise why Cyril was so popular.

It was Cyril’s love of Rochdale that made him call for death penalty of Stefan Kiszko, accused of murdering Lesley Molseed, of Turf Hill just weeks before I was born in late 1975. In the light of national news ‘evidence’, Cyril called for the death penalty, citing the abhorrence of local Rochdale folk. His views were echoed by a vociferous local community – Cyril’s community! Stefan was innocent, after decades in prison he died soon after leaving. He’d received a ‘relative’ sentence. Cyril was wrong.

Now, I don’t blame Cyril or his brother Norman. I spoke to Cyril about it soon after – he was desperately sorry. He knew his reaction was out of order, he apologised to the family and he taught me a lesson. “Never get carried away with the media, take a minute before reacting to anything and…. don’t look after the patch ‘unemotionally’ Don’t blame Cyril!

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Dave Hennigan 4th Aug '11 - 4:29pm

    As I said Geoff, Sir Cyril was by no means perfect. When Stefan Kizsko was released from prison and found to be innocent, it made Cyril evaluate his opinion of the death penalty.

  • Granville Spencer 5th Aug '11 - 9:55pm

    The Stefan Kisko case and others should be enough to put most people off the death penalty.
    I remember Sir Cyril ; I can’t say I met him as such, but we counted money together at a fundraiser meeting.
    Around that time Harold Wilson had announced his retirement . When asked , by a TV reporter ,who he thought would be Labour’s new Leader, the then Mr. Smith, just said “Callaghan” and kept walking. Plain spoken to the point; an honest answer.

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