Channel 4’s Dispatches tonight reveals that despite several police forces gathering a large amount of evidence that former senior Liberal MP Cyril Smith was a serial and serious sexual abuser of young boys, the authorities prevented any prosecution, ultimately allowing him to continue to abuse more victims.
The Paedophile MP. How Cyril Smith Got Away With It. Channel 4 Dispatches (tx 11pm, Thursday 12th September) is the first report for Channel 4 Dispatches by former BBC Newsnight reporter Liz Mackean, who led that programme’s high profile investigation into allegations against Jimmy Savile, which was dropped by the BBC and ultimately led to the Pollard Inquiry.
Dispatches reveals how, as Smith’s power and influence rose, members of the security services put pressure on police officers to stop them investigating allegations that he was a predatory paedophile; how Smith himself leaned on victims and officers and how a senior labour politician intervened with the Director of Public Prosecutions following which the case against him was dropped.
Channel 4 Dispatches also talks to former Liberal Democrat MPs who confirm that the party leadership were aware of some of the allegations against Smith but failed to take them seriously, even when he was being nominated for a knighthood.
Smith is alleged to have sexually and violently abused vulnerable boys as young as eight-years-old in two children’s homes as well as other locations, while presenting himself as a charitable man supporting children in difficult circumstances. He had unfettered access to the Cambridge House boys home in Rochdale and was allegedly given a master key to Knowl View residential boys school in the town and allowed to have unsupervised access to the children.
Channel 4 Dispatches has exclusively obtained the original police investigative file in which Smith is accused of using "his unique position to indulge in a sordid series of indecent episodes with young boys to whom he had special responsibility".
Speaking for the first time, former CID officer Jack Tasker tells the programme that Special Branch officers arrived at his office, told him to halt his investigations and demanded that the file be handed over to them,.“They made it quite clear that anything that was kept by us would bring repercussions if we didn’t hand it over; that as far as we are concerned, the inquiry is finished ... you will take no more inquiries into Cyril Smith.”
The file ended up being locked away in a safe at Special Branch offices in Lancashire. Former Special Branch Officer Tony Robinson tells Channel 4 Dispatches that he was surprised that a criminal file on Smith was being held by his department in the 1970s. He later received a call from MI5 asking for the file to be sent to them in London. At the time, Smith’s political star was rising as the Labour and Liberal parties were negotiating a political pact to keep the government in power.
Another former officer, Paul Foulston, tells Channel 4 Dispatches that he was warned off interviewing a victim of Smith and told to halt his investigation by two senior Special Branch officers. "It was quite apparent to us that they were in effect protecting Cyril Smith and not investigating him,” he says.
The fact Smith escaped prosecution earlier had grave consequences more boys and young men who he then felt free to abuse. Smith helped to set up a second institution in Rochdale, Knowl View school for boys, where allegations of institutionalised abuse would come to dwarf those at Cambridge House.
Chris Marshall was eight when he was taken from his dormitory to be abused by Smith in a bedroom at the school in the late 1970s. He tells Dispatches: "They had the evidence to stop him, didn't they? They knew what he was up to.”
Some of Smith’s victims are now demanding to know why the Liberal Democrats did not object to his knighthood and paid elaborate tributes to him when he died in 2010, despite knowing about some of the early Cambridge House allegations against him which had been made public.
Alan Collins, of law firm Pannone, which is acting for the men, accuses the party of "airbrushing" Smith from the record, saying "no-one seems to want to remember Cyril Smith anymore."
The Party was first formally informed about allegations of Smith’s behaviour at Cambridge House in the 1960s by the Rochdale Alternative Paper in 1979. Journalists asked David, now Lord, Steel to comment. His office dismissed the claims, saying: "All he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms."
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.
Michael Meadowcroft, a former Liberal MP and colleague of Steel, tells the programme that: "Essentially as long as a colleague turns up and votes the right way you don't really do much about their own problems."
Lord Steel said that he asked Smith about the Cambridge House allegations and accepted his denial of any wrongdoing. Smith told David Steel, as it turned out correctly, that the matter had already been investigated by police who had closed their file. There is no suggestion that Steel was aware of the alleged abuses committed by Smith while a Liberal MP. Both he and the Liberal Democrat party declined to comment about Smith's knighthood.
On his death, senior Liberal Democrats including party leader Nick Clegg and former leader Charles Kennedy led fond tributes to this "larger than life character." However, the plaque on Rochdale Town Hall to celebrate the passing of its most famous son has since been taken down.
The Paedophile MP: How Cyril Smith Got away with it – Channel 4 Dispatches will air on Thursday 12 September at 11pm