Greater Manchester police have concluded that the former Liberal MP, Sir Cyril Smith, was guilty of physical and sexual abuse of young boys over a period of many years.

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Allegations came from eight young men back in 1970. They alleged that Cyril Smith subjected them to various forms of abuse in the early sixties.

All were living were living at the privately run children's home Cambridge House hostel, in Rochdale, at the time, or were dependent on Cyril Smith for employment, money or welfare.

Lancashire Police opened a file and sent that off to the director of public prosecutions with 80 pages of evidence and a one-page letter from the then chief constable of Lancashire. He wrote -

"Any charges of indecent assault founded on these allegations, as well as being stale, would be , in my view, completely without corroboration. Further, the characters of some of these men young men would be likely to render their evidence suspect."

Outdated way of thinking

Today the Crown Prosecution Service says that way of thinking has gone and that, given the same today, Sir Cyril Smith would have been prosecuted

Nazir Afzal, chief crown prosecutor, said: "Prosecutors and police now recognise such crimes normally occur in private and that victims are often targeted because the offender doubts they will be believed.

Today there would have been a very realistic prospect that Smith would have been charged with a number of indecent assaults. ACC Steve Heywood

"Today a lack of corroborating evidence, the time lapsed between alleged offending and reporting, or a complainant's background, would not necessarily act as a bar to prosecution...

"It is absolutely important for those victims who were abused by Smith that we publicly acknowledge the suffering they endured."

Original complainant

The allegations resurfaced again in 1998 when a man rang a helpline run by Greater Manchester police, who was one of the original complainants.

But the CPS lawyer advised that because Cyril Smith had been told 28 years previously that he would not be charged, they could not reverse that decision.

Actually, two years later judges rejected that argument in the Abu Hamza case. But for Cyril Smith, it was too late.

Tonight Manchester Police have reopened inquiries. Two more people have now come forward to report historic abuse by the Liberal MP, and police have apologised to the original eight complainants.

ACC Steve Heywood said: "We believe that if the same evidence was presented to the CPS today, there would have been a very realistic prospect that Smith would have been charged with a number of indecent assaults, and that the case would have been brought to trial."

By all accounts, Cyril Smith was a power broker in Rochdale, placing people in positions of responsibility or care - like on boards of governors.

The police investigation will now focus on whether or not he was part of, or ran, a network of abusers and placed some in such positions. To quote one senior source: “Cyril Smith was an ogre.”