For four decades the former Liberal Democrat MP Cyril Smith was able to prey on vulnerable children, with some boys as young as eight, as establishments concealed his crimes. It has been reported that the police received at least 144 complaints from victims yet authorities, such as MI5 and Special Branch, put pressure on police to drop investigations, blocked any prosecution and gagged them with the Official Secrets Act if they attempted to expose the politician’s criminal activities.
Now, a book written by one of Smith’s successors as MP for the Lancashire constituency, Labour’s Simon Danczuk, details how the bachelor MP for Rochdale — who died in 2010 aged 82 — was repeatedly protected, even after his death, despite being arrested for a string of sex crimes.
In his book, Smile for the Camera: the Double Life of Cyril Smith, Mr Danczuk believes Smith was not the only abuser in Rochdale, and he was influential enough to ensure that other abusers could carry on undetected by the authorities. A leaked report to the local health authority warned that men from as far away as Sheffield travelled to Rochdale to abuse boys at Knowl View School. Knowl View was a residential school for children with learning difficulties. Smith was a governor and had his own set of keys to the school.
Smith, MP for Rochdale between 1972 and 1992, was governor of 29 schools. In the 1960s, he helped to open Cambridge House children’s home, a boys hostel in Rochdale that he helped set up with other politicians. There he abused boys, often subjecting them to medical examinations. But when police launched an investigation, the chief constable of Lancashire personally intervened to stop it.
The book details that Smith unlocked a door at Cambridge House with his own key and burst into a teenager’s room to sexually and physically abuse him. Mr Danczuk says boys who defied him were hit against walls.
Smith was also a visitor to Elm Guest House, in Barnes, south west London, which is at the centre of the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Fernbridge and the focus of a Scotland Yard investigation into an alleged VIP paedophile ring. Smith also set up a youth charity, Rochdale Childer.
It was only after Smith’s death that some victims, and police officers, felt safe to speak out. Mr Danczuk, Rochdale MP since 2010, first raised Smith’s case in the House of Commons in 2012 after victims contacted him. He said; ‘When I first arrived in Rochdale as its prospective Labour candidate in 2007 I respected him, but in time, I was confronted with absolute horror. Once you looked beyond the jolly clown playing for the camera, there was a sickening, dark heart.
Days later, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) revealed that his victims’ claims were investigated by police on three separate occasions — in 1970, 1998 and 1999 — but each time files were submitted to prosecutors, they were rejected. The CPS belatedly agreed that Smith should have been prosecuted and Greater Manchester Police publicly acknowledged that he did sexually and physically abuse young boys.
The book, co-written by Matthew Baker, reveals that as far back as the 1950s, Rochdale police had their suspicions about the politician. When Rochdale police first started investigating him in 1972 they were threatened by the council’s Liberal leader.
In 1988 the 29st politician was nominated for a knighthood by David Steel, now Lord Steel, in spite of the rumours of his crimes circulating around Westminster. One young Liberal activist was sexually assaulted in Smith’s office in the House of Commons in the 1980s as other MPs walked by.
The ex-Liberal leader’s involvement only emerged in recent weeks after a Freedom of Information battle. The Cabinet Office had previously refused to disclose who had put Smith forward — claiming it would breach data protection rules — but the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled earlier this year that there was a ‘legitimate public interest’ in it being disclosed.
The book also describes how some Labour politicians’ involved with the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) had links in the 70’s with the Peadophile Information Exchange. PIE campaigned to legalise sex with children and Mr Danczuk believes this, along with Smith being friends with PIE founding member Peter Righton, helped Smith evade justice for years. (Read our article about PIE here)
In the 1970s Smith was repeatedly arrested for acts of gross indecency with young boys in the public toilets of London’s St James’s Park, a regular spot for young male prostitutes, but no action was taken. The cover-ups continued in the 1980s when Smith’s car was pulled over on the motorway near Northampton and traffic officers discovered child porn in the boot.
Mr Danczuk said; ‘Other details of Cyril’s abuse filtered through to me almost casually. The cleaner in my office mentioned in passing how he once played for a football team as a teenager and Smith presented the awards every year to grope the boys as they collected their medals. ‘We [the teenagers] complained to the coach, but he said we’d have to put up with it because Cyril was the sponsor and paid for the do.’