Bully and bluster: paedophile Cyril Smith, Liberal party’s Jimmy Savile
By Mark Watts
Former Liberal leader Lord Steel is to be grilled over why he dismissed evidence that Sir Cyril Smith MP sexually abused boys as “tittle tattle”.
The inquiry into child sexual abuse (CSA) has summoned David, now Lord, Steel to give evidence about his fellow Liberal MP during the second of three weeks of hearings in its Westminster investigation.
Counsel to the inquiry will quiz Steel over his “tittle tattle” comments in an interview with BBC2’s Newsnight last June about the late MP for Rochdale.
Steel will also be questioned about the Liberal party’s dismissal in 1979 of CSA allegations against Smith after they were first made public in the Rochdale Alternative Paper. The party said in a statement at the time: “All Smith seems to have done is spank a few bare bottoms.”
And Steel is also set to be asked why he nominated Smith for his knighthood in 1988 despite the long-standing concerns about him.
The inquiry concluded from those hearings, as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) admitted in 2012, that there had been three missed opportunities to prosecute Smith.
An investigation by Lancashire Police in 1969 to 1970 resulted in a file being sent to the director of public prosecutions (DPP), setting out allegations from eight witnesses that Smith had sexually abused them as boys.
But the response to the police was that there was no “reasonable prospect of a conviction”. It was the first of three missed opportunities to prosecute.
Des Wilson, former president of the Liberal party, is also due to testify to the Westminster hearings. In a review of a book about Smith, ‘Smile for the Camera’, co-authored by Simon Danczuk, a successor Labour MP for Rochdale, Wilson wrote that Steel and other MPs failed to confront him out of cowardice.
In a damning comparison with the case of the radio and television ‘celebrity’, Jimmy Savile, Wilson wrote: “Smith was protected as much by the culture within the parliamentary party as Savile was by the culture within the BBC.”
Not only was Smith a sexual monster, he said, “He was a political monster… licensed to bully and bluster by a weakly-led and self-serving parliamentary party.”
The problem was compounded because it came so soon after the scandal over Jeremy Thorpe, former Liberal leader, wrote Wilson. “I think they got the biggest spade they could find, dug the biggest hole in the sand they could manage, and buried their collective heads in it.”
Danczuk has supplied a statement to the inquiry, but he is not due to testify. His statement covers allegations of child sexual abuse against Smith and, separately, Tom Driberg, the late Labour MP.
The inquiry also plans to call Baroness Brinton, the current president of the Liberal Democrats, as it became after the Liberals merged with the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
It is to question her about the outcome of internal party investigations after Smile for the Camera about Smith was published in 2012.
It also intends to ask her what procedures, if any, the party has to deal with allegations of criminal behaviour in general and child sexual abuse specifically against MPs or parliamentary candidates.
And a senior official from the Cabinet Office, with some responsibility for the honours system, is to be asked about how “probity and propriety checks” are conducted, the policy for removing honours, as well as specific questions about Smith, Savile and Sir Peter Hayman, the late former diplomat and spymaster.
The ‘Smith’ witnesses are due to appear during the second week of the Westminster hearings, which are set to begin tomorrow with opening submissions from counsel to the inquiry and representatives of core participants.
Mark Watts (@MarkWatts_1) is the co-ordinator of the FOIA Centre.
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