Monstrous: Cyril Smith in Liberal party broadcast in 1974
By Mark Watts
Shocking revelations and startling testimony punctuated 14 extraordinary days of public hearings on the Rochdale investigation in the overarching inquiry into child sexual abuse. But the media failed to report on most of them.
The shadow of the monstrous Sir Cyril Smith, the late former Liberal MP, loomed large over the “Rochdale” hearings of the CSA inquiry in October. The hearings focussed mainly on Rochdale’s Knowl View special school, where Smith had been a governor, and Cambridge House, the privately-run care home that the paedophile MP helped to establish in the town.
Those who testified to having been sexually abused are entitled to life-long anonymity, so the inquiry assigned codes to them, such as “A1” or “A2”.
Despite lingering questions about the inquiry’s ability to investigate without employing any investigators, the hearings shed a good deal of further light on child sexual abuse in Rochdale – including by Smith, who became the town’s MP in 1972 – and the accompanying failures by various public bodies.
The hearings started to prove the inquiry’s value in exposing, and so helping to tackle, child sexual abuse. It has also just completed a series of hearings on the Roman Catholic church..
But the Press prefers to divert attention with a propaganda campaign against anyone who dares to testify to, or investigate, sexual abuse of children by prominent people such as politicians.
One of the most telling comments during the Rochdale hearings came from Martin Digan, a residential social worker at Knowl View, about an investigation by Greater Manchester Police (GMP), ‘Operation Cleopatra’.
The inquiry heard that GMP launched the operation in 1997 after Cheshire Constabulary, which had been interviewing residents of children’s homes in its county, referred complaints of sexual abuse at institutions in the Manchester area.
It quickly led to the second of three missed opportunities to prosecute Smith, as officially admitted.
The first missed opportunity came in 1970 when the then director of public prosecutions (DPP), Sir Norman Skelhorn, advised against charging Smith following an investigation by Lancashire Police.
Counsel to the inquiry, Brian Altman, questioned Digan, who had tried to blow the whistle on child sexual abuse at Knowl View while he worked there as a “house parent”. Turning to Operation Cleopatra, Digan said:
There is a senior detective – I won't mention his name, sir – who worked for Operation Cleopatra in the late ’90’s. He’d uncovered three further cases of sexual assaults on children.
Q: At Knowl View?
A: I don’t know, sir. He didn’t tell me. But three further cases that I didn’t know about. He had been taken off Operation Cleopatra and assigned to other duties and his words to me were, “It’s because all roads lead to Westminster.” I can give you his name in private, sir, any time you wish.
Q: I think I know who you mean. I suspect we know who you mean. Thank you very much. Is that Sergeant Vincent Hill?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Thank you.
Digan’s comments begged obvious questions. Did Vincent Hill really say, as Digan claimed, “all roads lead to Westminster”? If so, what exactly did he mean by it? But no such questions were asked in the hearings.
The inquiry has had all the planned hearings for the Rochdale investigation. The inquiry panel, led by Alexis Jay as chairwoman, is due to publish a report on the investigation by next April.
Although Vincent Hill provided a statement to the inquiry, he was not called to give aural evidence. Inquiry counsel did not say why.
Parts of Hill’s statement were read out to the inquiry:
‘Operation Cleopatra was set up as a result of complaints made to other police forces of sexual abuse of children who had been in care and who also had been residents in care homes in Manchester where similar complaints had been made. It was decided that under these circumstances ownership of investigating these offences would be undertaken by Greater Manchester Police. The senior vetting officer when Cleopatra was set up was Detective Superintendent [Peter] Stelfox and I think he also had responsibility for Stockport Division. The team structure at this time was Detective Inspector Ann Hewlett, myself, Detective Constable Naraine Oldham and indexer Carole Walker.’
‘By 1997, Detective Superintendent Bill Roberts was appointed senior investigating officer. Mr Roberts was an experienced investigator and had managed protracted and complex cases in the past, including the Strangeways Riot Inquiry. He was also experienced with the HOLMES system and he implemented its use on Operation Cleopatra. DI Ann Hewlett remained as deputy senior investigating officer. There were three detective sergeants with an outside enquiry team consisting of three or four detective constables at any one time. I was in charge of one of these teams.’
‘Some time after 20 March 1998, I had a meeting with the head of Greater Manchester CID, Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Keegan, who handed me a bundle of documents abstracted from the original enquiry in 1970 by Lancashire Constabulary investigating allegations about Cyril Smith and sexual assaults against boys. As a result of handing me these documents I was instructed to review these documents and consequently I interviewed A1 at his home address in Rochdale on 21 October 1998. Then on Thursday, 12 November 1998 I interviewed David Bartlett [co-editor of Rochdale Alternative Paper or RAP]. Mr Bartlett handed me documents, probably copies, of affidavits from alleged victims and documents made as a result of his own enquiries into the activities of Cyril Smith as he had perceived them. As a result of these interviews, I produced my report dated 2 December 1998. I handed my report, together with a bundle of papers given to me and documents from Mr Bartlett personally, to Detective Chief Superintendent Keegan. I have never seen these documents since but kept a copy of my report which I produce. To my knowledge, none of these documents were registered on HOLMES. I do not know what the outcome of my report was and I was never told.
‘Early in 1999, I was instructed by Detective Superintendent Roberts to make enquiries as a result of my 1998 report; I do not recall how I was instructed, whether it was by an allocated action or verbal command. In March 1999, I interviewed A4 and A68. As a result of these interviews and further information I had gained I produced and submitted my report entitled, “Allegations re Cyril Smith”, dated 18 March 1999. I personally handed the report with my recommendations to Detective Superintendent Roberts.
‘My report was in order for Mr Roberts to review the evidence put forward and make actions as he saw fit. He did tell me that he did not want recommendations on the report. However, I felt that I could not submit an accurate and balanced report without my professional recommendations. My report was hand-written and signed by me and had one last additional paragraph consisting of 11 lines detailing my recommendations despite my instructions. Some days later, my report came back to me with a typed copy. This was standard procedure in order that I could proof-read the typed copy with my original. Upon examination and subsequent proof-reading, I noticed that my last paragraph had been marked with scribbled line and that it was omitted from the typed copy. The typed copy was dated 29 March 1999. I signed it and I kept the original hand-written report. I now produce this as exhibit VH/2. I remained on Operation Cleopatra until the end of 1999 when I returned to Stalybridge and then I was posted to Bootle Street Police Station until my retirement from the force on 10 October 2001. During my enquiries, I met up with Martin Digan. He showed me several documents including the Val Mellor and Phil Shepherd reports [see below]. I have reported during my meeting with Digan that I have submitted copies of these documents with my report. I do not know if Digan handed me these or if we were already in possession of them.’
The final paragraph of Hill’s hand-written report, which was deleted for the typed version, was read out to the inquiry:
‘My own view is that a further investigation would be merited now that the information has been made available to Operation Cleopatra. I feel that despite current priorities for the investigation, it would be better carried out sooner rather than later in order that the police be seen to be acting expeditiously and with due concern for those involved.’
Altman asked Martin Bottomley, GMP force review officer and a former detective superintendent, a series of questions about how Operation Cleopatra came to be investigating Smith:
This is in relation to Cyril Smith and the extent to which Cleopatra looked into Cyril Smith. We know, but let me get it from you, please, Mr Bottomley, there was an operation called Goldfinch-
Q: - which was commenced by South Wales Police-
Q: - in April 1997, concerning the physical and sexual abuse within institutional establishments within that force’s area; is that correct?
Q: As a result of media coverage, did a complainant known to us as A1 contact the Goldfinch helpline-
Q: - making an allegation against Cyril Smith at Cambridge House between 1965 and 1968?
Q: Alleging that he had been given a medical examination by Smith and, on reflection, he had thought the circumstances were abusive.
A: That’s correct, yes.
Q: On 26 February 1998, was a letter sent from South Wales Police to the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police providing A1’s details and outlining his allegations?
Q: Was the letter passed to Detective Chief Superintendent Keegan, deceased, who was then head of Greater Manchester Police crime investigations?
Q: The next month, on 20 March, did Mr Keegan send the letter in a memorandum to Detective Superintendent Stelfox, the then senior investigating officer, the SIO, for Operation Cleopatra, requesting that enquiries be made with A1 and to record his complaint as part of Cleopatra?
The SIO, meanwhile, asked the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to review the DPP’s advice of 1970 not to charge Smith.
The prosecutor who reviewed the file not only again advised against charging Smith, but felt sure that his advice would “conclude the investigation into the suspect for all time”. The prosecutor explained the advice by saying that Smith was promised that he would not be prosecuted in 1970.
Altman asked Bottomley about that review and what happened with the requested further enquiries into Smith:
On 21 May, did Mr Stelfox send the original Cyril Smith advice file which had been sent to the DPP back in 1970 to the Branch Crown Prosecutor of Rochdale requesting a review?
Q: Did that file also include a statement from a reverend… which hadn’t appeared in the original file?
A: It did, yes.
Q: Can I simply invite your attention, please, to paragraphs 41, 42 and 43-
Q: - where the Branch Crown Prosecutor sent a memo to his Acting Chief Crown Prosecutor in Manchester – this is dated 17 June 1998 – at point 3 saying: “I have spoken by telephone with Superintendent Stelfox yesterday and summarised the contents of my advice. It was clear that he had anticipated much of what I proposed to say. Whilst I offered him the opportunity to discuss any aspects of the case with him, he didn’t think it would be necessary.”
At point 4: “I now enclose a copy of my advice to him. You will note that it is an amended version of the draft which I showed you. I have added to the draft by explaining what I meant by ‘further evidence’ because he was concerned to know whether that would include the evidence of other complainants who have not previously come to the notice of the police.”
And at point 5, did he say to Mr Barker, the Acting Chief Crown Prosecutor, “I suspect from my conversation with him that he will not proactively seek further complaints in view of the substantial period of time that has now elapsed since the incidents complained of took place. I expect that my advice will conclude the investigation into the suspect for all time.”
Q: We know, looking at your paragraph 44, that after 20 March 1998, Detective Sergeant Hill had a meeting with Chief Superintendent Keegan and he was given the original file and was instructed to review the papers and conduct enquiries?
Q: On 21 October 1998, did Sergeant Hill re-interview A1?
Q: On 12 November 1998, did Sergeant Hill interview Mr Bartlett from the Rochdale Alternative Paper?
A: That’s correct, yes.
Q: - who gave him further information as regards A4 and A68, both of whom had been resident at Cambridge House?
Q: Your paragraph 48. On 2 December 1998, did Detective Sergeant Hill hand to Mr Keegan a hand-written report and documents relating to his enquiry to date?
Q: Then in 1999, did Sergeant Hill – was Sergeant Hill instructed by Superintendent Roberts, who had become the SIO for Cleopatra, to make enquiries or further enquiries arising out of the report he’d submitted in December 1998?
Q: As a result of that, did A4… and A68, spoken to by Sergeant Hill, provide written statements?
Q: Then your paragraph 52. On 18 March 1999… did Sergeant Hill produce a further report titled, ‘Allegations re Cyril Smith’, and hand that to Detective Superintendent Roberts?
Q: Was that report- it was eventually typed up and Sergeant Hill I think has something further to say about that… But was the report, as far as you can tell, typed up and submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service for further review?
Roberts, like Hill, was not called to give aural evidence to the inquiry, but parts of his statement were read out:
‘Operation Cleopatra was established before I joined it and I recall that Detective Superintendent Peter Stelfox was the senior investigating officer. It had a very small team and was being conducted from Bredbury Police Station. Peter Stelfox wanted to concentrate on other matters and so I replaced him as the senior investigating officer. Already in place as the deputy SIO was Detective Inspector Ann Hewlett, an officer I knew well. One of the enquiry team sergeants was Vince Hill, who was an officer I had known since we were both cadets, although he was an intake behind me.’
‘I have also been shown and have read exhibit VH/2.’
‘This is an original hand-written report allegedly submitted by DS Hill titled, “Allegations re Cyril Smith”, and dated 18 March 1999. As far as I am concerned, I have not seen this report before and I didn’t instruct Vince Hill to submit it. Had I instructed Vince Hill to submit that report, then I would have raised an action via the HOLMES system and his report would have been submitted in typed form and seen by the HOLMES team before reaching me.
‘Operation Cleopatra was conducted using the HOLMES system, which is a Home Office Large Major Enquiry System.’
‘Having read the report VH/2, I haven’t seen anything in it that would have caused me, as SIO, to instigate an investigation against Cyril Smith within the parameters of Operation Cleopatra. Nor is there anything in it that would assist me to particularly recall it. I saw hundreds, if not thousands, of reports during my time as SIO on Operation Cleopatra.’
‘The only way I could have seen the two reports allegedly submitted by Vince Hill is if they had gone through the system and first been read and initialled by five personnel engaged as the HOLMES team. I have been told that there is no trace of these two reports in the HOLMES system. I am confident, therefore, that neither of them ever entered Operation Cleopatra and that I never saw them.’
‘Vince Hill apparently claims that he submitted report VH/2 for typing and that, when the typed copy was returned to him, he noticed that a number of recommendations he had included in his written report had been omitted.’
‘All reports submitted for typing within a major incident are typed directly onto the HOLMES system. There is no other way that a typed copy of report VH/2 could have been typed within Operation Cleopatra.’
‘I am informed that no copy of VH/2 has been found on the HOLMES system. It could not, therefore, have been submitted for typing through Operation Cleopatra in the first place. The allegation that it was is therefore spurious. It is also noteworthy that, once something has been typed into the HOLMES system, the original document, be it a report, action or statement, is then filed away and is never seen again unless, for instance, it is required as an exhibit during a court case. The original copy is never kept by the officer who submitted it.’
‘I recall the name of Knowl View school, but there has been so much Press coverage about that subject I cannot be sure whether it is my memory of Cleopatra or what I have read in the papers. I think I saw reports of allegations at Knowl View that involved Cyril Smith but these allegations I recall were that Cyril Smith, who was looked upon as “Mr Rochdale” was on a board of Knowl View or other home in Rochdale and would chastise the boys there and that indeed parents of boys would actually send them to Cyril Smith to be chastised. The allegations I saw were that he smacked them on the backside and in some cases he pulled their pants down and smacked them on the backside. Within the context of what we were dealing with on Operation Cleopatra, these were not serious enough to warrant immediate attention and deviate from our enquiries which involved serious sexual assaults including buggery and rape.’
‘I have been told that Vince Hill left the enquiry on 24 November 1999. The decision to remove Vince Hill was a really hard decision. I had known Vince since I was 17 and I considered us to be friends, not close, but we had a good working relationship… Vince Hill didn’t grasp the system and embrace what I was asking.’
‘He continued to submit unnecessarily lengthy reports despite my instructions not to include superfluous information. Eventually, after he submitted a further statement that had numerous pages with inconsequential details, I decided to remove him from the operation.’
‘I cannot recall ever having any meetings specifically about Knowl View school and Cyril Smith. I can state that no person, either internally within the police or externally, has ever attempted to exert any pressure on me to either investigate or not to investigate anyone, including Cyril Smith. I would have been appalled had anyone tried to do so and I feel sure that anyone who knows me and who has worked with me would corroborate the fact that I was not a person who would have acceded to such a request/order.’
‘Had there been evidence to investigate and arrest Cyril Smith, then we would have done that. We were, however, dealing with allegations of very serious cases of sexual abuse committed by people who had been, and in some cases still were, in a position of care and control over vulnerable young children. These had to take priority over the allegations of comparatively minor offences concerning Cyril Smith.’
‘I have subsequently been informed that… a typed copy of exhibit VH/2 has been discovered. This, however, has been found not to have been typed onto the HOLMES system. Five people are named in the report submitted by Vince Hill which it has now been discovered formed an advice file that was sent to the CPS. A written advice letter from CPS has also been discovered in response to Vince Hill’s submission. The letter is addressed directly to Vince Hill and, as in the case of the original submission, was never processed through the Cleopatra system.’
For the third time, the CPS advised in 1999 against charging Smith. The prosecutor, who had carried out the review the year before, claimed that there was no significant new evidence by 1999.
However, as pressure started to rise over the issue of “VIP paedophiles” in 2012, the CPS admitted in a statement that year from Nazir Afzal, then chief crown prosecutor for the North West, that it would then have charged Smith on the strength of the evidence that was submitted by police in 1970, 1998 and 1999.
Lancashire Police investigation into Cyril Smith – 1969-70
Back in 1969, nearly 50 years ago, police arrested a man over an allegation of indecent assault. The assistant chief constable of Lancashire Constabulary, Timothy Jacques, explained to the inquiry how the arrested man, in an attempt to mitigate his actions, claimed during his police interview that he had been sexually abused 10 years previously as a boy by Smith.
Alan Payne, counsel for Lancashire Police, told the inquiry that the arrested man also named another boy who was also abused by Smith.
Lancashire Police took the claim seriously enough to begin investigating Smith.
In light of media coverage of recent years, such a police decision today would no doubt result in shrills of protest by the establishment’s hand-maidens at The Times, The Sunday Times, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph titles.
Payne explained that detectives traced the second boy, by then an adult, who in turn identified other potential victims of abuse by Smith.
Officers in 1969 ultimately took a very different view from Roberts in 1999 of the seriousness of the allegations against Smith. They duly interviewed him under caution.
Payne told the inquiry: “He declined to respond to the allegations made by those who claimed he’d abused them.”
The SIO, identified in the inquiry hearings only as Detective Superintendent Leach, compiled a report in 1970 for his chief constable and which went to the then DPP. It outlined the allegations from eight witnesses. Six of them had been residents of Cambridge House.
The police took the allegations seriously, while noting, “Several of the complainants have criminal records.”
Exaro, the investigative website that ran from 2011 to 2016, used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to force the CPS – after a 16-month battle – to disclose the damning report in 2014. It featured prominently in the inquiry hearings.
Payne told the inquiry: “The conclusion of the report was emphatic.” He read it out:
‘It seems impossible to excuse Cyril Smith’s conduct over a considerable period of time. Whilst sheltering beneath the veneer of respectability, he used his unique position to indulge in a sordid series of indecent episodes with young boys towards whom he had a special responsibility. Prima facie, he appears guilty of numerous offences of indecent assault.’
Another document recorded a meeting in January 1970 when Smith called in at a police station to demand that the previous SIO tell him about the accusations. Altman told the inquiry:
In his report of 11 March 1970, the report to the Chief Constable of Lancashire, Superintendent Leach stated that the investigation commenced by Sergeant Brierley had passed to him on 16 February of that year, 1970. Before Superintendent Leach took over the investigation, Smith had asked to speak to the previous investigating officer, Superintendent Watson, and he did so on 24 January 1970 whilst the investigation was ongoing. It is clear that Smith was well aware of the investigation against him and what it concerned. Can we go, please, to CPS002703. In it, we will see on the first page... he set out why he had called for the meeting, and the “S” is obviously Smith, and the “W” in the left-hand margin is Watson, the superintendent. After introduction says Smith: “Well obviously I know that enquiries are going on and what I would like to ask you are three things, one of which I suspect you are not going to tell me.
“1. Why are the enquiries going on?
“2. To whom you approached for statements.
“3. And the most important, I understand the enquiries go over a period of four months, certainly over many weeks, and things are now beginning to gather rumours and so on, and what I would really like to know, if you will tell me, is what stage have you reached in your enquiries and when you will have reached some sort of conclusion, and when will I know if there are to be proceedings against me?”
On the next page, page 2, after a little more discussion between them, halfway down the page, Mr Watson asks him: “If my information is right, you spoke to one of the boys, who has been interviewed.”
“What was that about?” said the officer.
Smith: “He told me what you had been asking him. He told me he had made a statement to you. If you check the criminal records of some of these lads, you will find out about their criminal background.
“I’ve seen two of them and the third came to see me. I’ve asked them if they have made statements.”
Unsurprisingly, Mr Watson said to him: “I must warn you about interfering with witnesses. The only reason I am here this morning is because you wanted to see me. I did not want to see you. You must have some suspicion about you and them, about what’s in the statements, or you would not be here, would you?”
Then going to the fourth page… he comments, having gone through, as we can see slightly above, the names of certain boys, and encapsulates his own view of his own dealings with them in this way: “What I haven’t done for these boys is nobody’s business. I’m not pleading – I know you have got a job to do and will do it. You can be sure I will defend it to the hilt.
“My key witness will be the probation officer at the sessions, Mr Harding. He has been to see me twice since Thursday. He came voluntarily and he said to me, ‘I can assure you I will go into the witness box and vouch for you. It’s scandalous after what you have done for those lads.’
“I asked him how it would affect his job and he said, ‘I don’t care, I will go into the witness box and vouch for you if it’s the last thing I do.’”
Mr Watson: “Are you suggesting that these lads are conspiring together to...”
And his answer, which is of a little interest, is as follows: “No, I’m not, they are telling the truth as they see it.”
Then Smith’s interest in speaking to the officer on this voluntary basis, of his own request, became clear, if we can please turn to page 6. Right at the top of the page: “What you have come on this morning is just a fishing expedition,” says Mr Watson to him. “You want to see what we know.”
And Smith started laughing about: “Well, yes, fishing, I think that is fair comment. But one of my problems is – I don’t know if you know about local affairs.”
Says Mr Watson: “No, I have no connection locally.”
To which Smith said this: “Well, the situation is this. In three weeks’ time, I’ve got to give a decision, one way or another, whether I’m going to fight the next parliamentary election as a Liberal in Rochdale, and if I’m going to be charged, I’m not going to accept. Guilty or not guilty, it would be unfair to the Party. On the other hand, if I am not going to be charged, I would like to have a do, and I have got to make my mind up in the next three weeks.
“Although I understand you would not make the decision if I am to be charged, it would have to be reported to the DPP.”
To which Mr Watson says: “No, that is not necessary. It depends.”
Altman told the inquiry that the police file was passed to the then DPP under cover of a letter dated March 13, 1970 that sought advice as to whether Smith should be prosecuted.
The DPP’s office acknowledged receipt of the file in a letter dated March 16. Altman continued:
‘The DPP's response was swift. By a letter dated 19 March, he communicated his view in fairly cursory terms that there was no reasonable prospect of Cyril Smith being convicted of indecent assault, “reasonable prospect” being the relevant test in those days.’
‘Let's have a look at what the letter says: “Dear Sir...” This is addressed to the chief constable: “I have considered your file and I observe that eight young men, whose ages range from 19 to 24 years, allege that between 1961 and 1966 Smith submitted them to various forms of indecency and I also observe that Smith denies their allegations. Any charges of indecent assault founded on these allegations, as well as being somewhat stale, would also be, in my view, completely without corroboration. Further, the characters of some of these young men would be likely to render their evidence suspect.
‘“In the circumstances, I do not consider that if proceedings for indecent assault were to be taken against Smith, there would be a reasonable prospect of a conviction.”’
Laura Hoyano, counsel for abuse survivors who are “core participants” in the inquiry’s Rochdale investigation – including the eight witnesses in the 1970 case – praised the police operation on Smith.
Before questioning Lancashire Police’s Timothy Jacques, she said:
‘Given the controversy that has surrounded the 1969-1970 investigation by Lancashire Police, and also given that it is very rare for a police force to be given credit for a sensitive and appropriately conducted investigation into child sexual abuse; far more frequently, we hear criticisms.’
‘Our position is that the investigation in 1969-70 was thorough, impartial and fearless, and that it was exemplary by the standards of the day and also holds up very well to close scrutiny in 2017 from all that we have seen.’
But serious questions were raised about the then DPP’s advice in the letter of March 19, 1970 not to charge Smith. Gregor McGill, director of legal services at the CPS, was in the hot seat in the inquiry. He said:
It is difficult to see how he would have come to any other conclusion but that there was indeed corroboration of the complainant’s account or at least a good arguable case that that was the position.
Q: One thing which is absent from the DPP’s letter of 19 March is any suggestion of collusion. Do you agree?
A: There’s no suggestion-
Q: He talks about “completely without corroboration”. “Corroboration” was a term of art in those days. We still use the word, but-
A: Not in the legal sense.
Q. - not in the way it was used in those days. He doesn’t say there is evidence of collusion?
A: He doesn’t.
As has been reported, the Security Service, better known as MI5, knew that the CPS lied to journalists in 1979 about the police file nine years previously.
Altman told the inquiry that the Security Service disclosed some documents that related to Smith. He said:
‘The documents show that the Security Service’s legal adviser was informed of the false representations to the Press from the DPP’s office.’
‘A redacted document, dated at the bottom 24 April 1979: “Note for file”, which is what this was: “Sir Thomas Hetherington, the Director of Public Prosecutions [it was Sir Thomas Hetherington who was the then DPP] telephoned me today to say that a man named David Bartlett, representing RAP in Lancashire, had telephoned about a gross indecency case involving Cyril Smith and boys at a hotel in Rochdale which an unnamed senior police officer had asserted had been sent to the DPP in 1970. After consultations, the DPP’s Press representative had untruthfully told Bartlett that they had no record of this case. In fact, their file closely accorded with the details given by Bartlett. Hetherington said that he believed I had on one occasion asked him, when he was with the law officers’ department, whether they had any record. He had not then been aware of this case as it had not been submitted to the law officers. He said he believed that RAP stood for the Rochdale Alternative Press [sic]. There was some suggestion, but he did not elaborate, that Bartlett’s source might be Stanley Parr, the chief constable.” However, he noted from the file that one of the senior police officers who had dealt with the case was a man named Day, who was now under investigation on the DPP's instruction in connection with various fiddles in the Lancashire Police force. The other senior police officer involved, named Leach, had now left the police.
‘Then page 4, another file note of the same date: “The DPP telephoned me again late this morning to say that they had now had an enquiry about the 1970 investigation from the Daily Express who said that they had received firm information. They had been told that the DPP had no record of this case.”’
As has also been reported, Margaret, later Lady, Thatcher, when prime minister, approved a knighthood for Smith despite knowing about Lancashire Police’s investigation.
The Mail on Sunday used FOIA in 2015 to obtain documents from the Cabinet Office about the awarding of the knighthood. Altman said:
‘The stark fact is that neither Cyril Smith’s standing in public life nor his career progression was impeded by his being accused of child sexual abuse. On the contrary, his ascent was marked by his being awarded a knighthood in 1988.’
‘The Lancashire investigation and the RAP allegations were to feature in the House of Lords Political Honours Scrutiny Committee… in its consideration of Smith and it was drawn to the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s attention, and despite all of that, he was knighted.’
Traumatic testimony of abuse survivors
In contrast to the claims and counter-claims of who knew what and when at Rochdale borough council about child sexual abuse, especially at its Knowl View school, the inquiry also heard disturbing testimony from several courageous survivors.
Eight witnesses testified to having been sexually abused as boys either at Knowl View, Cambridge House or by Smith. In the case of “A5”, he testified to Smith’s sexually abusing him as a boy at Knowl View.
The hearing room was cleared as each of five of the eight witnesses gave evidence in person and another two by video link. Extracts from the statement of the eighth were read out.
In an attempt to make the experience slightly less of an ordeal for the witnesses, Altman tended to read out extracts of their written statements and asked them to confirm whether they were correct. This is part of the exchange between Altman and “A5”:
(For those for whom reading about sexual abuse may be a ‘trigger’, you may want to skip the following, graphic section of testimony.)
Q: Can I ask you this, please: did you attend Knowl View school in Rochdale?
Q: Can you speak up a little more for us than that, please?
Q: Looking at a statement you made, did you attend that school in 1987?
Q: How old were you in 1987?
A: 12, I think, 13.
Q: How did you find Knowl View? Did you like it or dislike it?
A: Dislike it.
Q: Because? What didn’t you like about it?
A: It was a horrible place.
Q: I think you likened it a bit to a prison?
Q: Now, I have to ask you about some other matters. Were you sexually abused when you were at the school?
Q: I know you would rather that I really repeated the words that you have already stated in your statement to make it more comfortable for you, and I will do that. You remembered several incidents, and I am going to go through them. The first that you recalled was at night time you remembered men coming in from outside?
Q: More than one man, but adult men is what you are talking about?
Q: You remembered one night sleeping in the bedroom next to the fire escape when you woke up and you saw a very big, fat man sitting on your bed. Is that right?
Q: You say he was no more than a couple of feet away and there was nothing blocking your view of him. You woke up realising that this man had, as you put it, “inserted his finger up my bottom”?
Q: It was because of that that you awoke. Is that right?
Q: Because of what he was doing to you. You tried to pull away and turned onto your back, which caused him to desist, in other words, to stop doing what he was doing, and then did he touch your private parts?
Q: You managed to pull away from him and told him to get off?
Q. Then did the fat man say to you, “Where is your friend?”
A: He did.
Q: He was looking across to another bed in the dormitory. You remembered he then got up and left the room, the fat man?
Q: Clearly, you were shocked – I imagine that is to say the least – by what he had done to you?
Q: How old were you at this time, do you think?
Q. You said you were scared to death and then you went to hide under another boy’s bed and that’s where you were found the next morning, sleeping under another boy’s bed?
Q: The staff member who found you, who I think was Mr Digan [house parent], asked you why you were there, but I think you said you were too scared to tell him. Is that how you felt?
Q: Why were you too scared to tell him? It may be an obvious question, but let’s see what you say?
A: I don’t know.
Q: Did you understand what had happened to you, do you think? Did you understand what had actually happened or were you too young, or were you old enough to understand?
A: I don’t know.
Q: You don’t know. You saw the big, fat man, you say, shortly after that, at the school during the day going up towards the Ashworth dormitory, which was above the headmaster’s office. Then you saw him again in Rochdale. You were with somebody else who told you that that was Cyril Smith, the MP for Rochdale; is that right?
Q: When you saw him, and whoever you were with told you that that is Cyril Smith the MP for Rochdale, was that the same man who had sexually assaulted you?
Q: After that, you say that there were three other incidents. The second occurred when you were in bed at the Egerton dormitory. You said you remembered being awoken by a male member of staff who pulled you out of bed and frog-marched you into the office.
Q: Which office were you talking about?
A: It wasn’t an office, it was a flat.
Q: Whose flat?
A: I don’t know.
Q: I’m simply reading the word in the statement, but that is wrong, it is a flat that you meant. You say there was a flat which was a room next to the headmaster’s office?
Q: Is that right? Possibly staff accommodation. Did you say this, and I am simply going to read from what you said: “I was then pushed into the bedroom by the male and saw that Cyril Smith was sitting on the bed. The male staff member then left the room. At this time there was nobody else in the room.” Is that correct?
Q: “Cyril Smith then made me take off my pyjamas. He started fondling my penis. He masturbated me until I ejaculated.” Did you say that?
Q: Did that happen?
Q: Then: “He took his own trousers down and masturbated himself.” You say: “He then forced me to lie face down on the bed. I did as instructed. I had no clothes on. He climbed on top of me. He was enormous and I felt I was being crushed.” Did you say that?
Q: Is it accurate?
Q: “He then inserted his penis into my anus, which was incredibly painful.” Is that what happened?
Q: You then say- you go into a little more description. I am not going to go into that. But you say Smith then kicked you out and told you to go back to your room, which you did?
Q. You were asked whether you could describe the man who took you from your bed into the room and all you could say is he was a staff member?
Q: Have you thought about who that person was?
A: I’m not sure who he was.
Q: Then you come on to deal with a third incident, which you say was in some ways similar to the previous one, although on this occasion – this is my word, not yours – Smith didn’t rape you, on this occasion, but you say you were asleep in bed, you were woken up and taken from your bed to the same room where Smith had raped you previously. It was the same staff member who took you on this occasion as the last time?
Q: Then I am going to summarise it, because it is quite graphic, which is not your fault at all, you are simply describing what happened, but you are saying that Smith masturbated you and then himself?
Q: And then engaged in oral sex on you?
Q: You refused to do the same to him. Did he then give you 20 cigarettes and throw you out of the room, telling you to go back to the dormitory?
Q: Is all of that truthful?
Media’s failure over Cyril Smith
A5, and many like him, might have escaped his ordeal at the hands of Smith had the media held him to account. Despite Smith’s prolific sexual abuse of boys, not a word about it appeared in any media outlet until an ‘alternative’ monthly local paper in Rochdale took up the story nine years after the investigation by Lancashire Police.
The Rochdale Alternative Paper or RAP ran ground-breaking reports about Smith in 1979 where Fleet Street and the rest of the British media had failed.
Even after RAP broke the story, no one ran any follow-up apart from the late Paul Foot in Private Eye. Altman explained the background to RAP’s reports on Smith:
‘The allegations against Cyril Smith were not forgotten, but they resurfaced nine years after the Lancashire investigation in an article that was titled, “Strange Case”, by the Rochdale Alternative Press [sic], or RAP, as it was known and which is how I am going to refer to it for short. The editors of RAP were John Walker and David Bartlett. Mr Bartlett is going to give evidence in the course of the hearing. The publication of the allegations in the May 1979 edition of RAP was a matter of days before the general election of 3 May 1979. The article was not being published as an act of political sabotage, but, rather, because Smith was seeking re-election based on a personal basis as “Smith the man”, and he had also been critical of his leader, Jeremy Thorpe, who at that time, it will be remembered, was subject to a criminal investigation and prosecution with what Mr Bartlett calls “homosexual overtones”. In other words, Smith was seeking re-election purely on the basis of his character and personality, as opposed to his representation of the Liberal Party. Also, RAP considered he was guilty of hypocrisy in relation to the Thorpe affair. So RAP considered it perfectly legitimate that the electorate of Rochdale should be able to take into account the allegations in casting its vote.’
‘According to Mr Bartlett, RAP had traced and identified six men who had been resident at Cambridge House and they had agreed to make affidavits to a solicitor. Mr Bartlett, at the time of asking, was only able to recall four of the names of men who had provided them, and the inquiry has seen four affidavits bearing the ciphers A50, A48, … A4 and A1.’
‘There was a second article in June 1979… a further follow-up article in June which RAP published. RAP also approached the DPP’s office in an attempt to clarify whether the DPP had actually considered the evidence gathered in the 1969-1970 investigation. RAP had good reason to believe that the DPP had determined that there was insufficient evidence upon which to prosecute Smith. We know, of course, that that was the conclusion he arrived at. The DPP’s office provided a statement that it had failed to find a file relating to Cyril Smith. A second approach brought the official statement: “The DPP cannot trace such a case being referred to us, but cannot confirm or deny receiving it.”’
Bartlett told the inquiry that he and his colleague did not endure any of the trolling or abuse that such a report would attract today. Altman asked him about the impact of the RAP article – or the lack of it:
Q: You can confirm that, despite your article, Smith was re-elected in 1979?
A: Not only re-elected – with an increased majority.
Q: By about 5,000, wasn’t it?
A: That was depressing.
Q: Depressing and surprising or just depressing?
A: Just depressing.
Q: This may be a difficult question for you to answer, but there, again, you were sufficiently local perhaps to understand why: why did an article such as this have not only little impact, but apparently negative impact?
A: One of the reasons that we believed at the time, and I still do, looking back on it now, was that Rochdale – if you can speak in a corporate sense at all – wasn’t surprised. These stories had been circulating in most rooms of the town for a very long time. There was nothing very new, apart from the fact that it had been put into print. So a lot of people just shrugged their shoulders and relied on the man they thought they knew or the man they had known and, as you’re aware, he was extremely prominent in the town and had a considerable impact in all kinds of areas of the town, and people didn’t want to believe that someone they regarded as a hero was capable of these kind of things, but they had heard the stories. We didn’t get any kind of- none of the modern version of trolling, or anything of that nature. We never received any abuse from anyone, no bricks through windows. But on the whole, I think the town wasn’t surprised; quite widely spread, that sense of, “Well, we knew that, didn't we?” and therefore had discounted it.
The hugely over-weight Smith, who revelled in the media spotlight, was chief whip for the Liberal Party in 1975-6 and published his autobiography, ‘Big Cyril’, in 1977. He remained MP for Rochdale until 1992.
He was co-president of Greater Manchester North Scouts from 1995 to 1998.
He died in 2010.
Simon Danczuk, a successor Labour MP for Rochdale from 2010 to 2017, re-exposed Smith in a speech in Parliament in 2012.
The following year, Channel 4 broadcast an edition of Dispatches on Smith, which also received an honourable mention at the inquiry hearings. However, the programme mainly featured in the hearings because a witness wanted to recant comments that the late Jack McCann, then Labour MP for Rochdale and deputy chief whip for the party, “got Cyril off the hook” in the 1970 case.
Eileen Kershaw, a friend of Smith’s who had been a fellow councillor in Rochdale, told the programme about the time when he turned to her after he discovered that someone had reported him to police. She said:
‘And that’s when he started coming, night after night, and it went on for about three months, it wore us out.’
‘He used to sit there then just popping Valium.’
‘In the end, my husband said to him, “Have you involved Jack McCann in all this, have you spoken to Jack?” Jack was our MP. “I’m gonna bring him over.” And Jack McCann sat on the end of the stone fireplace from about 9 o’clock when he arrived, until eventually at 3.00 in the morning he suddenly got to his feet and said, “Right, Cyril.” He said, “I’m going to go to the DPP and tell them that they’ve either got to get on and prosecute because it's gone on for long enough, or they've to drop it.”
‘And it was only a couple of weeks later my husband said, “I’ve had a phone call from Cyril. He asked me to call in on the way home and he was in tears.” The police had been in to see him and they’d dropped the case. And he was in tears, he was so relieved.’
Asked what she thought of McCann’s intervention, she said on the programme: ‘Well, it certainly got Cyril off the hook. Whatever Jack McCann said to the DPP they listened to him.’
However, the inquiry heard that Kershaw later gave a statement to GMP, saying:
‘I have viewed the Channel 4 Dispatches programme and can confirm that it is myself on the programme and that the account I gave is true and accurate. However, the only thing I regret is using the term ‘got Cyril off the hook,’ as Jack McCann was a man of integrity and what he actually did was get the DPP to expedite the matter and resolve the situation, bringing it to a conclusion. I do not think his intervention influenced the DPP’s decision whether Cyril was guilty or not.
‘In fact, I don’t think Jack McCann liked Cyril Smith, but in the interests of justice, the matter needed sorting out.’
GMP launches ‘Operation Jaguar’ in 2014
Much of the questioning at the hearings centred on a series of reports, which featured on Exaro in 2013, about Knowl View.
The cache of confidential documents obtained by Exaro included:
One of the issues for the panel to consider is who knew what and when about child sexual abuse at Knowl View.
GMP launched ‘Operation Jaguar’ in 2014 to investigate criminal allegations made by former pupils of Knowl View and to record claims against Smith.
However, DCI Sarah Jones, SIO of the operation, explained to the inquiry that Operation Jaguar did not investigate the allegations against the late MP. She said:
‘In Greater Manchester, from Jaguar’s perspective, the decision was taken that – I took the decision that I wanted to evidentially document Cyril Smith’s – the allegations against Cyril Smith so that we – mainly, I – knew obviously we wouldn’t progress to a prosecution but I wanted those victims to feel they had had the opportunity to provide a full and evidential account. But also that allowed us the opportunity to look through that to establish if any further criminal offences had occurred. Greater Manchester Police’s position in respect of Jaguar was that we would investigate those people who may still be living. The investigation would not be into Smith’s offences. So where he offended alone, we did not conduct any further investigation into those offences, where it was clear that he was on his own and there was nobody else who was culpable for those.’
CPS and Rochdale council in the frame
Counsel for Rochdale borough council, Edward Brown, issued an apology for failings by the local authority over Knowl View and Cambridge House in his opening statement to the inquiry.
He read out a public apology from the council’s chief executive, Steve Rumbelow, in September, saying:
‘The events that took place at Cambridge House and Knowl View and at other establishments in Rochdale have cast a long shadow over the town for many years and have undoubtedly caused pain to many people. The council acknowledges that there were significant failings, both in the way that Knowl View school was managed and in the council’s response to concerns about sexual abuse within and outside the school. That was, frankly, unforgivable. On behalf of Rochdale Borough Council, I would like to apologise sincerely to anyone who was failed by the council during those years.’
‘Chair, as that apology makes clear, the council accepts that there were failings in the way that it managed Knowl View and in the way in which it responded to concerns about sexual abuse both within and outside the premises. I make it absolutely clear on behalf of the council that it is accepted that some children resident at Knowl View suffered sexual abuse. They suffered sexual abuse within the premises and there is… ample evidence that children resident at Knowl View suffered sexual exploitation away from Knowl View premises, notably, at Smith Street toilets in Rochdale.’
The CPS issued its mea culpa back in 2012 over its failure to prosecute Smith on three occasions in the form of a statement from Nazir Afzal, then chief crown prosecutor for the North West.
However, asked by Altman why the CPS had made the statement, Gregor McGill, director of legal services at the prosecuting authority, said:
‘I don’t know. This was a statement made by the chief crown prosecutor for the CPS North West.’
Nonetheless, McGill admitted that the DPP’s letter of 1970 was wrong to say that there was no corroboration when there were a series of eight complainants who made similar allegations against Smith.
In his written statement, he also admitted that the review of 1998 by the branch crown prosecutor, identified only as Mr Watson, was “open to criticism”, but sought to defend the conclusion that a case would be dismissed as an abuse of process because Smith had been told in 1970 that he would not be prosecuted over the allegations. McGill wrote:
‘Mr Watson’s approach to “corroboration” of the complainants’ accounts (he said there was none) is open to criticism, although he nevertheless concluded in 1998 that the evidential rest was satisfied, that is, that the evidence presented to him from the complainants and from the surrounding circumstances provided a realistic prospect of a conviction. It is also right that he did point to the fact that “the prosecution case is not founded upon a single assertion by a single complainant, but by eight separate complainants giving virtually the same account.” He therefore expressed the view that the fact that there were a number of complainants strengthened the overall case.’
‘However his analysis of the law at the time regarding abuse of process appears to be broadly correct and, while other lawyers might have opted to charge CS [Smith] and allow a Judge to decide on any application by CS’s legal representatives to stay the proceedings, I am satisfied that there was a legal justification for his conclusions at that time.’
The road to Westminster
Laura Hoyano, counsel for abuse survivors who were “core participants” at the hearings, told the inquiry in her closing submissions that the Rochdale investigation raised issues that would need to be considered in the forthcoming Westminster strand. She said:
‘There are… at least two major questions which remain outstanding and which can only be answered following the Westminster investigation. First: why did the national and local Liberal Party support Cyril Smith’s selection as a prospective parliamentary candidate in the midst of a major police investigation into alleged sexual offending? The evidence adduced before this inquiry shows that the national party agent sent by Jeremy Thorpe to recruit Cyril Smith was directly informed by Rochdale residents of recent complaints of child sexual abuse against Cyril Smith.
‘Secondly, Cyril Smith had told the police he could not stand for selection if the police investigation had not been concluded first in his favour. But nonetheless, he did so before the police file had even been submitted to the director of public prosecutions. We do not know yet how much information Jeremy Thorpe and his chief whip, David Steel, and others in the party had regarding the ongoing police investigation.
‘The second major question is how Cyril Smith managed to escape prosecution over 50 years from his first suspected offence in 1960 until his death in 2010. We have seen intriguing evidence from MI5 of contact between the director of public prosecutions and MI5, and MI5 having maintained a dossier on Cyril Smith going back several years before 1979. We also know that Cyril Smith maintained an inexorable rise in the political life, national life and indeed receiving royal honours, even though those involved in facilitating his rise knew of the police investigations in 1969 to 1970.
‘We do have information from 10 Downing Street that they knew, at the time that David Steel nominated Cyril Smith, of that investigation. We don't know what advice was given to Mrs Thatcher, but we do know that Sir Robin Butler [then cabinet secretary], as he then was, feared that giving Cyril Smith a knighthood would be embarrassing to the prime minister and to the Queen. Nonetheless, he got his knighthood. So that is something we suggest which needs to be further pursued in the Westminster investigation.’
In 14 days of hearings, the comment that raised eyebrows most sharply during witness testimony sprang from the strait-laced CPS man. It came when Altman asked McGill, who frequently liked to upbraid counsel to the inquiry for asking “speculative” questions, whether the Smith case was unusual:
Q: Now I would like to ask you about something else which you don’t deal with in your statement, but I am sure you know about, Mr McGill, which is what the DPP or the DPP’s office said to the media, the Rochdale Alternative Press [sic] and others, in 1979. You know about that material and what came out from the Security Service?
A: The only material I have seen is the material that has come from the Security Service, yes.
Q: Today, what is the CPS’s general policy for dealing with media enquiries?
A: We have a communications office that deals with those enquiries that come from the media. We have values that say that we are open and transparent, and we communicate openly about our decision-making.
Q: It should go without saying that, above all, if there are media enquiries of the CPS press office, you, or the organisation generally, would be at great pains to make sure that what the media is told is accurate and truthful?
Q: Do you think that the policy of the director would have been any different in 1979?
A: I can’t speculate what the policy would have been. I think it would be strange to think that you would have a policy that stated that you wouldn’t be truthful to the media.
Q: I wonder if we can just bring up, to remind ourselves, INQ000963, please... This is the RAP article from May 1979. Paragraph 6 is headed “The DPP”. It is on the right-hand side. I wonder if the trial director can bring that up. I’m sure you have looked at this, Mr McGill. It is not brilliant. Let me read it, Mr McGill, and I will take it slowly. It is really just half of this paragraph that I need to remind everybody of: “An approach to the DPP failed to confirm that a file [I think] had been brought to the attention of the director’s office.” I’m just paraphrasing: “On our first request for information, the DPP’s press office agreed to answer the question of whether or not the file had been received by them. After making the appropriate search, we were told that they had failed to find such a file. A further approach brought the official statement from the director.” And the director at this time was of course Hetherington: “The DPP cannot trace such a case being referred to us but cannot confirm or deny receiving it. The director did confirm that under the then applicable regulations the ‘chief office of police shall report to the DPP offences which include indecent offences upon a number of young persons.’”
“We also wrote to Sir Norman Skelhorn, the man who was the director of public prosecutions at the time of the investigation. RAP’s letter was forwarded to him by one of his clubs, the Athenaeum. On Wednesday, 25 April, we received a phone call from someone claiming to be Sir Norman on holiday and from a coin-box phone who said that he could remember nothing at all about such a case. RAP also interviewed Mr Palfrey, the Chief Constable of Lancashire at the time. He agreed that such a file should have been sent, but said, ‘I can’t say for sure whether the file was sent or not.’ He told us to approach police HQ, which we have done several times. Their final comment was: ‘We decline to comment.’”
I am sure it is of a speculative nature, Mr McGill, and you will tell me it is, but Sir Norman Skelhorn, in 1979, is unlikely to have had, in the seven years that had passed from 1970, many cases quite like this one across his desk?
A: Who knows, Mr Altman?
Yet another question to add to the already very long list of things to find out for Alexis Jay and the CSA inquiry.
Cyril Smith’s Tory councillor boyfriend Harry Wild ‘groomed’ young prison inmates
Carole Kasir: coroner was blocked from asking ‘incriminating’ questions of ex-lover
Mike Veale: vilification of investigation into Edward Heath risks harm to abuse survivors
CSA inquiry lacks ‘investigative capability’ to probe ‘cover-up’ claims, warns Mike Veale
Mike Veale slams Keith Vaz’s intervention in Operation Conifer’s probe into Edward Heath
Operation Conifer: Mike Veale ‘appalled’ by previous cover-ups over child sexual abuse
Edward Heath: police delayed Conifer report to avoid overshadowing Tory conference
Exaro helped Britain turn corner on dark chapter of cover-up over child sexual abuse
Cyril Smith, Rochdale and a lot of startling disclosures to CSA inquiry ignored by media