Tim Hicks covers the recent revelations from the Independent Investigation into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) and the possible links of Cyril Smith to paedophilism in Scarborough. Some of the video links contain the accounts of victims of Child Sexual Abuse, so reader discretion is advised.
Lord David Steel and Cyril Smith
by TIM HICKS
I am not interested in politics and I am not a political journalist. As a crime journalist I do not seek to make political points in my work. I do not care which party Lord Steele belongs to.
So in commenting on the decision by David Steel to resign from the Liberal Democrats and withdraw from public life over his part in the Cyril Smith affair, I am merely following my personal views on child abusers, those who fail to report child sexual abuse and those who cover up for them who should be punished for it.
In particular, I believe there should be a statutory offence of failing to report or covering up child abuse and that his should explicitly apply to:
- Police Officers
- Social Workers
- Youth Workers
- Doctors and other health professionals.
Lord Steel and Sir Cyril Smith
The illustration below shows the three major Liberal figures of the 1970’s.
They are, from left to right:
- Jeremy Thorpe, paedophile, fraudster, leader of the Liberal Party until he resigned after being accused of conspiring to have his blackmailing former lover silenced by using a contract killer to murder him.
- Cyril Smith, who was a rapist and child abuser, and the Liberal Party Chief Whip.
- Lord David Steel, who took over from Thorpe as party leader in 1976. He had to deal with the Smith affair, when allegations were made about Smith abusing children in Private Eye in 1979, while Thorpe was on trial at the Old Bailey for attempted murder.
Smith died in 2010. He never faced any consequences for his crimes. Despite overwhelming evidence and multiple complaints no action was ever taken against him. This 2011 Manchester Evening News report describes how the former Liberal Party leader Sir Menzies Campbell MP along with the Mayor of Rochdale unveiled a blue plaque honouring Smith describing how proud he was of his association with Smith. The only punishment meted out to Smith was that his title of Freeman of the Borough of Rochdale was withdrawn from him after his death. Channel 4 report here
Lord Steel’s evidence to the Independent Investigation into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) can be watched here. It contains some startling admissions.
- Concluded in 1979 that the Liberal MP Cyril Smith had abused his position as a governor of Knowl View residential school in Rochdale to commit sexual offences against vulnerable children in a children’s home. But did nothing about it, on the grounds that it had happened before Smith was a member of the Liberal Party or an MP and he had not been prosecuted. Channel 4 report here. Smith went on to abuse more children in the 1980s which would have been prevented if Steel had denounced him.
- Did not immediately repudiate a statement “all he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms” which was wrongly attributed to him in the press in 1979. Consequently this statement gained common credence. Giving the appearance of Lord Steel publicly holding out that Smith’s offending was at the lower end of the scale. In fact Smith was a vicious rapist and serial child abuser. His offending was the worst imaginable and should have been punished with imprisonment. By not immediately correcting this press release, Lord Steel appeared to minimise Smith’s crimes against children, which must have caused huge distress to Smith’s victims.
- Recommended Smith for a knighthood in 1988 despite knowing that Smith was a child abuser, and did not inform the Honours Committee that Smith had admitted beating and sexually abusing boys.
- Publicly described the allegations against Smith as “scurrilous hearsay” and “tittle tattle”, thereby pouring scorn on Smith’s victims and causing them even more anguish.
- Stated that he did not know if Smith had committed offences of child abuse when in fact Smith had admitted to him that he had. Channel 4 report here at 4 minutes.
Lord Steel defends himself against these points here.
Other politicians and Sir Cyril Smith
Unquestionably, Lord Steel was not the only Liberal politician who knew about Cyril Smith.
This Channel 4 Documentary (at 3 mins) identifies how local Liberals and Smith intimidated witnesses into withdrawing their statements, to prevent his prosecution in the late 1960’s.
Nor were Liberals the only politicians that protected Smith.
- Conservative politician Margaret Thatcher was informed of the allegations before Smith received a knighthood in 1988, but also did nothing. Essentially the same allegation made against Lord Steel above.
- The same Channel 4 Documentary (at 3 mins) identifies how Jack McCann the Labour MP for Rochdale influenced the proposed prosecution in the late 1960’s when Smith was a Labour Councillor and Mayor of Rochdale (before he switched to the Liberals) by lobbying the Home Secretary on Smith’s behalf. Needless to say, Smith’s prosecution was dropped.
- Again the Channel 4 Documentary identifies how MI5 protected Smith by seizing the file of evidence on Smith gathered by Lancashire Police CID from Lancashire Police Special Branch. This BBC Radio 4 Today Programme report describes how in the 1980’s, investigative journalist Don Hale started to investigate an organization called the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) which advocated legalizing sex with children. He was using documents leaked to him by the veteran Labour MP Barbara Castle which listed sixteen MPs and peers that were PIE supporters. Following a request by Hale for a press comment form the Home Office and those concerned, a spokesperson for the Liberal Party told Hale that someone would visit him. Smith visited Hale in his office the next day and tried to intimidate him out of publishing. Hale refused to pull the story and predictably the next day Lancashire Police Special Branch raided his newspapers offices, put him up against a wall, seized the files, threatened to arrest him and prosecute him under the Official Secrets Act. MI5 has no powers of arrest so Special Branch acts as its executive arm. So it appears to me obvious that the files were seized by Special Branch on the orders of MI5, with the consent of the Home Secretary. MI5 reports directly to the Home Secretary and Smith was a Liberal MP at a time when the Liberals were in coalition with Labour essentially keeping a Labour government in power. The Lib/Lab Pact lasted between March 1977 and March 1979, when a vote of no confidence brought it down by one vote. A general election in May 1979 swept the coalition away to be replaced by a Conservative government led by Mrs Thatcher. If Smith had been exposed and sacked, a bye election in a Liberal seat could have led to a Conservative being returned in Rochdale and lead to the downfall of the Labour government. Clearly something a Labour Home Secretary would do anything to avoid.
The role of the police in protecting Smith
The police and Director of Public Prosecutions also knew about Smith’s offending. Numerous complaints were made to the police about Smith. Lancashire Police CID performed a very diligent investigation into Smith. A file was sent to the DPP three times, but no action was taken even though it was later admitted there was enough evidence to prosecute him. Channel 4 report here.
The file was then held by Lancashire Police Special Branch in a safe until it was seized by MI5 as described above. Even though as a criminal complaint it was not within the remit of Special Branch.
Smith even featured in a British transport Police (BTP) training video in the early 1980s showing him trying to pick up boys at Euston Station which was used to train BTP officers in how to spot paedophiles at railway stations. Newsnight report here. Again, he was never prosecuted.
This BBC Newsnight investigation narrates how a surveillance operation by the Metropolitan Police in the 1980’s identified Smith, a senior Intelligence Officer and paedophile policemen abusing children in a tenement block in London. Smith was arrested at a sex party involving children and taken to Canon Street Police Station, where the duty sergeant was ordered to release him. The evidence that had been collected was destroyed and the officers -who had after all only done their duty-, were told by a senior police officer not to speak of the operation upon pain of prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.
So far as I am aware the names of the intelligence officer and the policemen have never been released. Was there a paedophile ring in MI5 and/or Special Branch? Is this why Smith was protected?
It should also be said that the media also failed. Smith was also very adept at intimidating journalists out of exposing him. Shamefully, all the mainstream media backed off. Only Private Eye and the Rochdale Alternative Press ran with the story.
Likewise, when faced with a cover up by North Yorkshire Police over the Jimmy Savile and Peter Jaconelli paedophile ring in Scarborough, new media – in this case the NYE team – didn’t back off. It did what it was supposed to do and exposed them. Thereby ensuring that the truth came out, the victims’ story was told, they received more support and that North Yorkshire Police would loathe the NYE ever since. A perfect example of the need for public bodies to be scrutinized and held to account by community journalists writing for new media. Instead of relying on the traditional media.
Cyril Smith and Scarborough
Jimmy Savile was active in Liberal Party politics and his brother was a Liberal Party politician. He was pictured attending Liberal Party conferences in Scarborough.
Cyril Smith knew Jimmy Savile and also visited Scarborough to attend Liberal Party conferences.
I have no evidence that Smith was involved with Savile and Jaconelli’s paedophile ring in Scarborough, but it must be a concern.
The need to be held to account – public figures
Some people argue that Lord Steel should not be punished for his role in the Smith affair because he had no duty to speak out.
I respectfully disagree.
Public figures have no legal duty to report child abuse. However they have a moral duty to set an example and to act responsibly. Steel is a classic example of a public figure who failed in this regard.
Steel was a very senior politician at one time tipped to be a future Prime Minister. He was a family man who espoused Liberal values and was publicly committed to family life. In my view, he had a moral duty to speak out.
Had he denounced Smith, he would not have gone on to abuse other victims in the 1980s. However, coming at the same time as the Jeremy Thorpe scandal, it could have wiped the Liberals out electorally. Steel’s failure to act ensured there were no electoral consequences for the Liberal Party, Smith retained his credibility, remained an MP, could continue to use his position to gain access to children and abuse them, and that he escaped justice.
The need to be held to account – Child protection professionals
Unlike Lord Steele and the other public figures mentioned above, the police, social workers, teachers and medical professionals have a legal duty to speak out and take action against child abusers.
In the Rochdale grooming scandal officers from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and social workers ignored grooming gangs that were gang raping children and force feeding them with drugs and alcohol. Essentially abandoning them to their fate. This resulted in thousands of lives being ruined and the death of Victoria Agoglia aged fifteen in 2003. BBC Newsnight report on Victoria here.
This scandal was only exposed because of the actions of a very brave and principled GMP Detective Constable (DC) Margaret (Maggie) Oliver (Wikipedia biography here) and, sexual health worker Sara Rowbotham (Wikipedia biography here), who consistently tried to get the authorities to take action over grooming gangs.
Victoria Agoglia [left] and Detective Constable Maggie Oliver (Ret’d) [right]
Following an independent report ordered by the Mayor of Manchester which found catastrophic failings by police and social workers, the GMP have accepted the findings of the report and referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). An investigation is now ongoing. Very detailed Daily Mail article here. Apology by the current Chief Constable of GMP for his force’s failure to investigate sexual offences against children here.
A personal view
These scandals keep happening, despite all the worthless assurances by the police that things have changed and lessons have been learned.
In this LBC Radio interview Detective Constable Maggie Oliver asserts that nothing has changed, that abuse and cover-up is still going on, and that the senior officers involved in the Rochdale grooming scandal should be charged with misconduct in public office. She asserts that nothing will change until this happens and the police will continue to ignore child sexual abuse. Essentially, the position I have held for some time.
Such is the strength of public opinion and revulsion about child abusers, following child abuse scandal after scandal, high profile people are now being held to account for past failings:
- As a result of the Bishop Peter Ball scandal, the Archbishop of Canterbury Lord George Carey was ordered to resign as a Bishop effectively excluding him from the clergy. He was recently castigated by Bishop Rachel Treweek Bishop of Gloucester for participating in a cover up over Ball’s offending.
- His Royal Highness Prince Andrew has been forced to step back from all royal duties, as a result of allegations arising from the Jeffrey Eppstein scandal.
I believe that Lord Steel resigned from the LibDems and withdrew from public life because he knew that if he did not, his party would expel him. In short, he jumped before he was pushed. This is the first time a major political figure has been punished for covering up child sex abuse. It is a constructive and welcome step. It is to be hoped that other politicians will also pay the price for putting party above the protection of children in due course.
However, we should not forget that Lord Steel is the only figure who has been punished over the failure to arrest and charge Smith. None of the police, DPP lawyers, MI5 officers or politicians that also protected Smith have suffered any censure.
In Scarborough, some local politicians must have known about Conservative Councillor and Mayor Peter Jaconelli. In some ways, his offending was even worse than Smith’s. Yet none have been censured or punished in any way for protecting him by keeping quiet. In particular, the Conservative Party has never apologized for his offending or the way he was protected. And still will not. Please see my e mail below to Councillor Derek Bastiman, then leader of Scarborough Conservatives:
Dear Councillor Bastiman,
I write to you in your capacity as leader of the Conservative Group on Scarborough Borough Council.
I will be writing an article on Peter Jaconelli and would ask for a media statement from Scarborough & Whitby Conservatives on his offending. Please can you also confirm if Scarborough & Whitby Conservatives or Conservative Party Central Office would like to apologise for his offending and the way he was protected.
I look forward to hearing from you in due course.
Needless to say, nothing was received back. The present Labour leader of the Council, Councillor Steve Siddons, has also ignored requests for an apology to victims. It appears that, unlike the Lib Dems, neither of the other main parties is prepared to face up to child sexual abuse within its own ranks, or to take a moral stand against it.
Similarly, MI5, the Metropolitan Police and Lancashire Constabulary were asked for a comment on the allegation that officers from MI5, the Metropolitan Police Special Branch and Lancashire Constabulary protected Smith and if there were any plans to prosecute the officers concerned. I received no response from the Met or Lancashire Constabulary.
However, to its credit, a Government spokesperson said:
“These allegations were examined by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse as part of its investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse and exploitation in children’s homes in Rochdale. The Inquiry published its report in April 2018 and found no evidence of a cover-up involving MI5.”
MI5’s evidence to the IICSA is here. Interestingly, prior to 2014, it had no policy on passing information to the police to protect children. This Telegraph article alleges that MI5 submitted evidence to the IICSA that it knew the Director of Public Prosecutions had covered up a sex abuse inquiry into Cyril Smith, but did nothing to expose this. The reason? It was not its job to expose paedophiles.
I will leave the readers to draw their own conclusions on whether or not MI5 protected Smith and participated in a cover up.
There is now an IOPC enquiry into the Rochdale Grooming scandal and the way that GMP and Manchester City Council ignored it. It is my hope that it results in criminal charges of misconduct in public office being brought against the persons responsible for abandoning those children. This will inevitably include those police officers and social workers that allowed the abuse to go unchecked.
If people with a duty to protect children know they will be held accountable if they sweep child abuse under the carpet, it will deter them from turning a blind eye in the future. As they did so many times in the past.
The abuse perpetrated by Peter Jaconelli and Jimmy Savile was smaller in scale than the Rochdale scandal, but it was in some ways worse because of its longevity and openness. Jaconelli and Savile openly groomed children to be abused and it went on for years. North Yorkshire Police and its predecessor forces knew all about it. Even though numerous complaints were made to the police by parents, no action was taken; the police protected both Savile and Jaconelli.
When the Jimmy Savile scandal broke, North Yorkshire Police simply issued a report to the IOPC’s predecessor the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) asserting that there was no evidence of any offending by Savile or Jaconelli, without interviewing any of the witnesses. It was accepted without question by the IPCC, even though it was blatantly without any investigative substance. As with the Cyril Smith scandal, only the tenacious coverage of the scandal by community journalists from alternative/new media led to the unravelling of the scandal.
To this day, no effective action has been taken against any police officer from North Yorkshire, for what is probably the worst case of corruption in the history of policing in North Yorkshire. Which resulted in many children having their lives ruined.
Hopefully, as a result of public opinion and media coverage it will be possible to finally bring them to book.
Returning to Lord Steel, I thought his conduct was a disgrace and I am glad he has suffered some consequences for it. I can only hope that this example of the chickens coming home to roost will deter other public figures and officials from keeping silent.
NYE appeal for assistance
Do you remember Cyril Smith in Scarborough?
If so, please contact the NYE using the firstname.lastname@example.org contact address, with the words ‘CYRIL SMITH’ in the subject line. All enquiries will be treated in complete confidence.