Police find ‘overwhelming evidence’ former Rochdale MP attacked vulnerable boys and CPS criticises 1970s decision not to prosecute
Police have acknowledged that the late MP Sir Cyril Smith repeatedly physically and sexually abused children at a Rochdale care home but escaped answering the allegations after prosecutors declined to put him on trial.
Smith, the Liberal and subsequently Liberal Democrat MP for the town, who died in 2010, was the subject of police investigations dating back to the 1960s.
In a statement, Greater Manchester Police said there was “overwhelming evidence” that he attacked boys, six at the Cambridge House children’s home in Rochdale, and two others.
Smith was secretary of the Rochdale Hostel for Boys Association, where he was accused of abusing vulnerable youngsters by spanking and touching them.
The announcement is the first official recognition that Smith went to his grave without answering for his alleged crimes.
In another statement, the Crown Prosecution Service said a decision not to prosecute made in 1970 by the then director of public prosecutions would not have been made today. The CPS said attitudes and the law had changed, but added that one factor that allowed Smith to escape trial was an assessment by the DPP in 1970 that “the characters of some of these young men would be likely to render their evidence suspect”.
The first investigation into Smith uncovered eight youths who alleged that Smith attacked them when they were teenagers, between 1961 and 1966. The descriptions of the attacks were similar and according to the CPS “were allegedly conducted on the pretexts of either a medical examination or punishment for misbehaviour”.
Greater Manchester police said: “The force is now publicly acknowledging that young boys were victims of physical and sexual abuse committed by Smith.”
The statements from police and the prosectors come ahead of new media revelations about Smith and the failure to prosecute him which were expected to surface on Wednesday.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood said: “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.
“Clearly that is a bold statement to make but it is absolutely important for those victims who were abused by Smith that we publicly acknowledge the suffering they endured. Although Smith cannot be charged or convicted posthumously, from the overwhelming evidence we have it is right and proper that we should publicly recognise that young boys were sexually and physically abused.”
Police would pursue allegations that Smith was helped to commit his attack by other people who are still alive, but as yet such claims have not surfaced.
In 1998 and 1999, Greater Manchester Police passed two separate files to the CPS about Smith’s activities at Cambridge House, but on both occasions no further action was recommended.
Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, who first raised allegations against Smith on the floor of the House of Commons, said the CPS had serious questions to answer over its failure to act in the past.
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: “These allegations are abhorrent and should be taken very seriously.
“Clearly the party does not endorse any person proved to have been in incidents such as these. All allegations should have been investigated thoroughly with the authorities taking whatever action necessary.
“Any new allegations should be made to the police. The Liberal Democrats are not aware of any allegations being made to the party, and have never been involved in any investigations.
“The alleged incidents and the reported police investigations took place outside of the time Cyril Smith was a Liberal MP.”
Vikram Dodd and Rajeev Syal
The Guardian, Tuesday 27 November 2012 20.16 GMT
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