A former Liberal Party leader and MP has told an inquiry into UK Child Sexual Abuse he “assumed” historic child abuse allegations about one of his parliamentary colleagues were true, but took no action at the time because “it was past history”.
Lord Steel, formerly David Steel, when asked about why he had nominated Cyril Smith for a knighthood said: “If I had any suspicion these activities had been continuing I certainly would not have.”
Police investigated claims Smith had abused teenage boys at a hostel in Rochdale in 1969, but made no arrest. Further allegations about Smith have been made over the years both before and after his death in 2010.
Lord Steel said he discussed the claims with Smith in 1979. This was an important time in British politics, as the old Liberal Party had propped up a minority Labour government for a couple of years previously and a scandal could have easily ended the arrangement.
Asked why his party held no formal inquiry into the claims, he said the “alleged offences related to a period many years before he (Smith) was an MP and member of the party. Therefore, it did not seem to me I had any position in the matter”. Smith had previously been a Labour councillor in Rochdale before switching political parties and later becoming a Liberal MP for the Lancashire town, in the north west of England.
Smith served the Liberal Party as MP for Rochdale between 1972 and 1992 and was a prominent figure, both locally and nationally, during that period and beyond.
In another twist to the Westminster child abuse scandal, it has also been claimed that the former Tory prime minister, Mrs Thatcher, covered for a close party colleague involved in child sexual abuse.