Thursday, March 14, 2019

David Steel tells inquiry that Cyril Smith admitted the abuse allegations against him were true

It was an extraordinary day at the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse.

As the Guardian tells it:
Lord Steel, the Liberal Democrat peer, has admitted believing in 1979 that child abuse allegations against Sir Cyril Smith were true, but did nothing to assess whether he was a continuing risk to children. 
The former Liberal party leader said the late MP for Rochdale confirmed in a conversation that reports of child sexual abuse in the media were accurate. 
But rather than suspend and investigate the MP, Steel allowed him to continue in office. Smith stepped down as an MP in 1992 and died in 2010.
You can download a pdf of the day's evidence from the inquiry website, and I would recommend anyone interested in the last years of the Liberal Party to do so.

The three people giving evidence were Sal Brinton, Des Wilson and David Steel.

Much of Sal's evidence involves her being questioned about a written submission to the inquiry by Michael Steed, which details the organisation and culture of the party in the 1960s.

Des Wilson came and went from the party during the 1970s and 1980s, but he was the darling of the activists when he was around.

His evidence lays bare the divide between party's the MPs and activists in that era. The activists were more often in the right, but it is MPs' memoirs that are consulted by the historians.

Perhaps I should start reprinting extracts from Liberator from the past 40 years to show what really went on?

Wilson is also very convincing when he talks about Smith's bullying character.

Finally, there is David Steel and his startling admission.

I blogged about the allegations against Cyril Smith in 2012:
I first heard of the allegations against Cyril Smith when I read them in Private Eye in 1979. The Eye had picked them up from the Rochdale Alternative Press (RAP - those were the days when any self-respecting town had an 'alternative' newspaper). Northern Voices reprinted the original RAP story in 2010. 
My instinct has always been to assume that they were true, if only because I could not see why anyone would trouble to invent anything so tawdry - he "'told me to take my trousers down and hit me four or five times on my bare buttocks" - about someone who was then only a local politician.
My memory of 1979 is that the story about Smith was widely known in the party, which has always made me a little sceptical of Liberals of the era who claim not to have heard it.

You can read more about my reasons for this view in a 2015 post on this blog.

Anyway, you can read the Private Eye story from that year above and download a pdf of the full RAP story on which it was based.

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