Monday, 19 May 2014

Telegraph review of 'Smile for the Camera':

 The Double Life of Cyril Smith' by
Simon Danczuk & Matthew Baker.
Cyril Smith's unhealthy interest in boys was common knowledge.  So why was nothing done?
Review by By
11:45AM BST 01 May 2014

I have a photograph of the Liberal MP Cyril Smith and me taken at Parliament by my grandmother.  It is 1976 and I am 10 years old.  The photograph looks almost sinister since the stories of Smith's dark secrets have reemerged, recounted with venom by Rochdale's current MP Simon Danczuk and Matthew Baker. 

Smith was elected as a Labour councillor in 1952  at the age of 24.  My grandmother immediately took against him.  She was the owner of Carlton dance hall, and when she entertained the council she noticed Smith's greedy attack on her buffet.  In time Smith turned out to be a formidable operator and my grandmother was won over.  He always had his way with older women.  He lived with his mother in one of Rochdale's most deprived areas. 

As the chairman of the education committee, Smith pushed through Harold Wilson's reforms closing down grammar schools and creating dozens of new middle and upper schools.  One was Knowl View, a residential institution for children aged eight to sixteen, which is now being investigated.  A 1988 report from the children were working as rent boys in Rochdale and Manchester.  In 1990, a violent rapist gained access to the school over two successive nights. 

The Labour politician and former Co-op chairman was on the education and social services committees during these years and the allegation he used rent boys has sharpened the focus of the story.  Though he was not mentioned in the 1988 report, Smith was identified as an abuser by Dispaches in 2013.   A victim recounted he had 'blanked out for so long'.    When he was eight years old, he was subjected to oral rape by someone known as 'the fat man'.    He named him as Smith.

Read The North (& almost everything in it): Paul Morley's love letter to Rochdale and beyond.

 Investigating historical abuse is difficult.  Reporters must be vigilant about leading witnesses into mistaken identifications.  Children in residential care are at risk of exploitation.  When we hear their stories, decades after the events, we wonder why nothing was done to stop it.  We tell ourselves that it was a more conservative age when secrets could be more easily suppressed; but also that the times were more permissive and abuse was becoming normalised.  The only way to hold these contradictory thoughts together is to create conspiracy theories in which in which influential men share abuse, yet build walls of secrecy.

 Danczuk and Baker have created a world of grizzle policemen in bars, paraphrasing unrecorded interviews, while shadowy paedophile networks enjoy the protection of the security services.  They provide no footnotes, garbled chronology and effectively draw on only three sources:  Smith's autobiography; the Dispatches program; and a 1979 story published in the Rochdale Alternative Paper  that recounted an abandoned police investigation into a charity run home for adolescent boys set up by Smith and closed in 1965.  RAP detailed Smith penchant for voyeurism, groping and spanking delivered to teenage boys under the camouflage of corporal punishment.

If it emerges that Smith, who died in 2010, raped young boys at Knowl View, the failure to act earlier will seem unforgivable.  But the guilt will be shared.  Everyone in Rochdale read the RAP story.  I pored over it as 13-year-old.  There was never any doubt over Smith's guilt.  So why did no one do anything?

The facts seem to be that in 1969, Jack McCann Rochdale's :Labour MP, put pressure on the police to either charge Smith or close the case.  McCann heard Smith's side of the story at the home of local headmaster Jack Kershaw.  Kershaw taught my father, who still bears a grudge against him for delivering a severe caning when he was seven years old.  In a world that encouraged violence on small children, spanking older boys seemed trivial.  The boys accounts in RAP make it clear that Smith derived a thrill from the punishment, but it was not obvious that he understood his sexual desires.  If he did not who were we to play amateur psychologist? 

What has changed today, is that we are less shy about confronting sexual abuse.  A factor in our indulgence is that we felt we knew Smith, and he was not a monster.  The editors of RAP shared this view, running a comic strip called 'Fat Man', which depicted Smith as cuddly caped super hero.  Investigations into Knowl View by the police and council have been extended to discover Smith's role, if any, in the abuse.  We will soon know if Rochdale's sympathy for Smith was a terrible mistake.

Editorial Footnote:
'The Telegraph, unlike the badly written Danczuk book has got the name of the original published source of the stories - RAP - right. As they say, the magazine was called Rochdale's Alternative Paper. A fact picked up by others who acknowledged the source of the story, including: The Times, World at One, Despatches, Politics Home, Private Eye, Manchester Evening News and Rochdale Observer.
'The Telegraph's Reviewer, like (Paul Waugh of Politics Home) were Rochdale youngsters in 1979, unlike Danczuk and Baker, and so acknowledge the importance of the original, and ignored, "outing" of Smith the paedophile.  The shallow Danczuk book consistently refers to it as Rochdale's Alternative Press.'                                            

Get NORTHERN VOICES 14, which is still on sale at our usual outlets with coverage of our role in the outing of Cyril Smith. John Walker, a former editor of RAP (the Rochdale Alternative Paper), in a leading feature documents the intimate story of Cyril Smith which was used as the basis of the Channel 4 documentary Dispatches last September on the eve of the Lib-Dem annual conference. Since he left RAP Mr. Walker has occasionally contributed to Private Eye, here he is flattering in his praise of Northern Voices, and he writes of us 'being part of that long tradition of a radical press, that has never been afraid to call into question abuses of the powerful.' 


The printed version of NORTHERN VOICES 14, with all sorts of stuff others won't touch may be obtained as follows:
Postal subscription: £5 for the next two issues (post included)
Cheques payable to 'Northern Voices' at
c/o 52, Todmorden Road,
Burnley, Lancashire BB10 4AH.
Tel.: 0161 793 5122.

1 comment:

bammy said...

The Daily Telegraph reviewer, Nicholas Blincoe writes:
'If it emerges that Smith, who died in 2010, raped young boys at Knowl View, the failure to act earlier will seem unforgivable.'

Judging from their book Mr Danczuk & Mr Baker have bravely placed their bets that Cyril Smith is guilty. We shall have to wait and see if they have backed a winner.