Monday, 21 March 2016

A long-running Critque of 'Smile for the Camera'

by Les May 
I have been critical of the book 'Smile for the Camera' by Simon Danczuk and Matthew Baker since it was published in April 2014 which is why two weeks Iater, on 28 April 2014, I posted a critical review on Amazon under the pseudonym Rufus with the title 'A lightweight potboiler'.  
But I have never doubted that Cyril Smith did indecently assault a number of young men at Cambridge House hostel in the early to mid 1960s.  An account of this was placed in the public domain in a detailed article written by the co-editors David Bartlett and John Walker in the May 1979 issue of Rochdale Alternative Paper (RAP).  I read this at the time and since I began to research the book John Walker has sent me copies of the affidavits by some of these young men and I have been sent a statement by a man who was subjected to a fake medical by Smith, but not interviewed by RAP or by the police when Smith was investigated in 1969/70.  

Although the book purports to give a verbatim account of what Smith did to one young man who had taken a day off work in a chapter headed 'Silent Voices #1' there are some strange passages in this section.  For example on page 87 we read: 
'It was said that Leonardo da Vinci would gaze at the stains on walls and imagine vivid battles and landscapes. That day cheap exuberant motifs gave way to a swarm of angry locusts bringing a load of plague and pestilence.'   

Now this is supposed to be the recollections of a man who had his backside whacked by Smith for taking a day off work fifty years earlier. But it gets even stranger.   

At one point we read: 
'Above his heavy breathing I could smell his rancid body odour. It was like cabbage boiled in vinegar. As his heavy breathing slowed, a continuous low sound rose in his chest like a purr of contentment. He was humming quietly to himself. Then he reached for a wet sponge by the sink and began to stroke my bottom, rough hands sliding over a minefield of welts. I gritted my teeth as the burning, stinging sensation intensified. Ever once in a while he'd apply the sponge generously, letting cold water trickle down the back of my legs.'   

As can be seen from the accounts in the appendix (which were taken in their entirety from RAP's 1979 article) Smith's punishment of a resident for taking a day off work and Smith's use of a sponge after punishing a resident for stealing money refer to two different individuals.  I may be drawing the wrong conclusion here, but to my mind this throws considerable doubt upon what is in the book being an entirely accurate record of any interview conducted by the authors.  It may just be coincidence that the account in the book and the two accounts which appeared in RAP are so similar.  But it would be quite remarkable if other similarities turn up.   

I have repeatedly asked Mr Danczuk to tell me how many men he interviewed who claim to have been assaulted by Smith after the closure of Cambridge House.  Re-reading what I have written above I'm beginning to wonder if I should not also have pressed him to tell me how many men he interviewed who claim to have been assaulted at Cambridge House.   

So if the evidence that Smith did indecently assault young men at Cambridge House is so strong, why was he never prosecuted?

We now know Lancashire Police investigated Smith's activities at Cambridge House in 1969 and that in March 1970 an 80 page file of evidence was submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) containing complaints from eight young men about indecent assaults by him. The Greater Manchester Police update of this information does not detail any other group of complainants. But similar stories about 'police files' appear in the book on pages 45, 47 and 51, leaving the impression that they refer to separate complaints, which they don't.   

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was established following the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, and started operating from 1 October 1986.  Prior to this prosecutions were handled by the police.  Difficult decisions/ cases were referred to DPP’s Office

The fact that the police did not immediately prosecute Smith suggests that they thought it a 'difficult' case which needed to be submitted to the DPP.  This was done on 8 March and returned on 19 March 1970.  According to the 1979 RAP article it was 'marked for no further action on the basis of insufficient evidence'.  However, a statement from the CPS dated 27 November 2012 says that a one page letter was sent to the Chief Constable of Lancashire Constabulary.   

The full letter read:   
'I have considered your file and I observe that eight young men, whose ages range from nineteen to twenty-four years, allege that between 1961 and 1966 Smith subjected them to various forms of indecency and I also observe that Smith denies their allegations. Any charges of indecent assault founded on these allegations, as well as being somewhat stale, would be, in my view, completely without corroboration. Further, the characters of some of these young men would be likely to render their evidence suspect.  
'In the circumstances, I do not consider that if proceedings for indecent assault were to be taken against Smith, there would be a reasonable prospect of a conviction. I do not, therefore, advise his prosecution.'   

If one is so minded it is possible to construct any number of 'conspiracy theories' around the fact that Smith was not prosecuted, including the idea that he was being protected by a gang of powerful paedophiles.  But the 'Law and Lawyers' website published a clarification on 30 November 2012, i.e. about two weeks after Simon Danczuk had 'rediscovered' the 1970 allegations against Smith and some eighteen months before 'Smile for the Camera' was published. 

This reads as follows:  
'The reasons given by Skelhorn for advising against prosecution are of some legal interest.  The reasons were in a letter from Skelhorn to the Chief Constable of Lancashire (19th March 1970).  Skelhorn stated that the allegations were “without corroboration".'  “Corroboration" was, at the time, a very significant element in the law of evidence applicable to criminal cases.  A trial judge was required to warn juries of convicting on the uncorroborated evidence of a complainant in sexual cases.   The only exception to this was a sexual case where the identity of the alleged assailant was in issue but not the commission of the offence itself - R v Chance [1988] 3 All ER 225, CA. 
What was referred to as a FULL warning had to be given and failure to do so could render a conviction unsafe.  The jury had to be told:
1. That it was dangerous to convict on the uncorroborated evidence of the witness but that if they (the jury) were satisfied of the truth of such evidence they might nevertheless convict;
2. The technical meaning of corroboration had to be explained;
3.  The jury had to be told which evidence was (and which was not) capable of amounting in law to corroboration;
4.  It also had to be explained to the jury that, as the tribunal of fact, they had to decide whether the available evidence did in fact constitute corroboration.   
'Sir Norman Skelhorn's opinion would, of course, have been based on the law as it stood in 1970 and the need for formal corroboration of the complainant's evidence amounted to a formidable hurdle in many cases of this type.'   

My understanding is that the fact that there were multiple complainants did not in itself amount to 'corroboration'.  From a lay perspective I find this contrary to common sense.  
Had Smith been taken before the courts in the 1990s when the complaints were looked at on two further occasions he would have had to be tried under the law which existed at the time the offences were committed and the need for 'corroboration' would still have amounted to what 'Law and Lawyers website' calls 'a formidable hurdle'.  The 1979 RAP article might also have been considered to be prejudicial to a fair trial. 
The requirement for an obligatory warning to be given was removed in 1994 by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.  Hence if Smith had committed the offences after that date, not fifty years ago, he would certainly have been prosecuted.  

Danczuk and Baker have eight entries in the index under the title 'Smith helped by establishment cover up' spread over some twenty pages of the book.  Careful reading of the book shows that this narrative is just something conjured up out of the authors' imagination, and sustained by seeking and then interpreting evidence to support this claim.  The account on pages 221-222 (of Smile for the Camera) of the police failing to detain him in Northamptonshire has already been discredited by the police themselves, and the claims about Elm Street Guest House are beginning to look very doubtful.   

Just as with the repetition of the 'police files' on Smith there is repetition of how these were taken by the security services.  On page 84 (Smile for the Camera) we read:  
'Police files documenting the many accusations of child abuse committed by Cyril were suddenly disappearing.  Tony Robinson, a Special Branch officer with Lancashire Police in the 1970s, confirmed that all files on Cyril were removed by MI5 officers from the safe at their police headquarters in Preston and taken to London.  It wasn't just the lid of the box which had been slammed shut on Cyril's dark secrets.  The box itself had no been shipped away to permanent obscurity.'  

Note here how Danczuk and Baker refer to 'files documenting the many accusations', when the Greater Manchester Police update does not mention any other group of complainants.  Clearly there was a single substantial file containing the allegations previously sent to the DPP.  
This story is repeated on page 143 as:   
'When Tony Robinson, a Special Branch officer with Lancashire Police in the 1970s, revealed in 2012 how police files on Cyril had been requested by MI5, he explained that he had known immediately why they'd wanted them.  MI5 had a unit that monitored MPs and reported to the Cabinet Office.  At the time of the Lib-Lab Pact Liberal MPs would have been checked out to determine whether they were suitable for high office.  “The fact that the security service wanted the file brought to my notice obviously indicated that he was about to be vetted,” said Robinson.'
Precisely!   So what's the mystery?  Why is this evidence of an 'establishment cover up'?  Removing the files to London and out of reach of seemingly garrulous policemen is a reasonable way of protecting the security of the state by ensuring that Smith could not be blackmailed by agents of a foreign power. 
My reference to 'blackmail by a foreign power' may seem a bit far fetched, but the 'Independent on Sunday' (IoS) of 22 March 2015 carried a story of an attempt by Boss, the apartheid era South African security service, to blackmail Smith about sexual abuse in the 1970s.  A contemporaneous article in the Sunday Telegraph of 14 March 1976 refers to a 'dossier' prepared by MI5 claiming that South African business interests had mounted an operation to discredit the Liberal Party of which Smith was then the party Whip.  This included information about false allegations against Smith being circulated anonymously in Rochdale and London. 

More recent claims that there is 'independent evidence' that MI5 were 'suppressing' information about Smith at that time turn out to be just a recycling of the claims by Danczuk and Baker.  The Lib-Lab pact did not come into being until March 1977, a year after the Sunday Telegraph article.  If Robinson's inference is correct MI5 did not hold the Lancashire Police file on Smith in 1976. 
For those who want to believe in 'establishment cover ups' no amount of contrary explanation will ever suffice. But we are entitled to ask about the evidence they present in support of their case.   The 'evidence' presented in 'Smile for the Camera' is of the flimsiest kind, being largely assertions by the authors, or second and third hand gossip, resulting in a book which is little more robust than a wall of tissue paper, the only solid foundation being the work of David Bartlett and John Walker in 1979 with respect to Smith's activities at Cambridge House.  

Truly 'a lightweight potboiler'! 

Appendix (from RAP, May 1979) : 
'RAP has traced 10 ex-residents and one who, though never having been at Cambridge House, made a statement to the police. 
Of the 10, three have nothing but praise for Cyril Smith.  The other 7 have all made allegations which fall into one or both categories:  
'BEATINGS They have described to us Smith’s role in providing discipline.  Two extracts from sworn statements given to us illustrate the procedure:   
'From a man now married with 4 children and living in Rochdale, describes how, while at the hostel and aged about 16 he took a day off work from the job Smith had arranged for him. His absence from the job was reported to the hostel and he was interviewed by Smith:  
'He gave me the choice between accepting his punishment and leaving the hostel. I said I would accept his punishment...He took me into the Quiet Room. He told me to take my trousers and pants down and bend over his knee. When I had done that he hit me four or five times with his bare hands on my bare buttocks.' 
(2) From a man, single, living and working in Rochdale, then aged about 15, describes how after he had been reported for a minor offence: 
'Cyril Smith found out that I had taken some money. He asked me if I would accept his punishment or be dealt with by the authorities. I said I would accept his punishment. He told me to take my trousers and pants down and bend over his knee. He trapped my hands between his legs. He hit me many times with his bare hand and I pleaded with him to stop because he was hurting me. This took place at the hostel. Afterwards he came to my bedroom and wiped my buttocks with a wet sponge.'

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