Friday, 15 March 2019

David Steel: MP's assault on lads in Rochdale

by Brian Bamford
LORD Steel, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has today been suspended by the party owing to his admission made to a child abuse inquiry about how he handled allegations about the late Rochdale MP Cyril Smith in 1979.

Yesterday the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) heard that no formal inquiry was held by the Lib Dem party into the claims against Smith, which were investigated by the police in  1969 but no prosecution was ever brought.

Addressing the the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse on Wednesday (13 March), Lord Steel said he discussed the allegations with Smith in 1979, after reading a report claiming Smith had abused boys at Rochdale’s Cambridge House Hostel when he was a Labour MP.
Lord Steel said:  'What I said to him was, "What's all this about you in Private Eye?", and he said, rather to my surprise, "It is correct", that he had been in charge of - or had some supervisory role in a children's hostel, that he'd been investigated by the police, and that they had taken no further action, and that was the end of the story.'

[Editor:  Lord Steel is wrong in describing Cambridge House as a 'children's hostel'; it was in fact hostel for teenage lads of working age]

At the time he was abusing his powers over the lads at Cambridge House, Cyril Smith had also been serving as a prominent and influential Labour councillor in Rochdale in the 1960s before later becoming the Liberal and then Liberal Democrat MP for the town between 1972 and 1992.

Labour Councilor assaulted lads at Cambridge House

The claims that Smith had abused his powers by inflicting corporal punishment upon some teenage lads at Cambridge House Hostel in the 1960s innitially appeared in the monthly paper Rochdale's Alternative Paper in May 1979, and these claims were later given national prominence in Private Eye.  In 2012, these allegations  got extensive media coverage after Northern Voices and John Walker former editor of RAP, and Paul Waugh of the Politics Home website, prevailed upon the then Rochdale MP, Simon Danczuk to include Smith's activities at Cambridge House in his planned parliamentary speech on the sexual grooming of young girls.

Lord Steel also described how he recommended Smith for a knighthood in 1988 and said that he did not pass on any allegations about the sexual abuse of children because 'I was not aware of any such allegations other than the matter referred to…which appeared to have been fully investigated'.
And he said it had not occurred to him that children could still have been at risk from Smith.

'He admitted to me that the report was correct in that he had been investigated by the police at the time and no action taken against him.
'I had already told the inquiry in writing that in my opinion he had been abusing his position in Rochdale Council [that is to gain access to council-run children's homes], but that had been properly a matter for the police and the council, and not for me as he was neither an MP nor even a member of the Liberal Party at the time.
'I was in no position to re-open the investigation.'

 Lord Steel also described recommending Smith for a knighthood in 1988 and said he did not pass on any allegations about the sexual abuse of children because 'I was not aware of any such allegations other than the matter referred to…which appeared to have been fully investigated.'

The allegations that appeared in RAP and Private Eye in 1979, to which Lord Steel appears to be refering to, focused on claims of assault against the lads at Cambridge House rarther than the sexual matters that have been more recently developed in relation to Knowl View.

Lord Steel's nomination of Cyril Smith for Knighthood

In a statement released on Thursday afternoon commenting on the media reporting of the Inquiry, Lord Steel said::  'I am reinforced in my view by reading the previous report of the inquiry sent to me today, which says inter alia 'the Crown Prosecution Service found that the advice which had previously been given could not be faulted (given the law and guidance in place at the time)' and that the honours scrutiny committee had seriously considered his nomination for a knighthood and sent a 'warning of risk' letter to Margaret Thatcher as PM, and that 'clearly she took a similar view' as he was granted the knighthood.
'It is unfortunate that some sections of the media have chosen to extract certain passages of evidence and present them without the full context.
'The inquiry has a serious and sensitive job to undertake and spinning evidence to generate sensationalist headlines only serves to distract from panel's search of the truth.'
Lord Steel became the Liberal MP for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles in 1965, and became the party's leader in 1976 after the resignation of Jeremy Thorpe, who later stood trial on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder.

He was elected as an MSP when the Scottish Parliament opened in 1999, and was appointed as the parliament's first presiding officer.  He has been a life peer in the House of Lords since 1997.


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