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Cyril Smith cover-up claims probed

Messenger Newspapers: The late Sir Cyril Smith The late Sir Cyril Smith

Police and council chiefs have said they will investigate claims of a cover-up of widespread sexual abuse said to involve the late politician Sir Cyril Smith.

The allegations were made in a recently published book by Rochdale's Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who claimed the town's former Liberal Democrat MP raped a number of young boys at a residential school.

Police, spies and politicians helped to hide the historical child abuse carried out by Smith, according to Mr Danczuk's book Smile For The Camera: The Double Life Of Cyril Smith.

The 29-stone politician was left free to abuse children as young as eight despite 144 complaints by victims, he and co-author Matthew Baker said.

Rochdale Council today appointed a deputy high court judge to independently look into claims that sexual or physical abuse of children took place at premises owned, managed, operated or funded by the council from 1961 to 1995.

It will also look into the activities of council officers or employees, councillors and council-appointed school governors who were involved with those premises.

During the 1960s, Sir Cyril - when he was a local councillor in the town - acted as a governor for several schools and was active on many council committees involving youth activities.

Neil Garnham QC has been tasked by the council to identify whether there was a pattern to such abuse, whether it was "tolerated, facilitated or promoted by the council or its officers and staff", and whether there was a culture at the council which "inhibited the proper investigation, exposure and prevention of such abuse".

Any evidence of criminal activity uncovered will be passed to Greater Manchester Police (GMP) which is currently investigating historical allegations of abuse at Knowl View School - where Smith was said to have held a set of keys to the establishment where he served as a governor and later as chairman of governors.

It is understood a total of nine people have so far come forward to the police to say they were abused by adults at Knowl View from the 1970s onwards.

The complaints related to at least 11 potential suspects.

The fresh investigation into Knowl View - which closed in the mid-1990s - began at the end of 2012 but as of yet no arrests have been made.

It followed GMP's announcement that Sir Cyril abused young boys in the 1960s in his role as secretary of the Rochdale Hostel for Boys Association. He had been accused of abusing eight youngsters at Cambridge Hostel in the town by spanking and touching them.

Three separate files regarding Sir Cyril's actions at Cambridge House were passed to the director of public prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service, although on each occasion no prosecution was pursued.

Speaking at a press conference at Rochdale Town Hall, GMP chief constable Sir Peter Fahy said: "There are a significant number of people we are trying to trace, obviously made more difficult by the passage of time.

"I would just like to point out that investigations into abuse are extremely difficult. They do take a long time because of, often, the damaged effects on the particular victims and the need for corroboration.

"But we are determined to do a very thorough investigation and obviously when we are carrying out investigations into abuse at institutions, clearly we look at the liability of those who may have been running those institutions."

Referring to the cover-up allegations, he said: "Given the degree of public speculation around this particular book and the allegations made in it, we think it would clearly be strange if we did not look at that and carry out a review as to whether that justified a wider criminal investigation."

Sir Cyril was not mentioned in name at the press conference but both Sir Peter and council leader Councillor Colin Lambert referred to Mr Danczuk's book as reasons to why they were widening their investigations.

In the book, serialised in the Daily Mail, a former social worker repeats his claims that in 1994 he discovered a report made three years earlier by a HIV prevention officer who warned the council that boys aged eight to 16 at Knowl View were at risk of Aids.

Martin Digan told how the report revealed that men travelled from as far away as Sheffield to visit the home and sexually abuse young boys.

In 2000, GMP carried out a "comprehensive investigation" into abuse claims at the school which led to the conviction of one man for indecent assault and gross indecency. It was ruled there was insufficient evidence to charge any other individuals and no specific allegations were made at the time against Sir Cyril.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme earlier, Mr Danczuk said: "We still haven't seen any arrests, we don't appear to be seeing any progress and yet we have this peculiar press conference being called this morning which doesn't really move us any further forward in terms of taking potential paedophiles off the street.

"The police would be the first to argue that they have limited resources in terms of prioritising what action they need to take. Surely they should concentrate on arresting the abusers in this case rather than uncovering what was the cover-up.

"I agree that it is important to get to the bottom of that but I don't think the police are getting their priorities right."

Solicitor Alan Collins from law firm Slater & Gordon, who is representing six complainants against Smith, said: "Victims are not being consulted, despite constantly seeing their allegations repeated in the media.

"GMP has already said that if the same evidence was presented today there would have been a very realistic prospect that Smith would have been prosecuted and brought to trial, but no one in authority has taken full responsibility for the fact that the victims were let down and insulted."

He added: "What the victims want is recognition, explanation and some compensation for their ordeal, although no amount of money could compensate them for what they had to endure. If an inquiry is needed my clients welcome it but it has to be open and transparent."

Sir Cyril was elected a Liberal MP in 1972 and became a Liberal Democrat on the formation of the new party before leaving Parliament in 1992. He was knighted in 1988.

He died in 2010.

Mr Danczuk told ITV Granada Reports: "I think what we do need now is a much larger public inquiry that looks at what Smith was involved in. Not just Rochdale but the cover-up in London and elsewhere.

"Look at what happened to Smith, what he was involved in. Look at who he was in networks with in terms of this type of abuse.

"And also take evidence from elsewhere and look at the wider cover-up.

"I think we are moving towards the need for that rather than a small internal inquiry led by Rochdale Council."

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