Prosecutors missed THREE opportunities to bring Cyril Smith to justice over child abuse claims as police concede MP should have been charged
Sir Cyril allegedly sexually and physically abused teenage boys under the guise of medical examinations or punishment for misbehaviourPolice missed three opportunities to charge former Liberal MP, and say he would be prosecuted if accused todayDirector of Public Prosecutions at the time said those who accused Smith were of 'suspect character'
Smith was secretary of boys' hostel where he was accused of abusing vulnerable youngsters by spanking and touching them from the 1970s
10:44 GMT, 28 November 2012
Former Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith sexually and physically abused young boys in the 1960s, police admitted today
Three opportunities to charge Sir Cyril Smith over allegations of physical and sexual abuse of boys were missed by prosecutors, it emerged today.
The Director of Public Prosecutions at the time, Sir Norman Skelhorn, dismissed those who accused the former Liberal MP as being of 'suspect character' when he looked at the allegations in 1970.
After 40 years, officers and lawyers have now agreed that Sir Cyril Smith attacked teenage boys and should have been prosecuted.
Last night a GMP spokesman said: 'The Force is now publicly acknowledging that young boys were victims of physical and sexual abuse committed by Smith.
'Three separate files regarding Sir Cyril Smith's actions were passed to first the director of public prosecutions (DPP) and the Crown Prosecution Service although on each occasion no prosecution was pursued.'
Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor confirmed that a file was handed to Sir Norman in 1970, which contained allegations made by eight men that they had been subjected to indecent assaults by Smith as teenagers.
But the then DPP wrote back to the Lancashire Constabulary, who had passed on the file, advising against a prosecution.
'Any charges of indecent assault founded on these allegations, as well as being somewhat stale, would be, in my view, completely without corroboration,' Sir Norman wrote.
'Further, the characters of some of these young men would be likely to render their evidence suspect.'
The revelation comes just days after a Daily Mail investigation into claims the politician inflicted humiliating punishments on teenage boys at a hostel in the 1960s.
His victims detailed how he would spank their naked bottoms and order them to strip for ‘degrading’ and unnecessary medicals.
Both Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said if Smith, right, had been accused today he would be charged and prosecuted
The claims were later investigated by
police and files passed to lawyers but no case was brought against the
former MP, who died two years ago aged 82.
ten days after the Daily Mail asked a series of questions about the
handling of the allegations by the then Director of Public Prosecutions,
the Crown Prosecution Service has finally admitted the high-profile
politician should have been prosecuted.
CPS said Smith – MP for Rochdale from 1972 to 1992, first as a Liberal,
later as a Liberal Democrat – only avoided that prosecution because sex
abuse cases were dealt with differently 40 years ago.
admission will bring some relief to many of his abuse victims who made
repeated allegations. Last night Barry Fitton, one of Smith‘s victims,
said: ‘He’s got to be stripped of his knighthood and his MBE. And I want
an apology from all those who said I was lying.’
Smith, pictured, who died in 2010, served as a politician for 20 years before retiring
Another victim, Alan Neal, who
reported being hit by Smith in the 1960s, said: ‘For 48 years, people
have chosen to say we were telling lies when we were telling the truth.
Sadly some of them are no longer alive. It’s still extremely raw and I’m
a little bit bitter.’
Neal, a councillor for the Community First party in Rossendale,
Lancashire, said he was hit by Smith aged 11 while at a hostel for boys
in 1964. He said he reported the abuse to police when he left in 1968
but was told Smith was an ‘important, powerful man’ and no action was
He added: ‘People who were supposed
to protect vulnerable young people failed to do so. Instead they
protected Smith. I know some would say it’s a different world today but
it’s no different.’
The CPS and Greater Manchester Police
yesterday revealed that in March 1970, a file was submitted to the then
Director of Public Prosecutions following an investigation in 1969 by
It detailed allegations from eight boys at Cambridge
House Hostel about indecent assaults committed by Smith between 1961 and
However the evidential threshold for
sex abuse cases in 1970 was much higher than it is today and the
Director of Public Prosecutions, Norman Skelhorn, advised against
In 1997 a man rang a helpline saying
he was abused by Smith at Cambridge House between 1965 and 1968. This
allegation was passed to Greater Manchester Police, who submitted a file
of evidence, which also included the 1970 allegations, to the CPS in
1998. Lawyers again decided not to prosecute.
Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor
for CPS North West, said: ‘The reviewing lawyer concluded there was
sufficient evidence to charge, but that a prosecution should not proceed
because: Cyril Smith had been told he would not be charged for these
alleged offences 28 years previously. The law and procedures followed by
prosecutors in 1998 made clear that long-standing charging decisions
could only be reversed in very limited circumstances, namely new
evidence coming to light.
‘This rule applied to all cases and the evidence submitted by police against Smith in 1998 was the same as in 1970.’
In 1999, a second file was sent to
the CPS by GMP following two further complaints about Smith’s actions
between 1962 and 1965. Again, due to no likelihood of conviction no
further action was recommended.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood said although the police had made a 'bold' decision in saying Smith abused young boys, there was 'overwhelming evidence' against him.
He said: 'This has been a very complex inquiry and I hope people understand why it has taken some time before we were in a position to comment publicly.
'It was very important that both ourselves and Lancashire Police examined all our records very carefully so we could be certain what involvement we had in investigating allegations of sexual and physical abuse made against such a high-profile figure as Smith.
'We are now in a position to say that on three separate occasions, files were passed to first the DPP and then the CPS containing details of abuse committed by Smith, but on each occasion no prosecution was pursued.
'Having now reviewed those decisions, we believe that if the same evidence was presented to the CPS today there would have been a very realistic prospect that Smith would have been charged with a number of indecent assaults, and that the case would have been brought to trial.
'Clearly that is a bold statement to make but it is absolutely important for those victims who were abused by Smith that we publicly acknowledge the suffering they endured.
'Although Smith cannot be charged or convicted posthumously, from the overwhelming evidence we have it is right and proper we should publicly recognise that young boys were sexually and physically abused and we will offer them as much support as they need should they wish to speak to us.'
Since the Mail launched its inquiry, two people have come forward to report abuse by Smith, and GMP is investigating.
Mr Afzal said: ‘The decision made by the CPS in 1970 would not be made today.’
Mr Afzal stressed that decision-making by the current CPS – which was formed in 1986 – is very different.
He said: 'It is important to note that this way of thinking bears little resemblance to how such cases are assessed today or in recent years.
'Prosecutors and police now recognise that such crimes normally occur in private and that victims are often targeted because the offender doubts they will be believed.'
Scandal: A plaque erected in Smith's honour in Rochdale was removed in the wake of the allegations due to fears over vandalism
DPP WHO LET HIM OFF THE HOOK
The allegations were explosive: a high-profile Liberal MP had abused up to eight boys living in a hostel in his constituency.
The file ran to 80 pages of evidence after an investigation Lancashire Police claim was thorough and enquiring.
But in 1970 the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Norman Skelhorn, wrote back saying he would not advise prosecution.
The only documentation of the decision-making is a one-page letter to the Chief Constable of Lancashire Constabulary.
It is dated March 19, 1970, and reads: ‘I have considered your file and I observe that eight young men, whose ages range from 19 to 24 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 this prosecution.’