Private Eye about the image of the former Rochdale MP after the magazine repeated sexual abuse allegations originally published in the Rochdale Alternative Paper (RAP) in May 1979 (the text of the article can be read by clicking on the 'read more' link, below). At the time it had been claimed in RAP that one youth at the Cambridge House boys' hostel that Cyril had 'told me to take my trousers down and hit me four or five times on my bare buttocks' and another said Smith 'had given me a kind of medical examination... he held my testicles and told me to cough.'
In the Rochdale Observer yesterday Cyril's brother Norman castigated these reports in Private Eye saying: 'He (Cyril) thought of nothing else than the people of Rochdale.' He claimed: 'These allegations were proved completely untrue and were dropped.' That, alas, is not how many people remember it! None of the evidence was tested or seriously challenged. At the time RAP's editors declared in conclusion:
'It is not RAP’s function to pronounce on guilt or innocence. We do however believe that the investigation of 1970 should have resulted in a court case. We cannot but believe, like many of the men we interviewed, that had the allegations involved a less prominent person, it would have had exactly that result... Private preferences are, and should remain, personal business. The use of public position for personal gratification at the cost of exploitation of others must be prevented.'
Only last year, one of the former editors of RAP assured me that the paper had a mountain of evidence to prove their case regarding Cyril's behaviour. In the print version of Northern Voices 8 (in the Winter 2007/08 issue) we had suggested that Cyril Smith may have been the subject, along with Jeremy Thorpe, Harold Wilson and others, of a special branch operation called 'Clockwork Orange'. There was a paragraph in RAP's original report of May 1979 that suggested such an interest:
'(7) SPECIAL BRANCH
The file, kept since at Preston, the HQ of Lancashire Constabulary, came to the centre of national events in February/March 1974. Then there was discussion of a possible coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberals. The possibility, if that happened, of leading Liberals holding Ministerial posts, prompted the Special Branch to acquire a copy of the Preston file on Smith which was taken, with special security precautions, to London.'
Rochdale Alternative Press - 'The Strange Case of Smith the Man'
May 1979 (Number 78)
RAP has obtained evidence that, during the 1960’s, Cyril Smith was using his position to get lads aged 15 – 18 to undress in front of him in order that he could get them to bend over his knee while he spanked their bare bottoms or let him hold their testicles in a bizarre ‘medical inspection’.
The evidence comes from the interviews conducted by RAP over the last six months and in the form of statements made on oath before a solicitor. The allegations are not new – some were originally made as long as 15 years ago, but they were made in statements to the police during their investigation of these allegations in 1969/1970.
There is also disturbing evidence to suggest that that police investigation may not have had its proper end.
RAP decided last September to investigate the allegations in order to determine the facts in an area dominated ever since by rumour. This was prompted partly by the stance Smith had adopted in the Thorpe affair. And partly by the fact that his position as M.P., like his election campaign, was totally based on his personal character of “Smith the Man” – there was part of that man which has to date been concealed and which we feel to be sufficiently disturbing for it to be made public.
Here we present the results of our investigation:
(1) THE POLICE INVESTIGATION
The investigation, carried out by Lancashire Constabulary’s Task Force, started some three years before Cyril Smith first became Rochdale’s MP. It lasted for around 6 months.
It was stimulated by allegations made by a young Rochdale man while he was being questioned by police in connection with charges of indecent behaviour, in Risley. In the course of his examination he claimed there was, in effect, one law for the powerful and another for the poor. He alleged that Cyril Smith had done similar things but got away with it.
Cyril Smith was then Alderman, Chairman of the Education Committee, and soon to be prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the local Liberal Party which he had not long ago rejoined.
The young man concerned had been a resident of the Cambridge House Boy’s Hostel, on Castlemere Street. That hostel then became the focus of the police investigation as they interviewed not only its residents but its committee members - including Bill Harding, Harry Halstead, Alan Lovick and Ron Watson, who were asked questions about the role of the committee members in discipline and medical examinations.
These committee members, while admitting with various degrees of reluctance that they had been interviewed by the police, all denied then, as they did again to RAP, any knowledge of improper activities within the hostel. Some of the residents however had clear and, both to us and to some of the police, convincing memories.
(2) THE HOSTEL
The hostel had been set up by the Rochdale Hostel for Boys Association, a voluntary group formed late in 1960 under the joint inspiration of Probation Officer Bill Harding, its chairman, and Cyril Smith, its secretary. With the aid of Rotary Club money to guarantee its rent for the first two years, the assistance in renovations of the Round Table, and of other committee members like Alan Lovick who provided cost price furnishings, the doors of Cambridge House were opened as a hostel for working boys in February 1962.
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“We earnestly hope that we have found for boys a home in which they can find the right moral character building influence.” Smith at the 1964 AGM of the hostel.
It had room for 20 boys, though it average less. The solid basis of its membership was a dozen lads who were apprentices with Whipp & Bourne. They had originally been employed in the firm’s Scottish works but were moved to Rochdale when that closed down. Increasingly, residents were also recruited from the ranks of those in care or from broken homes.
It closed at the end of 1965, primarily through lack of funds and, in particular, because after a lengthy debate, the council endorsed the decision of its Children’s Committee not to increase the grant it was giving to the hostel, by the additional £700 they were being asked to. Strangely, there is no mention of the hostel project in Smith’s autobiography ‘Big Cyril’ which was published in 1977.
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“I believe there is a place for corporal punishment....there is a place in law for a good hiding.” Smith in the Rochdale Observer, 21 April 1979.
(3) THE STATEMENTS
During the investigation the police took statements from 7 or 8 of the boys who had lived at the hostel and from at least one who had not. 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:
They have described to us Smith’s role in providing discipline. Two extracts from sworn statements given to us illustrate the procedure:
(1) 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 by buttocks with a wet sponge.
We have been told by Dr Ian McKichan, then Rochdale’s Police Doctor, who provided medical services to the hostel and now lives in Rugby that Smith was often present at the medical examinations. Some of the ex-residents we interviewed have stated on oath that they had what they took to be medical inspections from Smith himself. For example, from the sworn statement of a man who lives locally in a new house:
“After a few days in the hostel I was given a kind of medical examination by Cyril Smith. He told me to take my trousers and pants down. He held my testicles and told me to cough.”
We have had similar experiences described to us by more than one other person.
(4) OUTSIDE THE HOSTEL
Our investigation led us to someone who never was a resident of the hostel but who turned out to have also made a statement to the police. He still lives locally with his wife and family and holds a good job. He was one of the many young men Smith has helped over the years. In his case the help came about 1967, after the hostel had closed, in the form of an offer of a job at Smith’s Springs. He took it.
Increasingly, the lad’s parents – he was about 16 – turned to Smith for help in coping with his adolescent adventures. He still remembers Smith telling him that he would help him to sort himself out, but that he would do it his way. And that whenever he did something wrong, he would have his trousers taken down and receive a beating.
On three occasions, the now family man remembers, Smith took him into the front room of his parents’ house after they had reported his misbehaviour to him. On each occasion Smith endeavoured to remove his trousers and bend him over his knee, even to the extent of a wrestling match when met with resistance from the lad.
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“Its not a very friendly gesture, publishing that, all he seems to have done is spank a few bare bottoms.” David Steel’s Press Office, 22 April 1979.
(5) Jack McCann M.P.
During the course of the police enquiry, in 1970’s early months, Smith sought help. He visited Dr McKichan in Rugby. He called at the house of a local man who had fostered one of the boys from the hostel . That lad had made a statement to the police and Smith’s visit appeared to have had the purpose of seeking ways of reducing the credibility of the statement.
He also turned to Jack McCann, the then labour M.P. for Rochdale. He had earlier turned to the same man for help in getting his M.B.E. award of 1966. We have had described to us a late night session between Smith and McCann who had been brought over to Rochdale from his home in Eccles for the purpose. The meeting ended with McCann offering offering to make representations on Smith’s behalf.
Jack McCann’s widow, Alice, remembers her husband being asked to help Smith. We know that McCann was concerned about the situation in which he found himself since, though a man of close confidence, he actually discussed it with one associate in the course of a train journey between London and Manchester. That confidant still vividly remembers the conversation and told RAP that McCann had said that he had taken the matter up with the Chief Constable.
Beyond that hint, we have not been able to find exactly what McCann did, or if anything he did had any bearing on the result. Certainly the Chief Constable concerned told RAP he has no memory of ever meeting him. But there is one disturbing discrepancy in the stands now being taken.
(6) THE D.P.P.
The police, at the conclusion of their investigation, appear to have taken the view that there was sufficient reason to warrant a court’s verdict. A file was certainly drawn up by the Officer in charge of the Task Force Team for submission to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
From that point the story becomes disturbingly confused over the issue of whether the file actually reached the D.P.P.
It has always been believed by those in the know that the file was indeed sent to the D.P.P. And that the D.P.P. returned it marked for no further action on the basis of insufficient evidence.
That was what the investigating team were told. That is also what associates of Smith and then the local leading political figures in the Town – who were officially informed of the proceedings – also believed. That was what Smith himself was told by the investigating officer.
An approach to the D.P.P. however failed to confirm that. On our first request for information, the D.P.P.’s press office agreed to answer the question of whether or not the file had been received by them. After making the appropriate search, we were told that they had failed to find such a file. A further approach brought the official statement from the Director: “The D.P.P. cannot trace such a case being referred to us, but cannot confirm or deny receiving it.”
The Director did confirm that, under the then applicable regulations the “Chief Office of Police shall report to the D.P.P. offences....which include indecent offences upon a number of....young persons.”
We also wrote to Sir Norman Skelhorn, the man who was the Director of Public Prosecutions at the time of the investigation. RAP’s letter was forwarded to him by one of his Club’s, the Athenaeum. On Wednesday 25th April we received a phone call from someone claiming to be Sir Norman, on holiday and from a coin box phone, who said that he could remember nothing at all about such a case.
RAP also interviewed Mr. Palfrey, the Chief Constable of Lancashire at the time. He agreed that such a file “should have been sent” but said “I can’t say for sure whether the file was sent or not.” He told us to approach Police HQ. Which we have done several times. Their final comment was “We decline to comment.”
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“I believe that a politician’s private life is his own affair and should remain so unless private behaviour jeopardises his political role. I suspect that most men and women have a skeleton rattling round in their cupboard and I think it should be allowed to remain there unless it can be proved that its exposure can right some injustice done to another person.” ‘Big Cyril’ (1977) Smith’s Autobiography.
(7) SPECIAL BRANCH
The file, kept since at Preston, the HQ of Lancashire Constabulary, came to the centre of national events in February/March 1974. Then there was discussion of a possible coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberals. The possibility, if that happened, of leading Liberals holding Ministerial posts, prompted the Special Branch to acquire a copy of the Preston file on Smith which was taken, with special security precautions, to London.
(8) CYRIL SMITH
Throughout the police enquiry Smith asserted his innocence of the allegations. He told his friends at the time that it was a case of an attempt to damage him politically. He pointed to the home backgrounds and records of some of the ex-residents of the hostel as evidence of their lack of credibility. In his interview with the police, with his solicitor present, he denied all the allegations made against him. We have no reason to believe that he would do anything other than that today. RAP wrote to him asking for an interview to discuss the serious issues raised by our investigation, but he did not reply.
(9) WHY NOW?
This is not, though it will be suggested it is, a smear campaign in the middle of an election. Our investigation started, as our records show and those we talked to can confirm, last October when the election was still thought to be a year away. When we published our last issue – which announces the date of this one – we did not know that this issue would be just a few days before an election.
The fact is that our findings compel us to publish. Rochdale is being asked to elect a man as M.P. on a purely personal basis. His election material makes but passing reference to the Liberal Party. Smith himself has consistently and consciously personalised the issue. Once we became convinced that he had, over a period of years, interspersed his undoubted good work with a clear abuse of his position for personal ends, we felt had no choice but to make it that part of what Rochdale’s electors should be asked to take into account.
It had already been reported to us, before publication, that Smith intended to issue a libel writ. That did not alter our conviction that the men we had interviewed were telling the truth. Nor our view that they should not have been left with the indelible mark of their experiences at the hands of Smith. For too long, it is they who have effectively been branded as wrongdoers.
It is not RAP’s function to pronounce on guilt or innocence. We do however believe that the investigation of 1970 should have resulted in a court case. We cannot but believe, like many of the men we interviewed, that had the allegations involved a less prominent person, it would have had exactly that result.
We do find Smith guilty of the charge of hypocrisy, over his role in the Thorpe affair. At the very least he might have been expected to remain silent. He did not.
We have established that Smith was a major source of the Press’s information on the Liberal Party’s affairs at the time. He was reporting, at his own initiative, the most confidential of conversations with his leader, direct to the Daily Mirror.
We accept that Smith may neither have committed or, even if the evidence gathered by the police investigation had led to prosecution, been found guilty of any criminal offence. But the practices described in the statements made to both the police and RAP must be condemned, not for any sexual content which may be read into them, but because they present a serious abuse of authority.
Private preferences are, and should remain, personal business. The use of public position for personal gratification at the cost of exploitation of others must be prevented.
There is also cause for concern in the question of whether the file in this case reached the D.P.P.’s office. RAP believes that this should be the subject of a full and impartial investigation
Rochdale Alternative Press (RAP)
June 1979 (Number 79)
RAP’s revelations concerning Cyril Smith published in our last issue was a story in which the national press have been interested for a long time. What prevented them from publishing previously was the laws of libel – which still prevent them from publishing it now. RAP has not received a libel writ from Smith.
Once the story was out the media interest continued. Several taxis from Manchester offices of newspapers arrived at Rochdale newsagents to buy a dozen copies each. The People sent its representative, Harold Holborn, accompanied by a Rochdale Observer reporter! John Derricot of the Mail, Bill Jenkins of the Sun, Mike Nally of the Sunday Observer, Chris Bryer of Granada, Chris House the crime correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph, and the news editor of the Star have all had conversations with us about the story.
Libel of course remains the problem, as of course it has been ours. Clearly what we have said about Smith is defamatory. The only defence therefore against libel is that what we have said is true. Our London lawyer’s advice was simple: if you know it to be true, print it. We did.
The one national paper with enough courage to carry the story so far was Private Eye. It’s edition of May 9th ran a summary of the RAP story as its lead article. It repeated the allegations RAP had made and included the extracts from sworn affidavits made by the young men concerned. Private Eye has frequently received libel writs from politicians. It was not received one in this instance.
None of which stops Smith from continuing to condemn others. As recently as his Ob ‘Letter from Parliament’ of 26th May he commented on the actions of Labour Councillor Bob Crossland [“who had the effrontary to attend the Mayor making ceremony without a tie, and to sit and read throughout the ceremony....”]. He (Smith) found that behaviour to be ‘disgusting’ unlike, apparently, holding young men’s testicles and beating their bare bottoms, as he has done.
But we must again repeat, most disturbing is not what Smith did. It is the fact that he never had to answer for himself through the normal processes of law or face the publicity that would have involved. There is still every reason to doubt that the police file even got as far as the D.P.P. – in spite of a statutory requirement for it to do so. Until it is clear that he is subject to the same justice as the rest of us he should keep his mouth shut.