Ancestry UK

Cyril Smith

As well as abuse at children's homes carried out by their own members of staff, an increasing number of cases have emerged of such crimes being committed by outsiders visiting these establishments on some pretext. A large number of the entertainer Jimmy Savile's assaults were committed in hospitals and residential homes to which he had been a welcomed guest. Many similar allegations of sexual abuse have also emerged relating to other figures on the worlds of politics, entertainment and the media. Recent investigations into these events have invariably revealed a long history of complaints by the victims having been disbelieved, ignored or covered up.

Particularly shocking was the case of Cyril Smith, the Liberal MP for Rochdale between 1972 and 1992, who died in 2010. In 1968, a former inmate of Cambridge House, a boys' hostel in Rochdale founded by Smith, complained to the police about having been assaulted by Smith but was told he was 'a very important, powerful man'. Many further complaints were made over the years, particularly in relation to activities at Knowl View – a council-run special school for 8- to 16-year-olds with learning difficulties. The school, of which Smith was a governor and to which he owned a set of keys, was said to be a centre of paedophile activity involving Smith himself and many others outside. The worrying state of the school was described in a 1991 report to the Rochdale Council by its HIV Protection Officer, Phil Shepherd, and which was only released by the council, in redacted form, in 2014. No action appears to have resulted from the report.

During his lifetime, Smith was interviewed by police on a number of occasions regarding allegations against him of sexual abuse or the possession of child pornography, but in each case he was quickly and mysteriously released, with no formal proceedings ensuing. According to one former Special Branch officer with the Lancashire Police, a dossier of allegations by boys claiming that they had been abused by Smith was suddenly removed to London by MI5 and no charges ever arose from it.

Since Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk published a book about Smith's activities in 2014 there has been increasing speculation about the existence of a network of highly placed paedophiles at Westminster in which Smith was involved.

In 2017, events in the Rochdale homes were examined by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. The Inquiry's report found much to criticize, particularly in the management and oversight of Knowl View by its Board of Governors and by Roachdale Borough Council. As regards Cyril Smith, it suggested that opportunities to prosecute him should have been pursued, in part due to an unwillingness to consider that someone in a position of public prominence might be capable of perpetrating sexual abuse. The report concluded that the suggestion of a conspiracy to protect Smith could not be regarded as more than speculation.