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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Allegations of a pact between Labour and the Liberal Democrats

118. The fact that Cyril Smith’s public standing and professional career were never negatively impacted in any significant way by the suggestion that he was involved in child sexual abuse has given rise to considerable speculation that he was in some way protected by other politicians. We may consider the possibility that Smith was actively supported at the level of national politics or, at the very least, had a blind eye turned towards allegations against him, as part of the Westminster investigation.

119. However, there have also been persistent rumours of a pact or deal between the local Liberal/Liberal Democrat and Labour parties in Rochdale. The allegation was put in its most detailed form by Barry Cropper and Peter Evans, both former police officers who became involved in local politics (Mr Evans served as Mayor of Rochdale in 2007). They told Detective Inspector Muriel Buglass of GMP in 2008 that they had information to suggest that the Liberal Democrats had agreed not to make any public comments about a Labour councillor in return for the Labour Party keeping quiet about Cyril Smith, and gave the names of various other individuals whom they thought could provide first-hand evidence.[1]

120. Detective Inspector Buglass did in fact investigate the matter in 2008, but came to the conclusion that she could not substantiate the allegations relating to the Labour councillor, let alone the core allegation that there was a political pact as a result. She told Mr Cropper this, but Mr Cropper and Mr Evans were convinced there was something in it and repeated[2] the allegation to GMP in 2012, to Neil Garnham QC in 2014 and to the Operation Clifton team at GMP in 2015.

121. In November 2012, an email was sent to the online news outlet Breitbart.com making a similar allegation about a pact between the Liberal Democrat and Labour parties in Rochdale to cover up child abuse. The Breitbart journalist did not pick up the email in 2012 but only in 2014 and published a short story based on it at that time.[3]

122. Peter Marsh, formerly a Detective Superintendent at GMP, was the SIO in Operation Clifton, which looked at this matter in some depth. Mr Marsh was clear that his investigation found no evidence of any pact to cover up allegations of child abuse, having spoken to a number of people from the different political parties in Rochdale. He could not identify where the rumour had originally come from, but considered it was likely to be “political mischief”. He noted that Matt Baker, the co-author of Smile for the Camera who sent the email to Breitbart, told him it was a “silly email that was looking to scope some research” and effectively retracted it.[4]

123. We agree with Mr Marsh’s view that there is no substance to this allegation. We have heard evidence from Rochdale politicians from all three main parties, and their unanimous testimony was that a pact not only did not exist but could not have existed.

124. Richard Farnell, a Labour politician and Leader of the Council at the time he gave evidence to us, described the idea of a pact as “absolute nonsense” because the Liberals were the Labour Party’s “bitter political enemies” and because after the RAP article everybody in Rochdale knew about the Cambridge House allegations so there was nothing to cover up.[5] 

125. Paul Rowen, a Liberal Democrat politician who was Leader of the Council from 1992 to 1996 and MP for Rochdale from 2005 to 2010, likewise considered the suggestion of a pact to be a “total fantasy”, because the Labour councillor who was alleged to be involved was no longer on the local political scene after 1992, and because Labour and the Liberal Democrats “would fight each other tooth and nail” and would never “give any quarter” on an issue like that.

126. We will return to Mr Farnell and Mr Rowen later when dealing with Political Accountability, but for present purposes it suffices to say that we were not impressed with either as witnesses: they were evasive at times and not clear in their evidence. Mr Farnell’s failure of recollection was unconvincing. However, on this issue we accept their evidence. It could be said that ‘of course they would deny it’ in relation to an allegation of a pact, but the practical points they made cannot be contested. There would have been no reason for the Liberal Democrats, in particular, to make a deal with Labour in relation to Cyril Smith about allegations that had already been put into the public domain in 1979. Nor would it make sense for Labour to make a deal in relation to a relatively low-profile Labour councillor in return for keeping quiet about Cyril Smith, who was far and away the most high-profile Liberal politician in Rochdale for decades.

127. Their evidence was corroborated by the long-serving Conservative politician, Ashley Dearnley, who told the Garnham Review that he knew nothing about any deal to cover up child abuse, and could not see any way in which a pact would have been possible, due to how polarised the Liberal Democrats and Labour were. In his evidence read to the Inquiry, Mr Dearnley also noted that the Labour councillor in question was not particularly significant.[6]

128. It was helpful of Mr Evans and Mr Cropper to bring to the attention of GMP and the Inquiry a full and detailed account of the alleged pact. However, we do not think that there was any such deal or understanding between the Liberal Democrats and Labour in Rochdale. We suspect that the idea of a pact gained credence because the alternative – that people knew about the serious allegations surrounding Cyril Smith, but chose to disbelieve or ignore them – was even more unpalatable.

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