Skip to main content

0800 917 1000 Open weekdays 8am-8pm, Saturdays 10am-12pm

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Cyril Smith’s knighthood

87. The stark fact is that despite the RAP allegations in 1979, and whether or not partly as a consequence of the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office’s misleading statement about the matter, Cyril Smith’s standing in public life grew ever greater. In 1988, his ascent to a position of considerable prominence and respect was marked by his being awarded a knighthood for his political services.

88. We have obtained various documents from the Cabinet Office that demonstrate that the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee (PHSC) considered the 1970 Lancashire Police investigation and the 1979 RAP articles in some detail, and yet still came to the conclusion that it was open to the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, to recommend Smith for a knighthood. The first document is a memorandum from Mrs Hedley-Miller, the Secretary to the PHSC, to Sir Robin Butler, the Principal Private Secretary to Mrs Thatcher, dated 28 April 1988. The memo attaches copies of the RAP article and the follow-up Private Eye article, and notes that these justified a ‘warning of risk’ letter to the Prime Minister. It records the Committee’s view:

"They feel that if there is fire under this smoke, they would probably not wish to sign a certificate giving their go-ahead…if it is all rather baseless then ‘let the press do its worst’, but the Prime Minister need not be prevented from giving an honour where this is due. They would accordingly wish (i) to see the Lancashire police report to the DPP; (ii) to know what lay behind the DPP’s advice that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction. Did they mean that MR Smith was probably innocent? Or merely that he probably was not innocent but the evidence was nevertheless not such as to stand up in court?” [1]

89. The memo attached a draft letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions requesting further information along the lines indicated. It also attached a draft letter to the Prime Minister, which comments in relation to the RAP and Private Eye articles that “one may regret this kind of press reporting”. This draft letter noted that in 1982, following a break-in at the offices of The Sun, police enquiries revealed that the editor had a copy of the 1970 police report.[2] This information confirms that the national newspapers did know about the story, and had considerable detail about the underlying facts, but chose not to publish it for some unknown reason. The draft letter also commented, “We consider that Mr Smith would be slightly unfortunate if this episode were to stand in the way of an award, and we would not wish to make a positive adverse report if, after considering what I have said, you yourself were minded to proceed.”

90. A handwritten note on the memo, dated 8 May 1988, indicates that Sir Robin wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions, at that time Allan Green. He did not have the full police file but did have the 1970 letter from the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office and discussed it with Sir Robin, who told him that there was ‘no reasonable prospect for prosecution’ because of the problems identified in that letter. Sir Robin had asked what the PHSC would do if there had been a prosecution that resulted in an acquittal. He was told that in that case they would give the person the benefit of the doubt, and so he felt that this applied all the more strongly where there had been no prosecution.[3]

91. On that basis, Mrs Hedley-Miller wrote to the Prime Minister and her office on 11 May 1988 attaching a certificate that left to the Prime Minister herself the final decision whether or not to recommend an honour. The letter alerted Mrs Thatcher to the Private Eye and RAP articles, but commented that the PHSC “dislike the risk of doing injustice on the basis of press reporting from such sources”. The letter said the PHSC “noted Mr Smith was made an MBE in 1966, when an Alderman, for his political and public services in Rochdale, and that he subsequently became Mayor. He also became a Member of Parliament in 1972 after the police enquiries”, and passed on the view of Sir Robin (endorsed by the PHSC) that where there had been no prosecution Smith should be given the benefit of the doubt.[4] Clearly the Prime Minister took a similar view because Smith did receive a knighthood.

92. We have seen nothing to suggest that there was any cover-up or conspiracy in the way Smith obtained his knighthood. On the contrary, it is clear that there was some frank discussion at the highest level of British politics about the 1969–70 police investigation and the 1979 press articles. However, what is remarkable is the extent to which Smith was given the benefit of the doubt, a phrase that is repeated in the documents and appears to have been a general policy.

93. There are a number of striking aspects to this correspondence. It makes plain that the PHSC brought no independent judgment to bear upon the allegations made against Smith. Although the PHSC asked the Director of Public Prosecutions for further information (prompted by the 1979 press articles), when informed that the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office did not have the full police file, the PHSC made no further effort to find it. This meant that it was unsighted on the substance of the allegations. The necessarily general comments by Mr Green about his predecessor’s reasoning in the 1970 advice letter were thought to be sufficient and no further questions were asked about it. The decision not to prosecute was, of itself, regarded as all important. Had the PHSC known of the police view of Smith, or of the content of the allegations, it may well have been troubled by them. It is also clear from the correspondence that what was of most concern to the PHSC was fairness towards Smith and concern for the reputational risk to the honours system caused by adverse media coverage. Concern for those who may have been abused by Smith did not feature. Moreover, the documents show a marked tendency to take Cyril Smith’s progress in local and national politics, along with his previous honour (an MBE in 1966), as evidence that the allegations were unlikely to be true. This demonstrates a significant deference to power and an unwillingness to consider that someone in a position of public prominence might be capable of perpetrating abuse. This matters because the conferring of a knighthood on Smith was to make him even more powerful.

Back to top