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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Cambridge House and the involvement of Cyril Smith

1. Cyril Smith had considerable control over which boys were admitted to Cambridge House and when, including boys in the care of the local authority. He showed considerable, perhaps unduly detailed, interest in the decisions of children in care as his political career developed. There does not appear to have been any inspection of Cambridge House by the Council before the first child in care was placed there. Although there was no specific statutory requirement to do so, common sense and a concern for children’s welfare should have prompted some inspection activity. In addition, monitoring requirements were not met.

2. There were several accounts by witnesses that Smith had sexually assaulted them on the pretext of ‘medical examinations’. Smith said to the police in a written statement made by him in February 1970 that at all times he was acting ‘in loco parentis’ to the boys, bearing the implication that his ‘medical examinations’ of them were justified, yet he denied any indecency. It is difficult to understand why Smith thought that his role permitted ‘medical examinations’ when he was not medically qualified.

3. There was some evidence concerning allegations that Smith removed a child’s clothing in order to mete out punishment. Rochdale’s current Director of Children’s Services confirmed that it would have always been considered unacceptable to remove a child’s clothing in order to carry out corporal punishment.

4. The first known suggestion made to anyone in authority that Smith might be acting inappropriately towards the boys at Cambridge House was in late October 1965, shortly before the hostel closed. Lyndon Price told the then Chief Constable of Rochdale about the allegation but no further investigation was carried out. The Inquiry did not find evidence, however, that the police had been ‘leant on’.

5. The Lancashire Constabulary investigation in 1969–70 was comprehensive and at no point were the police improperly influenced by Cyril Smith or others on his behalf. The police wanted to bring charges against Smith and said so in a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1970. That report was most likely considered by an Assistant Director, rather than the Director of Public Prosecutions personally who advised against prosecution.

6. We do not think it is right or appropriate for us to adjudicate on the difficult legal and countervailing arguments we heard. Consequently, we make no finding whether the Assistant Director’s advice that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction was or was not itself reasonable in all the circumstances. There is, however, an arguable case that the evidence submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions contained corroboration (a factor that was a legal requirement of the time), and that the other factors contained in the advice should have been afforded less weight than they were.

7. It has been suggested that Smith or his supporters may have exerted improper influence on the Director of Public Prosecutions but, on considering all the evidence in this investigation, it would be speculation to say that improper influence was brought to bear on this decision by those interested in this matter. 8. In 1979, the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office was asked whether it had received a file concerning Cyril Smith. It is clear that the Director of Public Prosecutions office’s failure to confirm that a file on Smith had been received in 1970 fuelled rumours and speculation that there had been some kind of cover-up. That failure to set the record straight also fuelled the rumours that there had been a conspiracy to assist Smith.

9. From 1997 onwards, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) investigated allegations of physical and sexual abuse in residential care homes under Operation Cleopatra. The Lancashire Constabulary file concerning Smith and a further witness statement were submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service in 1998. Two additional statements were submitted in 1999. In 1998, the Crown Prosecution Service Branch Crown Prosecutor advised that Smith should not be charged, despite coming to the view that there was ‘a realistic prospect of conviction’. His review of that advice in 1999 did not consider that those new complaints were capable of lending further support to the case. A valuable opportunity was, therefore, lost to prosecute Smith during his lifetime, and for the complainants to seek justice.

10. 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. There were persistent rumours of a pact or a deal between the local Liberal/Liberal Democrat and Labour parties in Rochdale. GMP’s Operation Clifton looked at the matter in some depth.

11. We have also considered whether there is evidence of such a pact and have come to the conclusion that there is not. 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.

12. We have noted that Cyril Smith’s standing in public life increased and in 1988 his ascent to a position of considerable prominence and respect was marked by his being awarded a knighthood for his political services. The Political Honours Scrutiny Committee considered the 1970 police investigation and various press articles. They concluded that it was open to the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, to recommend Smith for a knighthood. The Inquiry saw nothing, however, to suggest that there was any cover-up or conspiracy in the way Smith obtained that knighthood. On the contrary, it is clear that there were some frank discussions at the highest political level. While there was never any expression of concern for boys who had made allegations against Smith, there was considerable discussion about whether it would be fair to Smith to refuse him a knighthood, and worries about the potential reputational risk to the honours system. There was little further investigation into the allegations against Smith by the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee, demonstrating a considerable deference to power and an unwillingness to consider that someone in a position of public prominence might be capable of perpetrating sexual abuse.

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