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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

The Lancashire Constabulary investigation 1969–70

27. Lancashire Constabulary had responsibility for policing Rochdale between 1 April 1969 and 1 April 1974.[1][2] On 10 October 1969, an investigation was opened into allegations of sexual abuse by Cyril Smith in relation to Cambridge House. The investigation continued until 25 March 1970 when, following the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute, Smith was informed by Detective Superintendent Leach that no further action would be taken.[3][4]

28. In her Opening Statement on behalf of the Complainant Core Participants, Laura Hoyano described the Lancashire Constabulary investigation as “exemplary…thorough, fearless in the fact of threats, intimidation and obstruction by Cyril Smith and his political allies… [and] characterised by an enlightened understanding of the dynamics of the power/vulnerability imbalance which silences victims.[5] Having considered the report and statements compiled by the police at the time,[6] and having heard the evidence of Mr Jacques,[7][8] who explained both the actions taken in 1969–70 and the subsequent review of those actions carried out in 2014 by the Lancashire PSD, we are confident that this investigation was comprehensive and that at no point were the police improperly influenced by Cyril Smith or others on his behalf.

29. There were some questions that arose in the course of the investigation that were left unanswered. For instance, Detective Sergeant Brierley’s report of 31 December 1969 noted that there were suspicions about the association of Bill Harding (another of the Association’s trustees), Councillor Harry Wild and RO-F15 with young men and boys in Rochdale.[9][10] However, these leads do not appear to have been followed to any significant extent. There were also several individuals named by the complainants and other witnesses who did not provide accounts to the police.[11] Overall, though, we agree with Mr Jacques who did not think there were any “gaping holes” in the investigation and considered that Detective Superintendent Leach and his team carried out their work competently and professionally.[12]

30. Any suggestion that the police were improperly influenced by Smith is undermined by the report produced by Detective Superintendent Leach and sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which concluded in robust terms: “It seems impossible to excuse [Smith’s] conduct. Over a considerable period of time, whilst sheltering beneath a veneer of respectability, he has used his unique position to indulge in a sordid series of indecent episodes with young boys towards whom he had a special responsibility. Prima facie, he appears guilty of numerous offences of indecent assault … Should it be decided to apply for process a schedule of offences has been prepared.[13]

31. Given the care taken with the investigation and the forthright language in the final report, we consider that Detective Superintendent Leach and his team were probably disappointed by the Director of Public Prosecutions’ advice not to prosecute and, if anything, were antagonistic towards Smith. They appear to have been keen to press charges, to the point of having already drafted a schedule, and there is no hint of unwillingness to proceed against Smith because of his high-profile status in Rochdale. Indeed, David Bartlett of the Rochdale Alternative Paper (RAP) told us that Detective Superintendent Leach was one of the main sources for the story RAP published in 1979, and said that he was “still angry” at that time, more than eight years on, that there had not been a prosecution.[14]

32. Despite the documents demonstrating a clear desire on the part of the investigation team to bring a prosecution, over the years since 1970 rumours have circulated that the Lancashire police were thwarted or influenced in some way by Cyril Smith, or were involved in some kind of cover-up. It is thus important for us to deal with these suspicions in more detail. In particular, the book, Smile for the Camera, put forward four distinct allegations, which the Lancashire PSD identified as follows:[15][16] 

a. Chief Constable Patrick Ross’ lack of action in 1965 indicated that he was ‘leant on’.

b. Two unknown officers removed all the files relating to Cyril Smith from Jack Tasker, one of the investigating officers.

c. MI5 officers removed all files on Cyril Smith from a safe at Lancashire’s Hutton HQ.

d. More generally, Cyril Smith’s influence in Rochdale meant that he had ‘the police in his pocket’.

33. We have already dealt above with the suggestion that Mr Ross was ‘leant on’. In relation to the allegation that two officers took the files relating to Cyril Smith away from Jack Tasker, it is likely this did happen but that there was no sinister intention or motivation behind it. Detective Constable Tasker (as he then was) and Detective Constable Courtney initially handled the investigation into Smith and took 12 witness statements between 19 January 1970 and 18 February 1970. Detective Chief Inspector Wheater and Detective Superintendent Leach then took over the investigation and continued to progress it. A further 12 statements were taken between 19 February 1970 and 9 March 1970, and a full report was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions on 11 March. While it is not possible to say which two officers actually took the files from Tasker and Courtney, it seems that the investigation was simply transferred from them to Wheater and Leach, probably because Smith was a senior public figure in Rochdale and so it was important that senior detectives dealt with the matter.[17][18] It may also have been out of a concern that Smith would attempt to interfere with the investigation and so the two detectives needed to be protected from any pressure or influence.[19] This explanation would fit with the reference in the original occurrence report sent by Detective Sergeant Brierley to the Lancashire Chief Constable on 31 December 1969 to ‘the security risk involved’ in the investigation,[20] which Mr Jacques interpreted as a concern about the profile and standing of Smith in Rochdale, and the need for the police to keep the investigation discreet.[21]

34. The importance of ensuring that the investigation was a tightly controlled one was highlighted by the attitude of Smith when he met with Detective Superintendent Watson and Detective Superintendent Taylor on 24 January 1970. The transcript of this meeting[22] shows that Smith tried to get information from the police about how the investigation was proceeding, and indicated that he had spoken to some of the complainants, prompting Detective Superintendent Watson to accuse him of coming on a ‘fishing expedition’[23] and to warn him about interfering with witnesses.[24] We now know that Detective Superintendent Watson’s fears were justified because Smith did indeed try to get some of the witnesses to retract their allegations. RO-A1 told us that Smith visited him in early 1970 and tried to persuade him to drop his allegations, on the basis that Smith had done him various favours. RO-A1 refused.[25]

35. Whatever the precise reasons for the files being taken away from Detective Constable Tasker, it is clear that the motivation was not to thwart the investigation because it continued without pause[26] under the leadership of Detective Chief Inspector Wheater and Detective Superintendent Leach, and culminated in the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions seeking support for a prosecution.

36. As for the allegation that MI5 officers removed files from Lancashire Constabulary HQ, Lancashire PSD spoke to Tony Robinson, a Special Branch Officer in the late 1970s, who recalled MI5 asking for any files relating to Cyril Smith. However, it was impossible to confirm whether the files were actually taken from Hutton HQ or simply copied. In any event, the files were not destroyed because the 1969–70 documents are all still available today, and there is nothing to suggest any cover-up. The timing of the request from MI5 is not clear. Mr Robinson remembered it as being in 1977 or 1978, but it may have been in response to the RAP article in 1979, in which case it would have been reasonable for MI5 to enquire as to whether there was any substance in the allegations at that time.[27][28][29]

37. Finally, the allegation that Cyril Smith had the Rochdale police ‘in his pocket’ is plainly wrong. If anything, the available documents suggest that Smith was not on good terms with the local police. The occurrence report by Detective Sergeant Brierley dated 31 December 1969 notes that Smith “has never employed [sic, should perhaps be “enjoyed”] a good relationship with the police of the town[30] and the covering report by an unidentified Chief Superintendent commented, “I know, to my cost on a previous occasion, of the strength of [Smith’s] word in publications in the Rochdale Observer.”[31] The police wanted to bring charges against Smith in 1970. It is apparent that it was the advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office not to do so that prevented a prosecution, not any improper influence Smith had on the police. It is that advice to which we now turn.

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