Skip to main content

IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster Investigation Report


D.5: Sir Cyril Smith, Special Branch and the South African connection

44. The name of Cyril Smith arose again in the course of evidence we heard from Bryan Collins and Paul Foulston, two other retired police officers. As there are some echoes between the two accounts, we have considered them together.

45. In 1976, Mr Foulston was a temporary detective constable in Thames Valley Police.[1] As part of an investigation into a murder, Mr Foulston and his partner Sergeant Andy Vallis (now deceased) were sent on 19 May 1976 to Feltham Borstal Institution to undertake a ‘trace, interview and eliminate’ action on an inmate.[2] When they stopped in the car park to review the background of the inmate, they were interrupted by two men in suits who introduced themselves as Metropolitan Police Special Branch officers, showed warrant cards, and advised Mr Foulston and Sergeant Vallis that interviewing the inmate “wasn’t in the national interest”.[3]

46. Mr Foulston remembered the Special Branch officers’ manner as being officious, and Sergeant Vallis becoming angry and saying words to the effect of “how dare they attempt to interfere in the investigation of a murder as it clearly had precedence over any national interest”.[4] He described the experience as “being treated as a couple of provincial police officers and effectively being spoken down to”. Sergeant Vallis made it clear the interview would be carried out but agreed that the questioning would be restricted to the murder only.[5] Having agreed to this, the Special Branch officers said the inmate might mention an unspecified public figure and that no questions should be asked about that person.[6]

47. At the interview itself (which was attended by a more senior prison officer than usual), it very quickly became clear that the inmate could be eliminated from the Thames Valley officers’ enquiries because he had been in custody at the time of the murder.[7] However, he then launched “completely out of the blue” into a sexually explicit rant about a relationship he had had with Cyril Smith. The inmate was around 16 or 17 years old, so far as Mr Foulston could recall, and the relationship seemed to have ended just before he was taken into custody. The boy did not complain about the relationship itself but about the fact that he had been “dumped in favour of a younger boy”.[8]

48. Mr Foulston thought that Sergeant Vallis told their senior investigating officer and others in the murder team about what had happened but their team was focussed on the murder and nothing else was said or done about it.[9]

49. When Simon Danczuk MP made allegations about Cyril Smith in 2012, Mr Foulston became aware that Cyril Smith’s brother, Norman Smith, had stated publicly that there was no evidence to support them. This prompted Mr Foulston to take his account to Mr Danczuk, and to appear on the Channel 4 Dispatches programme entitled ‘The Paedophile MP: How Cyril Smith Got Away With It’, broadcast on 12 September 2013.[10] He subsequently spoke to Operation Clifton officers at Greater Manchester Police, who passed him on to the IOPC.[11]

50. The IOPC investigated Mr Foulston’s allegations[12] but when they contacted the other officers mentioned by Mr Foulston as being part of the murder investigation in 1976, none of them could corroborate what he said.[13] It was confirmed that Mr Foulston and Sergeant Vallis interviewed a teenage boy (ciphered as WM-A12) at Feltham on 19 May 1976 but when spoken to he denied having any kind of conversation about Cyril Smith. WM-A12 identified the prison officer who was present at the interview as John Bishop.[14] The investigators tracked down Simon John Bishop, who was a governor at Feltham at the relevant time and who remembered an inmate, who he thought was called ‘Foley’ but matching WM-A12’s description, making complaints of abuse against Cyril Smith, which Mr Bishop passed to the Ministry of Justice. However, Mr Bishop had no recollection of being present at a police interview when Cyril Smith was mentioned.[15]

51. The police action sheet from 1976 confirms that Mr Foulston and Sergeant Vallis did conduct an interview with WM-A12 on 19 May 1976 at Feltham. No other officers from the murder team at the time provided any corroboration of Mr Foulston’s account, nor did the action sheet mention the incident with Special Branch. However, Mr Foulston’s explanation for this, namely that they were all wholly focussed on the murder investigation,[16] is plausible. WM-A12’s total denial is not likely to be accurate because it is contradicted by Mr Bishop, albeit not definitively.

52. Mr Collins was a sergeant in the Obscene Publications Team of the Metropolitan Police in the 1970s.[17] In the course of his duties he went to visit a boy at Feltham, Andre Thorne, who said that he was a ‘rent boy’ and had engaged in sexual activity with Cyril Smith and another MP. He also made more wide-ranging allegations about orgies, pornographic films and another boy being killed. Mr Collins passed on the information to his superior officers, and he was made aware that the chief superintendent of C1, the main CID department, would take over the matter.[18]

53. A few weeks later, after searching the police records and finding nothing relevant to Cyril Smith, Mr Collins and his partner were waiting outside the chief superintendent of C1’s office to speak about the case, and overheard an argument between him and a commander. The chief superintendent said words to the effect of “But you can’t, because we’ve got him bang to rights”. Mr Collins formed the impression that they were arguing about Cyril Smith.[19] Following this, the chief superintendent called Mr Collins and his partner into his office and showed them a red file which contained an allegation that Smith had indecently assaulted a nine-year-old boy in Rochdale, but Mr Collins had nothing further to do with the investigation after that point.[20]

54. On 18 May 1976, Mr Thorne withdrew his allegations against the other MP mentioned to Mr Collins. On 21 May 1976 he produced an affidavit saying the allegations against Cyril Smith were also lies.[21] Two days later, Mr Thorne was the front-page story of the Sunday People under the headline ‘I Lied About that Blue Film’.[22] Finally, on 28 May 1976, Mr Thorne made a statement under caution in which he withdrew his allegations against Smith. This information was collated in a file with the security classification ‘secret’, which contains details of a C1 investigation into Mr Thorne’s allegations which was closed and no further action taken following his statement and affidavit.[23] One document in the file relates to allegations made about Smith in Rochdale which were investigated by Lancashire Constabulary in 1969 to 1970, and which the Inquiry explored in detail in its Rochdale investigation.[24]

55. Andre Thorne is now deceased and is not the same person as WM-A12, and Mr Collins knew nothing about Mr Foulston’s account.[25] The two interviews at Feltham were distinct.

56. However, Andre Thorne’s story was a minor public scandal (involving a plot by the South African Bureau of State Security (BOSS) to smear Liberal MPs who opposed apartheid[26]) at precisely the time Mr Foulston went to see WM-A12.

57. As suggested on behalf of some complainant core participants,[27] one explanation of Mr Foulston’s contact with Special Branch officers on 19 May 1976 may be that the Special Branch officers (who could have been properly involved in the Smith investigation as it touched on issues of national security) mistakenly thought Mr Foulston and Sergeant Vallis were coming to interview Mr Thorne and tried to warn them off in an unnecessarily heavy-handed way. This seems plausible. Even if WM-A12 was not the man with whom Special Branch were concerned, he also had something to say about Cyril Smith. It is unclear whether his allegations were true or not. He denies any involvement now. Similarly, it remains unclear whether the allegations made by Mr Thorne were true or false. It may be that they contained a kernel of truth but, due to an incentive to embellish his account following offers of money from BOSS, he overplayed his hand and then had to withdraw all the allegations. It could also be that there was no truth in any of it, but Mr Thorne heard gossip about Cyril Smith from WM-A12 or others at Feltham and used it to lure BOSS into offering him money.

58. We note that the Metropolitan Police and IOPC are exploring whether there are any further lines of enquiry in Operations Conifer and Sycamore following Mr Foulston’s and Mr Collins’ evidence to the Inquiry. As suggested on behalf of some complainant core participants,[28] the classified file on Andre Thorne might be published to dispel any doubts or theories.[29] Counsel to the Inquiry reviewed this file and did not consider its contents clarified events.

Back to top