Cyril Smith abuse claims 'covered up'

Rochdale's current MP is urging Theresa May to investigate

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The Independent Online

Theresa May will this week be challenged to launch an investigation into allegations that an "establishment cover-up" prevented claims that Sir Cyril Smith was a child abuser from being revealed for almost 50 years.

Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk will ask the Home Secretary to order an inquiry into the handling of a police investigation into the activities of the former Liberal MP, who died two years ago, after a series of men came forward to claim they were abused by him in the town in the 1960s.

The Independent on Sunday reported last week that Mr Danczuk had called for "the truth" about Sir Cyril, after allegations of abuse at a hostel he founded re-emerged in the wake of the Jimmy Savile affair and the row over the BBC Newsnight report that led to Conservative peer Lord McAlpine being wrongly accused of child abuse.

Mr Danczuk told MPs that young boys at Cambridge House hostel had been "reduced to quivering wrecks by a 29-stone bully imposing himself on them", in the years before Sir Cyril became Rochdale MP in 1972. He said seven men had since told him of their experiences, which included being subjected to "sexual punishments" by Sir Cyril. A Manchester solicitor is representing a number of alleged victims.

However, the surge of interest in the allegations has also raised new questions about the police, prosecutors, politicians and the security services, who are alleged to have intervened to prevent Sir Cyril being prosecuted.

Although Lancashire Police investigated the claims in the 1960s, no action was taken. Tony Robinson, a former Special Branch officer with Lancashire Police, last week said a dossier "thick" with allegations against Sir Cyril was seized by MI5 in the 1970s and taken to London. He also said that the then Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) examined the allegations but decided a prosecution was "not in the public interest".

It has been claimed that Sir Cyril was protected because his party had become pivotal when the then Conservative leader, Ted Heath, invited the Liberals to form a coalition government after he failed to gain an overall majority in the first general election of 1974. At the time, it appeared that Sir Cyril might have become a government minister.

A former detective has claimed that around the same time, a Special Branch officer had tried to prevent him interviewing a man who alleged Sir Cyril abused young boys. Paul Foulston, a former detective constable with Thames Valley police, told The Guardian that two Special Branch officers said he couldn't interview a 20-year-old suspect at a remand centre in 1976 because they were "working on an inquiry relating to an MP" and the suspect should not be interviewed. Mr Foulston and his senior officer ignored the demand and went ahead; the man later told detectives he was angry because he had had a relationship with Smith and had been rejected by him.

But Sir Cyril's brother, Norman, has dismissed the claims as "nonsense", adding: "It's been proved on more than one occasion that there's no case."

Mr Danczuk, who will confront Mrs May with the concerns over the case during Home Office questions in the House of Commons, said last night: "What happened to the victims is tragic, but it is only half of the story; the other half is the shocking cover-up after the events were first reported more than 40 years ago.

"We have heard that Special Branch took the original police files, and that the DPP decided a prosecution was not in the public interest. These were incredible decisions and suggest someone was keen to keep a lid on this case whatever happened. We need to get all the information on this case published, but we need someone to bring it together and get to the bottom of what went on and how it was all allowed to happen."

Abuse against children is currently the subject of around 1,000 compensation claims, according to legal experts, with more expected.

w Senior BBC staff responsible for the flawed Newsnight investigation will this week learn if they still have a job, after an inquiry by Ken MacQuarrie, director of BBC Scotland, found that basic journalistic checks were not made. Liz Gibbons, who was Newsnight's acting editor when it claimed a "top Tory" was a paedophile on 2 November, will find out her fate this week.

Retired teacher: 'I wonder how she fared. I hope she's had a good life'

The article and photograph on the Johns family in last week's Independent on Sunday stirred up some memories for me that are over 40 years old. Adrian and Lee, who were on the left of the picture, and their two brothers had been abused at the Bryn Estyn care home in North Wales in the 1970s. Adrian was to die in an arson attack in Brighton in 1992, while Lee died of a drugs overdose three years later.

In 1969, I began my first teaching job after completing my training. It was in a Catholic high school in Flintshire. (Three years later, in 1972, Flintshire became part of the new county of Clwyd. Clwyd itself was abolished in 1996 and Flintshire was reborn.)

Something that I had not expected was that the pupil population would include a number of "orphans" who lived in a convent housed in a great Gothic complex in the middle of nowhere. The children were bused in and out every day.

I remember quite clearly all the convent orphanage children, including the Johns family. Leander (Lee) was the youngest, about 11; Julian (Jay) was about 13; Lisa was 14 and Adrian was 15. I think I knew there was another older brother, but I never met Chris. All the convent children were sent to school immaculately turned out. The Johns family was no exception. They were a very handsome family and their names were very unusual for that time and that area. Lisa, the only girl, was lovely. She was quiet, pleasant and friendly and never gave us a minute's trouble. In my first year, I was mostly responsible for a particular class and Lisa was in it. I wonder how she fared. I hope she's had a good life.

The boys were charming and very likeable but you had to watch them like hawks. I have memories of laughing at them and with them, and also of being furious with them. I remember Leander being really mischievous.

I left the school in 1971. The next time I heard their names was in connection with that dreadful fire which claimed Adrian. Throughout the Clwyd child abuse scandal I never associated them with what was going on.

I taught hundreds of children but I have never forgotten the convent children from 1969-71. What happened to the Johns family was and is unbearable. To one very young and inexperienced teacher, this lovely, troubled family made a lasting impression. I will always remember them.

BBC's 'Children in Need' raises nearly £27m

Children in Need raised £26,757,446 during Friday's live BBC show, allaying fears that the Jimmy Savile sex claims and two botched Newsnight investigations would adversely affect donations.

"I'm surprised and absolutely thrilled," said the charity's chairman, Stevie Spring. "It's a sign of the whole of the UK getting behind Pudsey, coming out in force."

Sir Terry Wogan, who fronted the show, strategically tiptoed around the Savile crisis in a video segment he introduced.

"We know that children are vulnerable, and news in recent weeks has been an awful reminder of how terrible that can be," he said. "Here at Children in Need we have been supporting children suffering all kinds of abuse, including sexual abuse. We hope you can help us to continue that support."

It is hoped this year's final total will beat last year's £46.9m.

Paul Cahalan