Margaret Thatcher decided to award a knighthood to a suspected child abuser MP despite being aware of the allegations against him, an inquiry has heard.
The honour for then Rochdale MP Cyril Smith allowed him to continue to exploit his victims because he used the title to maintain ties with children’s organisations, investigators said.
The revelation came as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse heard witness statements as part of its probe into how Smith was allegedly able to abuse young boys at Cambridge House hostel and Knowl View residential school in Rochdale.
Smith was knighted in 1988 having served as an MP since 1972. He died in 2010 at the age of 82. Despite persistent child abuse allegations against him during his career, he never faced trial.
The inquiry panel was told that the MP’s knighthood was awarded despite people “at the very highest level of politics” being aware of multiple allegations he had sexually abused at least eight boys.
Brian Altman QC, lead counsel for the inquiry, said the title had given the MP a “veneer of respectability and power” that helped him gain access to his alleged victims.
He said: "I mention this knighthood here for two reasons. First, because it demonstrates that the Lancashire investigation and the [Rochdale Alternative Press] article had been considered at the very highest level of politics and seemingly did not prompt more than consideration of the Director of Public Prosecution’s decision not to prosecute.
"Second, because it is important to bear in mind the extent to which Cyril Smith continued to involve himself in serious issues related to the welfare of children.
"A knighthood would only have reinforced Smith's veneer of respectability and power”.
The inquiry, which is being led by Professor Alexis Jay, was also told that MI5 was aware of claims that prosecutors had lied when explaining their decision not to prosecute Smith. The allegations against the MP were investigated by Lancashire Police and three separate files passed to the Crown Prosecution Service. However, the case was dropped in 1970 when Sir Normal Skelhorn, the Director of Public Prosecutions at the time, decided it was unlikely to lead to a conviction.
Sir Norman is said to have made the decision despite being told by a senior detective that the “sordid” allegations against Smith “stood up”.
Mr Altman said documents given to the inquiry by MI5 showed that Sir Norman had misled media outlets over the decision not to prosecute the Liberal MP. His office reportedly told the the Rochdale Alternative Press newspaper that it had never received police reports of the alleged abuse.
Mr Altman said: "The documents show that the Security Service's legal adviser was informed of the false representations to the press from the DPP's office.
"Based upon their review of the information they hold, the Security Service considers they took active steps to ensure that those involved in investigating allegations of child sexual abuse against Smith were made aware of all information of relevance to their inquiries.
"However, given their function was to defend the realm, at that time, and investigation was outside their remit, they simply filed the information related to the false representations that had been made to the press."
The initial 1970 Lancashire Police inquiry into Smith concluded he had used a “veneer of respectability” in order to abuse young boys in the 1960s.
The report said: "It seems impossible to excuse his conduct over a considerable period of time whilst sheltering behind 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."
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies