In 1962, when Cambridge House in Rochdale was opened to give young men a clean safe place to stay, Cyril Smith was 34, already an important man in the local community, and he seems to have regarded it as his private pleasure centre. The hostel ran from 1962 to 1965, Cyril Smith had keys and could come and go at any time, and was responsible for bringing in several boys to live there who’d been in difficult home situations, often then to work for the local authority, so that Smith would have control both over their jobs and over their home.
“Everybody knew who Cyril was. I mean he was so big. I didn’t know Rochdale all that well. But I did know, because I was working in local government, that he was chairman of most important committee, the Establishment Committee, because they make all the appointments. He was responsible as chairman of the Establishment Committee for appointing the town clerk, borough surveyor, treasurer – they were all Cyril’s men.” – Eddie Shorrock
Cyril Smith never married. He had a brother and a sister.
His family are not individually identified when they issued this public statement:
“The person they are describing is not the person known to his family, friends, colleagues and constituents.
“Sir Cyril always denied the allegations made against him in the 1960s and those investigated by the police in subsequent years.
“We continue to be saddened that Sir Cyril is unable to defend himself against such allegations.”
The family said: “We find many of the claims bizarre and difficult to believe, an independent inquiry would determine their truth or otherwise.”
The Lancashire Police carried out a “thorough investigation” in the late 1960s into Cyril Smith’s actions at the Cambridge House Hostel, and the investigating officer reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions that Cyril Smith had in fact abused his position to indecently assault boys at the hostel. But the DPP recommended against prosecution, because there was no corroboration of the testimony of the young men who had been abused by Smith at the hostel, and
“the characters of some of these young men would be likely to render their evidence suspect”.
(As the victims of rapists consistently find, if sexual abuse has made their lives a misery, this will be regarded by the justice system as proof their testimony is unreliable.)
In 1966, Cyril Smith became Mayor of Rochdale, with his mother Eva acting as Mayoress. Simon Danczuk recounts a story from that time: Eva Smith had the contract to clean the Town Hall, which she retained while acting as her son’s Mayoress. But she was banned from entering the police station, based in the Town Hall, because she would search through its bins for information to help her son. It’s one of those funny-not-really-funny stories: what information was Eva Smith looking for to “help” her son?
In 1972 Cyril Smith stood for Parliament and became the Liberal MP. He was the Liberal Party’s Chief Whip from 1975 to 1977. He maintained a close relationship with T&N, a popular local employer in Rochdale and the biggest asbestos conglomerate in the world, writing to their head of personnel in 1981 to let him know that the Commons would be debating EEC regulations on asbestos in the next parliamentary session and to ask him: “Could you please, within the next eight weeks, let me have the speech you would like to make (were you able to!), in that debate?” He then delivered the speech that the company sent to him, claiming in the local paper to have “worked very hard on it”, and a year later declared 1,300 shares in T&N.
In the 1970s and 1980s, there are allegations about Cyril Smith’s sexual abuse of boys at Knowl View residential special needs school, which closed in 1994. He was knighted in 1988. He stood down as MP in 1992 over disagreements with the Social Democratic Party, but remained a prominent public figure til his death in a Rochdale nursing home in 2010.
After an article in Private Eye in 1979 accused Cyril Smith of spanking boys, David Steel asked him about the allegation.
“I asked Cyril Smith about it. I was half expecting him to say it was all wrong, and I would have been urging him to sue to save his reputation. To my surprise he said the report was correct.
“He had some kind of supervisory role, I don’t know what it was, in these institutions in Rochdale which he reckoned entitled him to be involved in corporal punishment.”
David Steel had not seen a story published by the Rochdale Alternative Press (RAP), in 1979, which firmly alleged that Cyril Smith got a sexual thrill out of spanking boys at Cambridge Hostel.
Nicolas Blincoe, who lived in Rochdale then, remembers that RAP
recounted an abandoned police investigation into a charity-run home for adolescent boys, set up by Smith and closed in 1965. RAP detailed Smith’s penchant for voyeurism, groping and spanking, delivered to teenage boys under the camouflage of corporal punishment.
If it emerges that Smith, who died in 2010, raped young boys at Knowl View, the failure to act earlier will seem unforgivable. But the guilt will be shared. Everyone in Rochdale read the RAP story. I pored over it as a 13-year-old. There was never any doubt over Smith’s guilt. So why did no one do anything?
The facts seem to be that in 1969, Jack McCann, Rochdale’s Labour MP, put pressure on the police to either charge Smith or close the case. McCann heard Smith’s side of the story at the home of local headmaster Jack Kershaw. Kershaw taught my father, who still bears a grudge against him for delivering a severe caning when he was seven years old. In a world that encouraged violence on small children, spanking older boys seemed trivial. The boys’ accounts in RAP made clear that Smith derived a thrill from the punishment, but it was not obvious that he understood his sexual desires. If he did not, who were we to play amateur psychologist?
Barry Fitton, a resident of Cambridge Hostel aged 15, had skipped a day off work to go to Manchester with a friend. Cyril Smith found out and gave the two boys the choice of leaving the hostel – which Smith knew would have meant the boy had to go back to a problematic family situation – or taking a spanking.
Barry was taken to his room. He was again told to take his trousers and pants down. He says Smith hit him several times with his bare hand.
“He was big and he was heavy. You’ll have seen the size of his hands. Imagine how that would feel slapping you around,” he said. “I was crying and he said ‘oh, there there’ and he stroked my arse and fondled my buttocks. I was scared, Cyril Smith was God in Rochdale.”
His fellow miscreant was next. The boy, who will remain anonymous, had been living in the Salvation Army hostel in the town when Smith turned up one day to personally offer him a place at Cambridge House. Smith also arranged for him to get a job at Crawford Woolen Mills. After his unauthorised day trip to Manchester, this boy was ‘interviewed’ by Smith. He was given a choice: accept punishment or leave the hostel. He accepted the punishment and was led to the ‘Quiet Room’ at the front of the house. He had to take his pants down, bend over Smith’s knee and was hit by the councillor four or five times on his bare buttocks. He left the hostel two years later.
It’s still legal in the UK for a parent or guardian to smack a child providing the blow doesn’t leave a mark.
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