We report today allegations that Sir Cyril Smith, among the most recognisable politicians of the past half century, abused young boys in the 1960s and 1970s. Smith won Rochdale for the Liberals in a by-election in 1972 and held it for 20 years. The charges against him were made in the Commons yesterday by Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale.
Danczuk deserves credit for attacking the reputation of his predecessor. The allegations are true. Smith was a paedophile sadist who satisfied his urgings by inflicting humiliating punishment on vulnerable boys who were nominally in his care. Francis Wheen exposed these horrors in Private Eye 30 years ago. Smith never sued.
When Smith died in 2010, cloying tributes ensued. Nick Clegg said: “Rochdale and Britain have sadly lost one of their great MPs.” I believe that the sole critical remarks were made by Kevin Maguire of The Mirror and me. It’s long past time for a proper evaluation of Smith’s life and crimes.
In making a speech in Parliament opposing European regulation of the asbestos industry, Smith asked for and received the help of an asbestos company in his constituency. He made no mention to Parliament that he was a significant shareholder in the company. He thus dishonestly sought to protect his financial interests in a deadly industry.
It wasn’t only Smith’s conduct that was disgusting. So were his politics. In successive divisions, he was the only Liberal MP (and subsequently Liberal Democrat MP) to vote for the return of capital punishment. He was a doctrinaire and unyielding opponent of abortion, for whom questions of ethics and women’s rights could be countered with boneheaded abuse. After the failure in 1988 of David Alton’s bill to reduce the time limit for abortions to 18 weeks, Smith was forced by the Speaker to apologise for referring to MPs who had talked it out as “murderers in the womb”.
Cyril Smith was a reactionary bigot whose mind was as small as his girth was huge. Above all, he was a sexual predator and a corrupt, venal liar, and should be remembered that way.