Rochdale inquiry: MI5 knew of Cyril Smith cover-up press lie

Date published: 10 October 2017

MI5 knew about the country’s chief prosecutor lying to the press and covering up a sex abuse inquiry into Cyril Smith, an inquiry has heard.

The revelation came during the first day of hearings on Monday 9 October, when The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) opened an inquiry into alleged abuse which took place in Rochdale at Cambridge House Hostel and Knowl View residential school, when Smith was a governor.

For decades throughout his career, the former Liberal MP was the subject of repeated sex abuse claims. He was knighted in 1988, and died in 2010 aged 82, having never faced prosecution.

In his opening statement, Brian Altman QC lead counsel for the IICASA, said the then-Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Norman Skelhorn, claimed the investigation ‘was unlikely’ to lead to prosecution.

This was echoed nine years later when Norman’s successor, Sir Thomas Hetherington, lied to journalist David Bartlett from the Rochdale Alternative Press (RAP) about the existence of the case.

The inquiry heard how a police report in 1970 determined Smith “sheltered beneath a veneer of respectability” where “he used his unique position to indulge in a sordid series of indecent episodes with young boys towards whom he had a special responsibility”.

Files released by the intelligence agency MI5 briefing notes – written by their then legal advisor – showed how Hetherington told Bartlett there was ‘no record’ of the allegations against Smith.

Dated 24 April 1979, the notes read: “[Mr Hetherington] telephoned me today to say a man named David Bartlett, representing RAP in Lancashire, had telephoned about a gross indecency case involving Cyril Smith and boys at a hotel in Rochdale, which an unnamed senior police officer had asserted had been sent to the DPP in 1970.

“After consultations, the DPP’s press representative had untruthfully told Bartlett that they had no record of this case. In fact, their file closely accorded with the details given by Bartlett.”

The hearing were also told of a draft letter from Lord Shackleton to the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on behalf of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee directly referred to the police investigation, and news articles in RAP article and Private Eye article.

A second letter enclosing the coverage is believed to have been sent to Mrs Thatcher’s private secretary in May 1988.

Mr Altman told the inquiry that “the Lancashire investigation and the RAP article had been considered at the very highest level of politics” and “seemingly did not prompt more than consideration of the DPP's decision not to prosecute.”

Mr Altman added: “Cyril Smith continued to involve himself in serious issues related to the welfare of children. A knighthood would only have reinforced his own veneer of respectability and power.”

The hearings continue.

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