Thatcher ‘was told about’ Cyril Smith abuse claims

MARGARET Thatcher was made aware of child abuse allegations involving Liberal MP Cyril Smith before he was granted a knighthood, newly released documents have revealed.
Cyril Smith was investigated for abusing teenage boys in the 1960s. Picture: GettyCyril Smith was investigated for abusing teenage boys in the 1960s. Picture: Getty
Cyril Smith was investigated for abusing teenage boys in the 1960s. Picture: Getty

The papers also show the country’s most senior civil servant wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to find out why Smith did not face justice for alleged offences against teenage boys.

The 19-page dossier of information on the decision to confer a knighthood on former Rochdale MP Smith in 1988 included one undated letter, marked secret, from a member of the political honours scrutiny committee to Mrs Thatcher, warning of “the risk that such an award could give rise to adverse criticism”.

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In the letter, Lord Shackleton spelled out that police had investigated Smith in 1970 for “indecent assault against teenage boys” between 1961 and 1966, but the DPP had decided “there was no reasonable prospect of conviction”.

He said the case had been reported in the Rochdale Alternative Press and Private Eye, adding: “One may regret this kind of press reporting but it could be revived if an award to Mr Smith were made.”

Lord Shackleton said it would be “slightly unfortunate” if this “episode” stopped Smith receiving the honour but added: “We felt it right to warn the honours system would be at some risk if the award were to be made and announced.”

A second note to Mrs Thatcher, dated May 1988, admitted the committee had “some hesitation” about the award, but “so far as we believe and have been able to ascertain, his past history or general character does not, in all the circumstances, render him unsuitable”.

In another letter, the committee’s secretary said Smith had been given the “benefit of the doubt” because he had not been prosecuted.

The then cabinet secretary, Sir Robin Butler – now Lord Butler of Brockwell – wrote to the DPP on the committee’s behalf to seek more information about Smith’s case. He said: “The case for taking the exceptional step of writing to you in this way is to protect the Prime Minister (and the Queen) while also being fair to Mr Smith.”

Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who wrote a book about Cyril Smith, accused the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of aiding a cover-up. He told a Sunday newspaper: “Nick Clegg and David Cameron have colluded in covering this up. It involves their people and we should not have to learn about this piecemeal because of journalists pestering for information.

“Both men need to come clean and make a personal commitment to revealing everything that is now held by government departments.

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“The Prime Minister promised there would be no stone unturned into the inquiry of historic sex abuse in Westminster. But the Cabinet Office seems to be doing the opposite.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “There is no cover up nor was the Cabinet Office forced to release this information by the Information Commissioner.

“This is a sensitive and complex case and it is right that we considered advice from a range of officials. After considering the advice, the Cabinet Office decided to disclose information.”