Dead MP’s alleged sex abuse of young boys in home must be investigated, MP Simon Danczuk urges police
Sir Cyril Smith, (pic below) the former Liberal Democrat MP, sexually abused boys and “reduced them to quivering wrecks”, an MP has claimed during a Commons debate.
Allegations that a former Lib Dem routinely abused young boys while serving in Parliament were unleashed by a Rochdale MP today.
Sir Cyril Smith is the latest high-profile public figure to be accused of child sex abuse after Labour MP for Rochdale Simon Danczuk slammed the former MP for decades of scandal across the town.
Mr Danczuk, referring to the recent Rochdale grooming scandal, said: “Attempts to suppress the truth are not new in Rochdale.
“Sir Cyril Smith was a political giant in Rochdale but his career was continually dogged by allegations that he had abused boys…these allegations must be properly investigated and the seriousness of the victims’ complaints must be acknowleged.
“Young boys were humiliated, terrified and reduced to quivering wrecks by this 29-stone bully imposing himself on them.”
Mr Danczuk made the comments during a debate on child sexual exploitation.
Larger-than-life Sir Cyril, who died in 2010 while tipping to scales close to 30st, was previously accused of abusing children at a home in Rochdale during the 1960s and 70s – but Mr Danczuk demanded an investigation into people ‘turning a blind eye’.
Simon Danczuk said claims against the late MP had “circulated for years”.
“As we have seen from the recent Rochdale grooming trial there has been a willingness to turn a blind eye to child abuse in our town, and I believe this extends to the heart of Rochdale’s political establishment,” he said.
Three former residents of the home made sworn statements to a solicitor alleging Sir Cyril, a senior Labour councillor at the time, spanked and inappropriately touched them during the 1960s.
During a debate, Labour MP Mr Danczuk said they had been “young boys who were humiliated, terrified and reduced to quivering wrecks by a 29st bully imposing himself on them”.
“It is well known that Sir Cyril Smith was dogged by accusations of child abuse and I have recently spoken to people in Rochdale who have first-hand knowledge of the serious allegations made against him.
“Because of this I feel it’s absolutely necessary that police files on the alleged abuse of children at Cambridge House boys’ hostel finally see the light of day so we can get to the truth of what happened.”
Police were alerted to claims of abuse by Smith at the hostel but the case was dropped and no follow up action was ever taken.
Nine men were sentenced to a total of 96 years in jail as part Greater Manchester Police’s largest ever investigation into child sexual exploitation earlier this year.
The inquiry focused on allegations that five teenage girls in Rochdale were sexually exploited over a period of time by a group of 11 men.
A Parliamentary select committee are investigating the failings by social services that allowed the town’s most vulnerable girls to be targeted for sex by men.
The victims speak out – More from the victims at bottom of this page
Former residents of Cambridge House hostel in Rochdale (pic above) have gone on the record for the first time to explain how former Liberal MP Smith treated them as teenagers in the 1960s.
Barry Fitton, a former resident of the Cambridge House hostel in Rochdale, told the website politicshome.com that when he was 15 Smith would make him strip, smacked his bare bottom and then stroked his buttocks.
On another occasion, Smith subjected him to a “medical” that involved him stroking his thighs and testicles.
Another former resident, Eddie Shorrock, who was 17, said Smith, who founded the hostel and had keys to its premises, also gave him a “medical” whenever he took time off work.
Mr Danczuk said a third victim, who wished to remain anonymous, had contacted him today to describe the “abuse meted out by Sir Cyril”.
Rumours about child abuse dogged Smith for much of his life, and appeared in a local magazine and in Private Eye in 1979.
Allegations of sexual abuse
Allegations that in the 1960s he had spanked and sexually abused teenage boys in a hostel that he co-founded, and that the matter was investigated by police but not pursued by prosecutors, were made in May 1979 by a local underground magazine, the Rochdale Alternative Press. The story was repeated in the same month by the national satirical magazine Private Eye. No public denial or legal action ensued, but after Smith’s death the allegations were denied by his family
Profile on Cyril Smith
Sir Cyril Smith MBE (28 June 1928 – 3 September 2010) was a British politician who served as Liberal and Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency of Rochdale from 1972 until his retirement in 1992.
He was born in Rochdale, and was, as he once described himself, “illegitimate, deprived and poor”. Though he never knew the name of his father, he commented “I suspect I know who he was”. He lived with his mother and two other illegitimate siblings, Eunice and Norman, and grandmother in a one-up one-down cottage (now demolished) on Falinge Rd. His mother, Eva Smith, worked in service to a local cotton mill owning family who lived at 8 Kilnerdyne Terrace
According to his autobiography, Smith was found guilty of an offence relating to public lotteries. He was bound over to keep the peace for 12 months.
During the 1960s Smith was active in many Rochdale Council committees regarding youth activities. These included: Rochdale Youth Orchestra, Rochdale Youth Theatre Workshop, Governorship of 29 Rochdale schools and Chairmanship of the Youth Committee, Youth Employment Committee and the Education Committee.
Having been Liberal candidate in Rochdale at the 1970 general election when he took the party to second place, Smith won the seat at the 1972 by-election with a large swing from Labour to the Liberals. Smith won with a majority of 5,171. He won the seat on five further occasions. In June 1975 Smith was appointed as the Liberals’ Chief Whip and faced much pressure from the press in the wake of a sexual scandal involving party leader Jeremy Thorpe. Smith resigned from the Whips’ Office on health grounds. Speaking to Granada Television in 2003, David Steel reflected on events in the 1970s with the conclusion:
“Cyril was not an ideal Chief Whip because he did not handle a crisis well and had a tendency to say anything to a news camera“
In 1978 Smith approached former Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath to discuss forming a new Centre Party. In 1981 Smith was involved in moves to create “a party with a new image” but, according to the Rochdale Observer, at the foundation of the SDP in 1981 he warned Liberal Party colleagues to move with caution. Smith was quoted as being “opposed to an alliance at any price”.
He was knighted in 1988
Smith’s larger-than-life personality (and stature — he is believed to have been the heaviest British MP ever, having had a peak reported weight of 29 stone 12 pounds, about 190 kilograms) and popular television appearances made him one of the most recognisable British MPs of the 1970s. His nickname, “Big Cyril”, was also the title of his autobiography. A common joke on the size of the Parliamentary Liberal Party in the early 1970s was that only one taxi would be needed to transport the entire party; after Smith’s election, the party could fill two taxis.
Suffering from cancer and weighing just 10 stone, Smith died in his sleep in a Rochdale nursing home on 3 September 2010
Victims speak out in full
From the very first day that Barry Fitton and Eddie Shorrock arrived at Cambridge House ‘hostel for working boys’ in Rochdale in 1962, they knew they couldn’t avoid Cyril Smith.
Only in his mid-thirties but already noted for his large frame and political ambition, Smith was a powerful figure in the Lancashire mill town. As chairman of the Establishment Committee, which appointed all senior staff such as the town clerk and treasurer, everyone knew Big Cyril.
He’d also shown a keen interest in youth issues, chairing the Youth Advisory Committee and Youth Employment Committee, and won support from local businessmen and a probation chief to set up a new venture.
Cambridge House on Castlemere Street, just north of the town’s impressive neo-Gothic Town Hall, was aimed at providing affordable lodgings for those in need. The Latin inscription on its frontage read ‘Labor ipse voluptas’: Work itself is a pleasure.
But both Barry, then 15, and Eddie, then 17, were given a strange introduction to their new home. Arriving on separate days, each recalls a similar story of how Smith took them into a little-used, front room for a ‘medical examination’.
Barry, who was placed in the home after Smith discovered he was having problems with his family, recalls: “It was a big room which was only used for meetings when the committee came.” He says that Smith told him to take down his trousers and underpants. The councillor then felt the teenager’s thighs and testicles from both front and behind. “He held my testicles and asked me to cough.”
Barry didn’t share the incident with the other boys at the hostel, about a dozen of whom were older apprentices down brought down from Scotland to work in the town’s Whipp & Bourne factory. “It was too embarrassing,” he said. But over time he got to hear how other youngsters had the same experience. “I remember a couple of people at some point saying ‘that’s weird, why does he have to give you medical examinations and not a doctor?’ He was more or less in charge.”
A live-in couple cleaned and cooked in the hostel, but Smith had keys to the building and came and went as he pleased.
However, it turned out that Barry was to receive more than a medical. One day, he and a fellow resident skipped work to see the sights of Manchester. Their absence was reported to the hostel and on their return Smith was quickly round to reprimand them.
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 unathorised 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.
Barry too left the hostel, but couldn’t keep out of trouble. Caught stealing cigarettes, he was put on probation. But a breach of his probation meant he spent three months in Buckley Hall Detention Centre in Rochdale and on his release he went back to Cambridge House. On readmission, he was given a fresh ‘medical’ by Smith.
Now suffering from cancer, Barry’s eyesight is impaired but he is determined to see his story made public for the first time.
Eddie Shorrock’s story is similar. Speaking in his terraced home, Eddie, now 68, lives off a modest work pension and disability living allowance. His route to Cambridge House was typical: arrested for stealing a bicycle, he was given a probation officer who soon discovered that his father was violent and aggressive.
Eddie remembers: “I moved from my parents home where I’d always lived to this hostel in Rochdale, which is a massive improvement. When I was at home there was always arguing. My dad had a pretty violent temper, my mum was pretty placid.”
He says that he was one of the first arrivals at Cambridge House. “I think I was one of the first there were probably only half a dozen people in there. It was quite cushy there. It wasn’t incredibly expensive. It included your breakfast and evening meal. It was quite comfortable.”
But he felt far from comfortable after Cyril made his presence felt. “I think he might have been there on the first day. He was the physical embodiment of the hostel,” Eddie says. “He used to keep popping in. He had a committee and they had a meeting every month.”
The first time he knew of the ‘medical’ incidents was when it happened to him.”I had rung in sick. At the time I was working in local govt in Rochdale, in the town hall. When I first started I was working in the rates office. I just rang in. What’s the easiest excuse in the world? A gippy tummy…. Cyril was round in no time.
“I can’t remember whether it was the same day or following day but he came round pretty smartish. The people that were running the hostel must have been asked by Cyril to tell him if any of the boys are sick or having time off work or anything, so he could come round so he could give me his personal medical.”
Smith took him into the front room of the hostel, which was only used once a month for meetings of the committee which oversaw the home.
“We were in this private room, just the two of us in this room. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it was something like ‘I want to check up to make sure you’re not pulling a fast one’.”
“I don’t think he physically touched. I can’t remember. I really can’t, but it was basically ‘drop your pants, drop your underpants and spin round, twirl round’. So he could have a good look all round. He told me to bend over. To me it was more of a voyeurism.”
How did he know that it was Cyril? “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.”
“It happened more than once though. It happened about 2 or 3 times over the course of about 18 months.”
Mr Shorrock also told how Smith threatened him the day he decided to leave the hostel. “The thing that I remember was this threat. It was something like “People don’t cross me…don’t try and cross me because I’ll get you”.
“I suppose in his own mind he thought if someone leaves here, and he hasn’t got this control over them, if they start blabbing, that’s going to concern him.”
Mr Shorrock said that he’d decided to speak out mainly because of Smith’s ‘abuse of power’ over the vulnerable.
“The main reason is for anyone to create a situation like that with captive young boys with your own little concubines, your own harem and then just going at every opportunity to take advantage of them is just such an absolute abuse of power.
“Any abuse of power is wrong and if it involves something as personal as that with young boys, that makes it even worse. It’s pretty low isn’t it?”
Eddie and Barry are just two of several former residents who were unhappy at their treatment at Cambridge House.
They all moved on to different jobs, homes and in some cases even different countries. The hostel closed in 1965 largely through lack of funds, after Rochdale Council children’s committee decided it did not want to pay for a grant.
But a few years later, one former resident was arrested for importuning outside the Regal cinema in Rochdale. He was arrested and sent to Risley remand centre, and while there complained that he had only been doing what Cyril Smith had done and there was one law for the powerful and one for the poor. Smith had risen even further up the political ladder and was then chairman of the education committee. The police decided to investigate. Several statements were taken from boys, the file was then apparently sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. But it remains unclear if the DPP received it and its whereabouts remain a mystery.
The allegations surfaced for the first time in 1979 when a local magazine called Rochdale Alternative Press (RAP) conducted a detailed investigation into the claims. It gathered several affadavits from former residents, copies of which have been seen by PoliticsHome.com. Eddie Shorrock was however in Bristol in the late 1970s and was never traced at the time. Barry Fitton was one of those who signed an affidavit but has until today not been willing to be named. Some of their fellow residents are now dead, others difficult to contact.
Cyril Smith never married but jealously guarded his private life. He did, however, once tell the local paper, the Rochdale Observer: “I believe there is a place in law for corporal punishment….there is a place in law for a good hiding”.
At the end of his interview, Eddie Shorrock recalled a joke one former resident of Cambridge House once made about ‘Big Cyril’’s girth: “What we should do with Cyril is put him in a cage with bars that far apart [holding his hands up about three feet apart] and then make him do press-ups…. until he can get out.”
He and the other boys wish that Smith could have been put behind real bars in his lifetime. That’s no longer possible, but they hope that now they’ve gone public, some kind of justice can still be done.