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Tuesday 13th November 2012 | 10:35
Exclusive by Paul Waugh, Editor, PoliticsHome.com
Sir Cyril Smith became the latest public figure to be accused of abuse today after residents at a boys’ hostel described how he made youngsters strip, fondled them and smacked their bare bottoms for punishment.
Two former residents of Cambridge House hostel in Rochdale have gone on the record for the first time to tell PoliticsHome.com how former Liberal MP Smith treated them as teenagers in the 1960s.
Barry Fitton, who was 15 at the time, said that the former Rochdale MP punished him by bending him over his knee and hitting his backside with his bare hand. Afterwards, Smith told him to lie on a bed and stroked his buttocks.
On another occasion, Smith subjected the teenager to a ‘medical’ that involved him feeling his thighs and testicles.
Another former resident, Eddie Shorrock, who was 17 at the time, described how Smith, who founded the hostel and had keys to its premises, also gave him a ‘medical’ whenever he took time off work. He was made to strip and display his genitals.
Rumours about Smith’s conduct circulated for years but until now, all of his accusers have remained anonymous. Current Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk MP is set to highlight PoliticsHome’s new evidence during a debate on child protection in the House of Commons today, with calls for a fresh inquiry into the claims.
Several of the boys at the hostel later made formal complaints to the police but no action was taken. Police files intended for the Crown Prosecution Service seemingly went missing in the 1970s. Smith, who was in his mid thirties at the time of the alleged incidents, died in 2010.
A local news magazine, Rochdale Alternative Press (RAP), first published anonymous allegations of abuse against Smith in 1979, but no national newspaper reprinted the claims.
Only Private Eye repeated the substance of the original report, which claimed that seven boys made accusations of abuse. Smith issued a writ against RAP, although he never sued and eventually paid its costs when the case was dropped in court in 1981. A local blog, Northern Voices, resurrected the original allegations in recent months.
Mr Shorrock has never before spoken about the allegations. Mr Fitton, who along with two other residents had signed an affidavit 33 years ago to back up his claims, is speaking out publicly about his ordeal for the first time too. Both said that they hope that the incidents will now be properly investigated.
Cambridge House hostel for working boys opened in Castlemere Street, Rochdale in 1962, with Cyril Smith playing a key role in its creation and oversight. Smith was already a powerful councillor locally, serving as chairman of Rochdale Borough Council’s Establishment Committee.
Several of the boys it took in were from broken homes, children’s homes or had fallen foul of the police.
Mr Fitton told PoliticsHome.com that the day after he arrived at Cambridge House, Smith ordered him to take part in a ‘medical’. “I was scared, Cyril Smith was God in Rochdale,” he said. “He told me to take my trousers and pants down. He felt my thighs and testicles from both front and back. He held my testicles and asked me to cough.”
After Mr Fitton skipped work one day to go to Manchester, Smith discovered his absence and summoned him for a punishment. Alone with the boy in his bedroom, Smith again told him to take his trousers down and to bend over his knee. He 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. There was nothing else apart from the medical examination and the fondling of my buttocks. I heard stories later on about something involving wet flannels but I don’t know what that was about.”
Mr Fitton left the hostel but went back after a spell in a detention centre for breaking his probation. On being readmitted, he was again given an intimate ‘medical’ by Smith.
“Whenever I see something like it on television it all comes back to me and I think of all the other hundreds of kids and the same thing happening to them,” he said.
“There are still people in Rochdale who don’t believe that Cyril Smith was capable of doing these things. I think it should be brought out in to the open not just for my peace of mind but for other people’s peace of mind.
“Because when things like that happen, it doesn’t go away. There’s always reminders and not just this Jimmy Savile thing, the sex scandal in Rochdale with young girls. I still shiver thinking about it.”
Mr Fitton didn’t tell the other boys of his ordeal but he recalls other residents talking about the ‘medicals’. “I remember a couple of people at some point saying ‘that’s weird - why does he have to give you medical examinations and he’s not a doctor?’ He was more or less in charge.”
Smith went on to become Liberal MP for the town in 1972 and held his seat for 20 years. He rose to become Chief Whip of the party, playing a key role in the removal of Jeremy Thorpe as leader.
Mr Fitton said: “I’d just like it to be made public. I hope there’s a mass of people come forward. Cyril Smith, a big man, with all that authority, you were scared to cross him because he had complete control of what happened in Rochdale.
“I still think about it and when I see all these things coming out on the news I think well I thought nothing more could be done because he’s dead, but it seems they’ve started doing things at long last.”
Eddie Shorrock, another of the younger residents at the newly opened hostel in 1962, also told PoliticsHome of his own treatment. Placed in the hostel by the probation service at the age of 17, he got a job in Rochdale Council’s rates department. But when he rang in sick one day “Cyril was round in no time.”
“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.”
“It happened more than once though. It happened about 2 or 3 times over the course of about 18 months.”
When asked how he recognised Smith, Mr Shorrock replied: “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.”
Mr Shorrock, now 68, said that he had no idea that fellow residents had signed affadavits about their own experiences more than 30 years ago. He explained that Smith didn’t dare touch a group of Scottish apprentices who had been brought down to the Whipp & Bourne factory and also stayed in the home.
“It was only the young lads, the youngest ones he was taking advantage of. There’s no way he would have tried it with the apprentices. There was this one lad he was quite big he wouldn’t have tried it [with him], he would have flattened him. He didn’t try it with any of the Scots boys because there were about 8 or 10 of them. But there were about four of five younger people that were on their own, if you will, so he could do what he wanted with them.”
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?
“You were vulnerable. People were in there because they were separated from their families for whatever reason, it might have been a dangerous family, or in my case because of broken relationships.
“All the young ones that were in there were in there because they had nowhere else to go and nowhere else to turn. They weren’t in there voluntarily. I don’t know what their routes into the hostel were. I know mine was through the probation service. But whatever the routes in were, once in there they were sort of captive. They can be used and abused. And they were. By Cyril.”
Mr Shorrock said that whenever Smith arrived at the hostel he was alone.
Lancashire Police carried out an investigation after one former resident claimed Smith had been guilty of indecency. Several of the boys made police statements about their treatment. Police interviewed Smith and with his solicitor present denied all allegations against him.
The police allegedly sent the file to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but Smith was later told that the case was dropped because of insufficient evidence. It is claimed that during the Coalition discussions of 1974, when Smith could have held a ministerial post, Special Branch were said to have acquired a copy of the file from Lancashire Police’s Preston HQ. Lancashire Police said in 1979 that it could not enter into correspondence on the issue of the file’s whereabouts. The DPP’s office could not confirm or deny receiving it.
Smith and his family have always denied the allegations against him. When they resurfaced following Smith’s death in 2010, his brother Norman – a former senior Liberal Democrat councillor - told the Rochdale Observer the reason why he decided not to sue more than 30 years ago:
“The reason Cyril didn’t take legal action was that he was advised by his barrister that it would cost the people involved a hell of a lot of money. There was no point taking legal action because there was no money to pay and Cyril was told to forget it because the allegations were totally untrue”.
Smith never married and said his 1977 autobiography “I believe that a politician’s private life is his own affair and should remain so unless his private behaviour jeopardises his political role.” He made no mention in his biography of Cambridge House hostel.
Paul Rowen, Rochdale's former Liberal Democrat MP who has been asked to speak for the Smith family, told PoliticsHome: "Norman [Smith]'s view is that there is no truth in the allegations." He added: "If those two witnesses report it to the police there will have to be a full investigation. My understanding is that at the time these allegations were originally made in 1979, they were were fully investigated."
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