Lord Steel suspended from Liberal Democrats over Cyril Smith remarks

Posted On: 
15th March 2019

The Liberal Democrats have suspended former party leader Lord Steel after he admitted "assuming" Cyril Smith had abused boys in the 1960s.

Lord Steel at the funeral of Jeremy Thorpe, with former Liberal Democrat leaders Nick Clegg and the late Paddy Ashdown
Credit: 
PA

The party grandee made the comment while giving evidence to the Inquiry into Sexual Abuse on Wednesday.

The peer, who led the Liberal Party from 1976 until it merged with the SDP in 1988, said he had confronted former Rochdale MP Mr Smith in 1979 over a story in Private Eye which alleged he had spanked young boys and conducted intimate medical examinations at a hostel in the town.

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“He accepted the story was correct,” he said. “Obviously I disapproved but as far as I was concerned it was past history.”

Mr Smith added that he “assumed” Mr Smith had committed the offences, but did not raise his concerns again, adding: “It was nothing to do with me”.

In a statement, the Scottish Liberal Democrats said they would be launching a formal investigation into the peer.

"Following the evidence concerning Cyril Smith given by Lord Steel to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse on 13th March 2019, the office bearers of the Scottish Liberal Democrats have met and agreed that an investigation is needed,” they said.

"The party membership of Lord Steel has been suspended pending the outcome of that investigation. That work will now commence.

"It is important that everyone in the party, and in wider society, understands the importance of vigilance and safeguarding to protect people from abuse, and that everyone has confidence in the seriousness with which we take it.

"We appreciate the difficult work that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is doing on behalf of the victims and survivors of abuse, and the country as a whole."

Mr Smith had served as a Labour councillor in Rochdale during the 1960s before sitting as a Liberal and then Liberal Democrat MP for the area between 1972 and 1992. He died in 2010.

Allegations of sexual abuse by Mr Smith were investigated by Lancashire police in 1969, but no action was taken.

A report from the inquiry last year into Mr Smith’s behaviour concluded there had be an “unwillingness” at the highest levels to accept the MP could have been an abuser.

Lord Steel, who waved through a recommendation for Mr Smith to be knighted in 1988, added: "I wouldn't have been hiding my head in the sand.

"These allegations all related to a period some years before he was even an MP and before he was even a member of the party, therefore it did not seem to me that I had any position in the matter at all."

But speaking after the inquiry, the peer defended his comments claiming the media had created “sensationalist headlines”.

“It is unfortunate that some sections of the media have chosen to extract certain passages of evidence and present them without full context,” he said.

The decision to suspend the peer was taken after a meeting of senior Liberal Democrat figures on Thursday evening.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable told ITV News: “There’s a disciplinary process, we need to establish what happens.

“He is innocent until proven guilty but he is suspended and the action will follow up on that.

“It is a voluntary party, these are not people who are professionally employed in disciplinary investigations, we convened the group immediately the day after this allegation was made.”