Sir Cyril Smith MBE is having one last get together in the Great, larger-than-life, Hall in Rochdale Town Hall. Today at 12 noon, all welcome, for what will no doubt be a rather rose-tinted spectacle. About an hour I should reckon. Then a procession to Rochdale Crematorium which is about a mile away as the crows fly, slightly further perhaps via Smith Street and Drake Street. Then, at 1:40pm a friends and family service at the Crem.
The Rochdale Observer, a paper that Cyril Smith loved to browbeat and bully like some hysterical Boss Hogg grand master or godfather, and which was eventually driven from the Town with the likes of David Hennigan and Norman Smith and Paul Rowen still shouting threats and admonishments at them, nonetheless offers quite a generous scene setting.
In fact they don't put a foot wrong. HERE.
I don't think they are publishing any comments despite an invitation to leave our views and anecdotes. Here's mine, exactly as submitted to them:
Doesn't look like you are printing comments. Presumably this is because of adverse comments being made by those for whom Sir Cyril loomed over them "larger than life" in a bad way.
To take three examples from many potential problematic incidents:
1. Cyril was reported to the Police on one occasion over his activities dishing out brutal and by all accounts sexualised punishment beatings and more to residents at Cambridge House, a hostel for young vulnerable apprentices, far from home. A police investigation was completed but strings were pulled at the highest level and Cyril's career was saved. Private Eye and other alternative press carried the story in some detail and Sir Cyril did not rebutt or take action against them. At one point he was on the governing body of more than 250 schools, he was actively involved in all kinds of arts and sport activities, in the organisation of Education borough-wide, in children's homes, and he famously supported Rochdale Childer. These days he would not have passed a basic never mind enhanced CRB disclosure.
2. Cyril was heavily involved in harassing and haranging the police, the lawyers, the prisons and the court in a celebrated case. The end result was that an innocent man was imprisoned for two decades over a sexual assault, rape and child killing that he did not and could not possibly have committed. Evidence was available at the time that utterly exonerated the man. Poor Stefan Kisko's defence barrister was David Waddington who would go on the be Tory Home Secretary. To put it mildly the police were crooked. And Waddington made a complete pig's ear of the job of defending the man. At the time of the conviction of the real killer the Manchester Evening News and others reported an extraordinary link between the murder and Sir Cyril and his political activity, which was a course a thing of great twists and turns, betrayals and defections.
3. Last but not least there's the "magic" also known as "killer" mineral that is asbestos. This much has been carried in some of the notices over Cyril's death. Rochdale's MP was a shareholder, a bit of a Santa Claus in the social, a dining out chum of the management, and their sock puppet - willing to read speeches the killer industrialists had created, resisting health and safety improvements and the crushing weight of evidence of harm, disease and death and to read these on the floor of the House of Commons. David Waddington was again somethingly involved. Cyril too was an industrialist, owning a company called Smith's Springs and becoming a millionaire, though how so is shrouded in mystery. Suffice it to say that Turner Brothers Asbestos is not the only major commercial organisation to which Smith's name has been connected over his assistance to their activities.
Much of this will no doubt be subject of alternative memoirs, leaching out into Rochdale like so much asbestos dust from Spodden killing fields. There is believed to be enough killer dust there - with one particle enough to cause plaques or cancers - to cover several football pitches to chest high on Cyril and his brother Norman.
Cyril may have put Rochdale on the map on one level. Not really in a good way though, as the faint praise of some of the more independent appreciations bears witness. In many ways Cyril leaves a great hole behind him. Largely down to him and his colleagues and despite the staggering efforts of good Rochdale people to rise above the overwhelming grime and poverty and nastiness of life under Cyril.
No doubt his mother loved him.
UPDATE Thu 11:45: Image of news item added. Along with this - the text thereon - to assist seekers of Google truth on the larger than life Sir Cyril Smith MBE, that former Rochdale Liberal MP, and his strange predilections and dodgy career history. There will be more anon:
Private Eye No. 1271 (17-30 Sept 2010)
100 Years Ago
So, farewell then, Sir Cyril Smith MBE. With the lone exception of Times blogger Oliver Kamm – who called him “a corrupt, mendacious mountain of flesh” - the former Liberal MP for Rochdale has departed this world to a chorus of fond tributes. Nick Clegg ventured that he was “one of the most likable politicians of his day”.
Not so likeable, perhaps, if you were one of the children about whom Private Eye wrote in May 1979. The magazine described how Big Cyril had repeatedly dished out sexual “punishments” to vulnerable youngsters living at the Cambridge House boys' hostel during the 1960s. The Eye published details from witness statements obtained by Rochdale's Alternative Paper about his threats to the teenage residents.
“He gave me a choice between accepting his punishment or leaving the hostel,” said one. “He took me into the Quiet Room. He told me to take my trousers and pants down and he hit me four or five times on my bare buttocks.”
As secretary of the Rochdale Hostel for Boys Association, which ran Cambridge House, Smith was a regular after-hours visitor. Another resident recalled: “Cyril Smith found that I had taken some money. He asked me if I would accept his punishment. He then told me to take off my trousers and pants and bend over his knee...he hit me many times... afterwards he came to my bedroom and wiped my bare buttocks with a sponge.” A third youngster reported that Smith has “given a kind of medical examination... he held my testicles and told me to cough”.
The RAP editors gathered seven sworn statements of this kind. Although Smith took no action against RAP or the Eye – or the New Statesman, which also reported the allegations – not a single national newspaper mentioned the story.
It was dismissed by Liberal leader David Steel as “not a very friendly gesture, publishing that, all he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms”.
The Lancashire Constabulary took a different view, and had indeed investigated Smith. A report was prepared but in 1974, during discussions about a Con/Lib coalition, it was taken to London by Special Branch and never seen again. A second copy was sent to the director of public prosecutions but this, too, seemed to vanish into thin air. The DPP stated that he could not “confirm or deny receiving it”.
If all this suggests some kind of institutional cover-up, it wouldn't be the first in Rochdale. For years the powers-that-be knew about sexual abuse at Knowl View, a special residential school for children aged between eight and 16, but did nothing about it.
Knowl View was eventually closed in 1995. In September 2002 David Higgins, a former teacher, pleaded guilty to 11 counts of gross indecency involving young children at the school. His crimes had been committed in the years following its foundation in 1969 by Cyril Smith, who was also a governor.
The full truth may take a while to emerge: Knowl View school records have been restricted from public view for 100 years.
UPDATE Fri 20:03: The Rochdale Observer lead with a by turns alarming and amusing rebuttal by Norman "the enforcer" Smith, brother of the late, great, foul Sir Cyril Smith MBE. In which Norman makes a number of utterly false claims which the Observer print without question. They do however repeat a sample of the accusations. Private Eye would do well to load a five hundredweight van with extra copies of their current edition and go and sell them door to door around Rochdale and surrounds. They could sent a similar vehicle to Liverpool for the Lib Dem conference.
Scan below. And text. Or you can read it in situ HERE. In truth you are rather more likely to find comments here on this blog than over there at the Obbie.
Cyril’s family in fury at ‘cowardly’ article
September 17, 2010
Sir Cyril Smith's family have hit out at a 'cowardly' magazine article for repeating sexual abuse allegations against the late Rochdale MP.
A piece in this week's Private Eye magazine refers to abuse said to have taken place at Cambridge House boy's hostel in Rochdale in the 1960s.
Sir Cyril, who was secretary of the Rochdale Hostel for Boys Association which ran the centre, was alleged to have dished out 'punishments' to vulnerable youngsters living at the home, but the claims were never proven.
His brother Norman Smith said: "Have Private Eye got nothing better to do than attack a person who's dead and can't respond.
"It's absolutely appalling.
"These allegations were disproved at the time.
"We have had hundreds of cards, 99 per cent of people have said what a wonderful man he was and what wonderful things he did for Rochdale.
"He thought of nothing else than the people of Rochdale.
"At the time these allegations were proved completely untrue and they were dropped.
"The reason that Cyril didn't take legal action was that he was advised by his barrister, that it would have 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."
The Private Eye article digs up a previous piece, published in the magazine in May 1979, and re-printed in the week of Sir Cyril's funeral.
Then the publication reported that Rochdale Alternative Press – a local underground magazine of the time - had been supplied with seven sworn statements from teenagers at Cambridge House alleging that Sir Cyril Smith had abused them.
One claimed Sir Cyril, who died on September 3 aged 82, spanked his bare buttocks, while another youngster claimed he had given him a kind of medical examination.
Norman added: "The family are so upset by Cyril's death and for Private Eye to come forward with something like this they're nothing but cowards."
At the time the claims were dismissed by Liberal leader David Steel as 'not a very friendly gesture'.
UPDATE Fri 20:46: Here is the comment I just submitted, rather than one in the comments:
Oh come on Observer! What's cowardly is not printing these facts down the years, brow beaten by Cyril, Norman and their enforcers. What's cowardly is a party machine that completely failed in their duty to get rid of this man. In fact David Steel continued that quote to admit that Cyril had done the deed. "Spanking a few bare bottoms" I think he called it. What's cowardly is for Norman to simply make up a response to this story and tell his local newspaper, a paper that served his brother Cyril well down the years, to tell The Observer things he must surely know are not true.
Norman Smith begins his rubbish with: "These allegations were disproved at the time." This is absolute nonsense. The police investigation concluded that there was a case and tried to pass this up the chain. The witness statements that are in the public domain are compelling.
A cracking case was apparently snatched out of the due process by politically motivated interference. None of the accusations was disproved. In fact David Steel himself basically admitted in terms that Cyril had administered these beatings.
Norman Smith offers the fact that there are many well wishers as some kind of evidence of innocence. We all know Cyril was popular. We don't know quite why. But we know it was the case. Then Norman tries again: "At the time these allegations were proved completely untrue and they were dropped."
Once again this is utterly false. The allegations were not proved to be untrue. Far from it. There was no due process that "dropped" these allegations. Allegations don't get dropped. It is charges that get dropped. Because of his friends in high places and in a truly staggering fashion even at three and four decades separation no charges were brought.
Cyril Smith may well have taken advice from a barrister. Perhaps Norman Smith can open the archives of Cyril the renowned man of letters and show us the exchanges. Let's see Cyril's briefs please Norman. Given that his party leader David Steel had already essentially admitted the basic narrative was correct and given the way things were going at the school Cyril had founded - that's the notorious den of child abuse and child prostitution that was Knowl View - and elsewhere on the patch, the advice may well have been to throw his weight about a bit to stop the national papers joining in but to leave Private Eye and the local alternative paper alone.
The allegations were not dropped. The allegations were not proved to be false. The desperate, even tearful Cyril Smith pulled strings and saved his bacon. That was and is a disgrace.
What did Cyril actually do for Rochdale? Apart from founding Knowl View?