|Sir Cyril Smith
|Cyril Smith addressing the Liberal Party Assembly in 1987|
|Member of Parliament
26 October 1972 – 9 April 1992
|Preceded by||Jack McCann|
|Succeeded by||Liz Lynne|
28 June 1928|
Rochdale, Lancashire, England
|Died||3 September 2010
Rochdale, Greater Manchester, England
|Political party||Liberal Party (1945–1951; 1970–1988)
Labour Party (1952–1966)
Liberal Democrats (from 1988)
Smith was first active in local politics; he served as a councillor in Rochdale from 1950 and become mayor in 1966. He entered Parliament in 1972 and won his Rochdale seat on five further occasions. Smith was appointed the Liberal Chief Whip in June 1975 but later resigned on health grounds. In his later years as an MP, Smith opposed an alliance with the Social Democratic Party, though he remained a Liberal Democrat after 1989. He did not stand for re-election in 1992.
In later years his popularity was considerably marred by the allegation that he had been involved in a cover-up of a health risk at a local asbestos factory. In 2008, there were calls for Smith to be stripped of his knighthood after it was revealed that he had asked the asbestos company Turner & Newall to prepare a speech for him in 1981, in which he declared: "The public at large are not at risk". It was later revealed that Smith owned 1,300 shares in the company. In 2008 he said that 4,000 asbestos-related deaths a year in the UK was "relatively low".
Smith was born in Rochdale, Lancashire, and described himself as "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, two illegitimate siblings, Eunice and Norman, and his grandmother in a one-up one-down cottage (now demolished) on Falinge Road. His mother, Eva Smith, worked in service to a local cotton mill-owning family who lived at 8 Kilnerdyne Terrace.
Smith was educated at Rochdale Grammar School for Boys and after leaving began work at Rochdale Inland Revenue Tax Office. In the 1945 General Election, aged 16, he gave a public speech in support of Liberal candidate Charles Harvey. Smith said he was given an ultimatum by his manager in the Tax Office to either choose the civil service or politics.
He left his job at the tax office and obtained employment as an office boy at Fothergill & Harvey's mill in Littleborough, to the northeast of Rochdale. The mill was owned by the Harveys, a notable Liberal family, but Smith claimed the director Charles Harvey knew nothing of the job application by the young man who had lost his job for his public speech in favour of Harvey's Liberal candidature.
Smith joined the Liberal Party in 1945 and was a member of the National Executive Committee of the Young Liberals in 1948 and 1949. From 1948 to 1950, he was Liberal agent in Stockport, but after the poor general election results experienced by the Liberal Party in 1950 and 1951 he was advised by the losing Liberal candidate for Stockport, Reg Hewitt, to join the Labour Party.
In 1952, Smith was elected a Labour Party councillor for the Failinge ward of Rochdale. By 1954, he was chairman of Rochdale Council's Establishment Committee. In 1963 he switched committee roles to be responsible for Estates which included overseeing residential and town centre development.
In 1966 he was Rochdale's mayor and his mother Eva was mayoress. She retained her job as a cleaner in Rochdale Town Hall while in the post. Smith's mayoral duties were recorded for the BBC's Man Alive documentary series. In 1966 he was appointed chairman of the Education Committee overseeing the introduction of comprehensive education in the district. In the same year he was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours. According to his autobiography, Smith was found guilty of an offence relating to public lotteries and bound over to keep the peace for 12 months.
In 1966, Smith resigned the Labour whip when the party refused to vote for an increase in council house rents and sat with four other councillors as independents until 1970. His defection, and subsequent election as a Liberal MP, caused surprise after his role in opposing Ludovic Kennedy, the Liberal candidate in the 1958 Rochdale by-election. Controversy was sparked by Rochdale Liberals when the parliamentary candidate, Garth Pratt, was deselected to make way for Smith's return to the party.
During the 1960s Smith was active on 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.
Member of Parliament
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, and a majority of 5,171.
In June 1975, he was appointed as the party Chief Whip and faced pressure from the press in the wake of a scandal involving party leader Jeremy Thorpe. Smith was in hospital when Thorpe sacked him just before being forced to resign. 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." He was the only Liberal MP during his parliamentary career to oppose abortion and advocate the return of the death penalty.
In 1978, Smith approached former Conservative Prime Minister Ted Heath to discuss forming a new centre party. In 1980, Smith described UK unemployment figures of two million jobless people as "a disgrace". Smith said: "They represent a sick society, and are not acceptable to live with." 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 would later express the view that the Liberal Party would have been "better off" without being "shackled to the SDP".
Smith's large size, larger-than-life personality and popular touch made him one of the most recognisable British politicians of the 1970s. His nickname, "Big Cyril", was the title of his autobiography. He made many popular television appearances, he sang "She's a Lassie From Lancashire" on Jimmy Savile's early-1970s TV show Clunk Click, appeared on a music video for 1980s pop group Bananarama, and sang a duet with Don Estelle in a 1999 recording of the Laurel and Hardy song "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine".
He is believed to have been the heaviest British MP ever: at 6'2" (188 cm) he was reported to weigh 29 stone 12 pounds, about 190 kilograms. 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.
Sexual and physical abuse allegations
In May 1979, a local underground magazine, the Rochdale Alternative Press, alleged that in the 1960s Smith had spanked and sexually abused teenage boys in a hostel he co-founded. The matter was investigated by the police but Smith was not prosecuted. The story was repeated in the same month by the satirical magazine Private Eye. Smith never publicly denied the accusations of abuse, nor did he ever take legal action, but after his death the allegations were denied by his family. The Press Office of the then leader of the Liberal Party, Sir David Steel, at the time (1979) in a 'Lib–Lab pact' with James Callaghan, commented "All he seems to have done is spanked a few bare bottoms"
Rossendale councillor Alan Neal said that at the age of 11 he was hit by Smith at a hostel for boys. Mr Neal said: "I'm speaking now because someone has taken a right decision to raise this issue with the authorities." He added that he told police about the incident in 1968 when he left the school but on raising it "everyone made the same comment that the person in question was a very important, powerful man".
Another of the alleged victims of abuse by Smith waived his right to anonymity in November 2012 to claim that Smith smacked him and stroked his buttocks when he was a teenager at a Rochdale care home in the 1960s. Barry Fitton said he was spanked "very, very hard" by Smith and that he was left in tears by the alleged incident.
On 21 November 2012, Greater Manchester Police announced it would investigate allegations that Smith sexually abused boys at a hostel in Rochdale after 1974, and Lancashire Police would investigate claims dating from before 1974. The police said it would look at whether investigations had taken place into Smith during the 1980s and 1990s.
On 27 November 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service admitted Smith should have been charged with crimes of abuse more than 40 years ago. In a statement, Greater Manchester Police said the boys "were victims of physical and sexual abuse" by the ex-Rochdale MP. Smith was never charged although investigations were undertaken in 1970, 1998, and 1999. The method of assessing the probability of a conviction has changed since 1970, and the decision not to charge Smith then necessitated the outcome of the 1998 investigation. Following the sexual abuse allegations, Rochdale Council removed a blue plaque to Smith from the town hall.
Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood said in a statement: "Although Smith cannot be charged or convicted posthumously, from the overwhelming evidence we have it is right and proper we should publicly recognise that young boys were sexually and physically abused."
On 28 November 2012, an alleged victim of sexual abuse by Smith waived his right to anonymity in a television interview with Sky News to say that he was sexually abused by Smith at a council-run residential special school. Chris Marshall broke down in tears during his interview when describing the sexual abuse he said took place at Knowl View school in Rochdale in the early 1980s. He said that as a nine-year-old boy he was taken to a room and made to perform oral sex on Smith and one other man. Smith was a governor at the school and allegedly had his own set of keys. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: "I am deeply shocked and horrified by these terrible allegations and my thoughts are with the victims who had the courage to speak out."
In November 2012, Tony Robinson, a former special branch officer with Lancashire Police in the 1970s, said that a dossier of sexual abuse allegations against Smith which police claimed was "lost" was actually seized by MI5. Robinson said that he was asked by MI5 to send to London a police dossier that had been kept in a safe in his office which he said was "thick" with allegations from boys claiming they had been abused by Smith.
In December 2012, it was reported that twelve men had so far accused Smith of abusing them in the 1960s. A police spokesman said eight victims originally came forward in the 1960s, with two more coming forward in 1999 and a further two making claims following recent media coverage. Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk alleged that Smith raped some of his victims. Danczuk said: "There is no doubt that Cyril Smith seriously sexually abused young boys: why the CPS didn't prosecute more recently is puzzling."
Following claims by MP Tom Watson of "a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No 10", it was reported that Scotland Yard detectives investigating the Elm Guest House child abuse scandal were looking into allegations that senior politicians abused children in the 1980s and escaped justice. In January 2013, The Independent on Sunday reported that police were investigating claims that Smith sexually abused young boys at the London guest house. The Metropolitan Police later said that Smith was a visitor to the guest house. A police spokesman said: "We can confirm Cyril Smith visited the premises".
In September 2013, a Channel 4 Dispatches programme "The Paedophile MP: How Cyril Smith Got Away With It" quoted the Crown Prosecution Service as claiming that they had not prosecuted Smith for crimes of abuse because he had been given an assurance in 1970 that he would not be prosecuted, and that prevented them from subsequently reopening the investigation under the law at the time. Political journalist Francis Wheen said that he found this explanation incomprehensible. The programme alleged that a prosecution was probably blocked in the 1970s by the Labour government as it relied on Liberal Party support.
In September 2013, Andy Rhodes, Assistant Chief Constable of Lancashire Constabulary, told delegates at a child sexual exploitation conference in Lancashire: "The reason Cyril Smith, Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall got away with what they got away with, which was serious prolonged sexual exploitation of young people, was because leaders who had responsibility to do something, did not do it. They turned a blind eye. Buried their heads in the sand."
After leaving Westminster and the death of his mother Eva in 1994, Smith was invited by a lifelong friend, the public relations manager at Cunard, to become a guest lecturer on the QE2 cruise liner.
In February 2006, Smith was taken to hospital after collapsing at his Rochdale home. He had been weakened by dehydration and low potassium levels. Although retired, he was still active in his community, frequently visiting schools.
In 2008 the New Statesman accused him of improper conduct in his connection with Turner and Newall (T&N), once the world's largest manufacturer of asbestos, which was based in his constituency. In the summer recess of 1981, Smith wrote to Sydney Marks, head of personnel at T&N, informing him that EEC regulations were coming up for debate in the next parliamentary session. A House of Commons speech he delivered was almost identical to one prepared for him by the company. "The public at large are not at risk" he said in his speech of a substance then long known as lethal if inhaled. A year later Smith revealed he owned 1,300 shares in the company. Interviewed in September 2008 by the BBC's local news programme, he responded to the claims he had helped cover up the dangers of asbestos as "absolute rubbish".
- The London Gazette: . 13 December 1988.
- Maguire, Kevin (5 November 2008). "Sir Cyril Smith should be stripped of his knighthood over asbestos speech". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 15 May 2009.
- "Sir Cyril Smith". The Telegraph (London: Telegraph Media Group). 3 September 2010.
- Smith 1977, p. 18
- Smith 1977, p. 49
- Rochdale Observer p17, 24 June 1996
- Smith & 1977 p.107
- Smith & 1977 p. 101
- Meadowcroft, Michael (3 September 2010). "Sir Cyril Smith obituary". The Guardian (London).
- "Nice One Cyril" ITV Granada. Broadcast date 22 June 2003
- Oliver Kamm "The small mind of Sir Cyril Smith, paedophile", The Times (Opinion blog), 14 November 2012
- McBain, Barclay (11 September 1980). "Smith attacks Government over jobless 'disgrace'". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
- Rochdale Observer, 24 June 1996
- "Tributes to Sir Cyril Smith, a giant of politics". Manchester Evening News (M.E.N. Media). 4 September 2010. Retrieved 3 September 2010.
- Smith 1977
- Nelson, Sara C (29 November 2012). "'Paedophiles' Cyril Smith & Jimmy Savile Were Friends For 40 Years". Huffington Post. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- Don Estelle obituary. The Independent, 4 August 2003
- "Rochdale makes its mark at last, to the regret of Mr Brown". The Independent (London). 30 April 2010. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
- BBC Nationwide 1972
- You magazine: 9 May 1993
- Private Eye No. 454 (11 May 1979), p. 3.
- Storey, Katie (17 September 2010). "Cyril’s family in fury at ‘cowardly’ article". Manchester Evening News (M.E.N. Media).
- "Does Rochdale really want a LibDem MP??"
- Private Eye, No.1271. September 2010
- Private Eye No. 1329 (14 December 2012), p. 10.
- "Rochdale MP calls for Cyril Smith 'indecent assault' inquiry". BBC News. 13 November 2012.
- "House of Commons, 13 November 2012, "Backbench Business — Child Sexual Exploitation", Simon Danczuk, 4.29pm". TheyWorkForYou.com, UK Parliament. 13 November 2012.
- "Councillor accuses Sir Cyril Smith of physical abuse". BBC News. 15 November 2012. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
- "Sir Cyril Smith: Accuser 'left in tears' after 'abuse'". BBC News. 14 November 2012. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- "Policy inquiry launched in Sir Cyril Smith abuse allegations". Channel 4 News (Channel 4). 21 November 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
- Dodd, Vikram; Syal, Rajeev (27 November 2012). "Cyril Smith abuse claims: 'decision not to prosecute would not be made today'". guardian.co.uk (London: Guardian News and Media).
- "Sir Cyril Smith: Former MP sexually abused boys, police say". BBC News. 27 November 2012. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
- "Statement regarding Sir Cyril Smith". Greater Manchester Police. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- McCarthy, Mike (28 November 2013). "Cyril Smith: Former MP 'Abused Me As A Child'". Sky News. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
- Swinford, Steven (14 November 2012). "Sir Cyril Smith sex abuse dossier seized by MI5". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- "Cyril Smith 'raped some of his victims', MP says". BBC News. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
- Hickman, Martin (12 December 2012). "Scotland Yard investigating allegations senior politicians abused children in the 1980s and used 'connections' to escape justice". The Independent (London).
- Hanning, James; Cahalan, Paul (27 January 2013). "Cyril Smith named in Barnes abuse case". The Independent on Sunday (London). Retrieved 24 March 2013.
- "Sir Cyril Smith 'visited alleged sex abuse guest house'". BBC News. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
- "Dispatches: Episode Guide". Channel 4.com. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
- "Lack of leadership let Savile, Hall and Cyril Smith flourish says police chief". Yorkshire Post. 11 September 2013. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
- Lancashire Life, June 1998
- "Sir Cyril 'recovering' after fall". BBC News. 18 February 2006. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- "Asbestos: The lies that killed". New Statesman. 28 August 2008. Retrieved 15 May 2009.
- "Sir Cyril Smith defends himself on BBC News", Rochdale News, 4 September 2008. See also Alice McKeegan "Cyril: There was no cover up on asbestos", Manchester Evening News, 2 September 2012
- EDM 2470, parliament.uk website, 11 November 2008
- Membery, York (6 September 2010). "Exclusive: Cyril Smith - No pacts. Let's be independent". Express.co.uk. Retrieved 8 September 2010.
- Smith, Cyril (1977). Big Cyril: Autobiography. ISBN 0-491-02261-1.
- Reflections from Rochdale: As I Saw it and as I See it (1997) ISBN 1-85187-340-6. A later slimmer autobiographical work.
- "Cyril Smith", entry by Tim Farron in Brack et al. (eds.) Dictionary of Liberal Biography (Politico's, 1998)
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Cyril Smith
- Sir Cyril in fight against assembly
- Celebrating Sir Cyril's 75 years of plain speaking
- Obituary in The Guardian
- Obituary in The Independent
- Obituary in The Telegraph
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Rochdale
|Party political offices|
|Liberal Chief Whip