David Steel was questioned at the IICSA about allegations made against Cyril Smith in the magazine Private Eye which had originated in a local Rochdale newspaper article dating from 1979. The individuals making allegations were all apprentices aged 15-18 staying at a Rochdale hostel for which Smith was the secretary, during a period when he was also a Labour councillor. In these articles there were no allegations of sexual activity made against Smith, but had there been any this would have suggested Smith could be a homosexual, not a paedophile, given the age of those making the accusations.
The hostel closed in 1965 fourteen years before the 1979 media articles. The allegations were investigated by the local police in 1969 but there was insufficient evidence to bring charges. These allegations consisted of two instances of Smith beating youths on bare buttocks (this was a commonplace punishment at the time) and one of him touching a youth's testicles during an ‘intimate’ medical inspection, as part of a procedure which all adolescent males then underwent as part of an annual medical examination.
David Steel when party leader asked Cyril Smith about the 1979 media articles. Smith acknowledged there had been a police investigation into the allegations and that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing. No other allegations were made against Smith during the 20 years he was an MP, or until he died about 20 years later. The committee members of the Rochdale hostel confirmed to the local newspaper that to their knowledge no 'improper activities' had taken place there.
In giving evidence Steel was justified in claiming that the punishment beatings were no different to that taking place at public schools at this time. This was perfectly legal then and Smith would be acting ‘in loco parentis’ in his role as Secretary of the hostel with a duty of care to the youths in his charge. One was caught stealing and both were given a choice of alternative punishments. With regard to the ‘intimate’ medical examination, the Rochdale newspaper article made clear that Smith was present at these with the consent of the medical examiner. Given the public hostility to homosexuals at this period, it is inconceivable that any youth in his mid teens would agree to this kind of examination by Smith outside a medical. In the police investigation Smith denied all the allegations and he was cleared of all criminal wrongdoing.
During the IICSA questioning David Steel was repeatedly and aggressively asked why he had not taken further measures to either discipline or suspend Smith after having read the Private Eye article. His response was that the beatings were common practice at the time, that they took place when Smith was not a member of the party, and that in any case the police had investigated all the allegations against Smith and he was cleared of any wrongdoing. In these circumstances David Steel was quite right to conclude that there was no justification in him taking any further action against Smith, since the matter had already been investigated and no crime was found to have been committed by Cyril Smith.
This blog has absolutely no time for the policies of the Liberal Democrats, but the Scottish party's suspension of their former leader appears to be both absurd and malevolent given the quite reasonable responses David Steel gave to the IICSA.