UK Politics

Profile: Cyril Smith

Cyril Smith Image copyright Getty Images

Cyril Smith, the larger-than-life Rochdale MP who died in 2010, is alleged to have abused vulnerable young boys in the town. The claims are now being investigated by the police but Smith was never prosecuted while he was alive.

His family says he always denied accusations made about him at the time but did not take legal action because of the expense.

But Simon Danczuk, Rochdale's current Labour MP, claims Smith used his powerful position to evade prosecution for sexually abusing boys.

The allegations first surfaced in 1979 when Private Eye magazine carried reports that he abused teenagers at Cambridge House, a privately run "hostel for working boys" in Rochdale, which closed in 1965.

It has also been alleged that he raped boys at Knowl View residential school, which closed in 1992 - the year Smith left Parliament.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Smith (right) joined the Liberal Party in 1945, then again in 1970 as Rochdale's parliamentary candidate

Cyril Smith had been one of the most distinctive figures in the House of Commons, serving first as a Liberal, then Liberal Democrat MP.

In his younger years he had been a Labour councillor, saying he wanted to join a party that had power.

But he would later call the Liberal-Labour alliance an abomination and twice failed to have the pact ended by party ballot.

The Liberals, he said, "must be free and independent".

Despite his reputation for forthright independence, he was made the party's chief whip in 1975, just three years after taking his seat at Westminster.

He played a key role in holding the party together during the 1970s when party leader Jeremy Thorpe faced allegations that he had conspired to murder a male model. Thorpe was acquitted but resigned from his post.

Cyril Smith timeline

  • Born in Rochdale, 28 June 1928
  • Educated at Rochdale Grammar School for Boys
  • Worked at Rochdale Inland Revenue Tax Office, and subsequently as an office boy at the Fothergill & Harvey Mill
  • Joined Liberal Party in 1945
  • Labour party councillor from 1952 and Labour mayor of Rochdale from 1966
  • Liberal parliamentary candidate at 1970 election and 1972 by election where he won.
  • Died 3 September 2010

When Smith arrived at the Commons in 1972, he brought with him a trainload of Rochdale supporters and, for the next two decades, cut a rumbustious figure in British politics.

Frequently outspoken, his capacity for blunt speaking often put him in the headlines.

Unusually in his party he wanted to bring back hanging and supported the nuclear deterrent. He was a fan of the Queen Mother.

But then he was used to taking an individualistic approach to his politics.

He left the Labour Party after 15 years, despite realising a childhood dream with the party when he rose to become mayor of Rochdale in 1966.

It had been a long route to climb.

Born in 1928, his autobiography talked of his upbringing as the illegitimate child of a Rochdale housemaid.

After watching his mother work "like a Trojan" for years to support her family, he rewarded her in later life. When he became mayor she was his mayoress.

A long kidney illness interrupted his schooling for a year and led to his obesity. Although a course of dieting in 1976 reduced his weight from 28 stone (178kg) to 23 (146kg), it went up again later.

His 75in (1.9m) waistline and distinctive Lancashire dialect made him ripe for caricature.

Image copyright PA

And despite his limited political achievements, he remained a parliamentary favourite and a much-requested public orator.

When Smith died in 2010, hundreds of mourners turned out to a memorial service in Rochdale.

Friends, Liberal Democrat colleagues and family members paid tribute to a man they called a "champion" of his hometown, known to many as "Mr Rochdale".

He had been knighted for his public service in 1988 - the same year he announced he would not stand again for Parliament.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said he was saddened to hear of the death of a "true Liberal" who was a friend to "everybody in Rochdale".

"Cyril Smith was a larger-than-life character and one of the most recognisable and likeable politicians of his day," he added.

But all that changed on his death.

Party president Tim Farron now says the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Rochdale civic society have serious questions to answer about who knew what when about their former colleague's alleged offences.

Lawyers for his alleged victims say they are considering taking legal action against the Lib Dems.