Having spent four years researching the hideous sex crimes against children committed by the paedophile ex-Liberal MP ‘Sir’ Cyril Smith, I am still unable to look at photographs of this revolting creature without feeling a wave of disgust.
But sexual predators need well-placed allies to conceal their crimes: and that is why I feel similar disgust towards David Steel, who could, it emerged yesterday, now be expelled from the party he once led for having failed to stop Smith’s activities.
‘Larger-than-life’ was the typically indulgent phrase lavished on the loathsome, 29-stone Smith (MP for Rochdale for five successive general elections) when he died in 2010.
The scores of boys, some as young as nine, who were abused and humiliated by him – and whose lives were in many cases destroyed – surely felt only relief at his death.
Lord Steel, 81, could be expelled from the Liberal Democrats, with the Independent Inquiry into Sexual Abuse report believed to be highly critical of him for his failure to notify authorities after Smith told him in 1979 that reports about his sex crimes were true. (Shirley Williams MP is seen with Cyril Smith and Liberal leader David Steel on the campaign trail in Rochdale in 1987)
Grotesquely, Smith had been granted a knighthood in 1988: a final insult to his brutalised victims.
And who had arranged that knighthood while knowing of Smith’s crimes? None other, of course, than the man now himself portentously styled Baron Steel of Aikwood, KT, KBE, PC.
Lord Steel (pictured in January 2019) must take some responsibility for the terrible crimes committed on his watch as party leader, writes author Matt Baker
As the Independent Inquiry into Sexual Abuse prepares to publish its conclusions next week its report is believed to be highly critical of Steel for his failure to notify the authorities after Smith told him in 1979 that Private Eye’s reports about his sex crimes were true.
For Steel now to be expelled from the party he led between 1976 and 1988 would be nothing less than the just comeuppance of a man who put tawdry party politics above human decency and failed to raise the alarm about this monstrous man.
Instead of reflecting on his mistakes, however, Steel is so alarmed at the thought he might be expelled from the Lib Dems that he has apparently instructed ‘friends’ (anonymous, of course) to brief newspapers that he is being made a ‘scapegoat’.
This is simply rubbish. I co-wrote a book about Smith’s crimes a few years ago. During my research I visited Steel in his House of Lords office in 2015.
Steel said he felt ‘sick’ about Smith’s activities and was vaguely contrite he had failed to stop them.
But what struck me most was his pomposity, his remoteness and his utter lack of empathy for Smith’s victims.
A few years later, however, Steel went on Newsnight on the BBC and completely changed his tune.
Smith abused scores of boys, some as young as nine, who were abused and humiliated by him – and whose lives were in many cases destroyed – surely felt only relief at his death (pictured left with Lord Steel right in 1973)
The charges against Smith, he said, were ‘scurrilous hearsay’ and ‘tittle-tattle’. How could he, in all conscience, make these claims? Smith himself had confessed to him.
The key point is that Smith continued to offend for years after confessing to Steel in 1979. Those later boys were, in a way, victims of Steel’s indifference as well as Smith’s perversion.
The moral of this squalid story is that Smith’s victims are belatedly getting a form of justice.
Pompous grandees such as Steel can no longer command the deference of a grateful electorate just because of the inflated status and honours they have greedily amassed over decades on the public payroll.
Quite simply, Steel must take some responsibility for the terrible crimes committed on his watch as party leader.
Rather than allow his ‘friends’ to fight his battles in this cowardly fashion, he should accept that as a gesture of contrition to the scores of men still suffering the effects of Smith’s abuse, he must now withdraw entirely from public life. Let him contemplate his mistakes from there.
Lib Dems ‘to expel Steel for failing to stop Cyril Smith’
By Claire Ellicott, Political Correspondent
Former Liberal leader Lord Steel reportedly faces expulsion from his party over his failure to pass on his suspicions about the paedophile Cyril Smith.
The peer is said to be the first politician to be singled out for censure by the national child sex abuse inquiry, which reports next week.
Friends of Lord Steel, now 81, said they feared he will be made a ‘scapegoat’ over his admission he failed to pass on information about former Rochdale MP Cyril Smith’s abuse of boys.
Smith, who died in 2010, is accused of sexually abusing scores of boys. He was never charged in his lifetime despite a number of police inquiries (pictured left, next to Lord Steel, in 1973)
The Liberal Democrats have declined to comment – but a committee of senior MPs and peers is being convened to discuss Lord Steel’s future in the party, it was reported. A party source said that no decision will be made until they have seen the report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
Friends of Lord Steel, who led the Liberal Party between 1976 and 1988, accused the inquiry of ‘scraping the barrel’ and making him a scapegoat to justify its huge cost.
They also describe moves to expel the peer as ‘double jeopardy’ because he has already been suspended, cleared and readmitted to the party over the same issue.
He is the only name they have got.
The Westminster strand of the inquiry has failed to find any evidence of a widespread paedophile ring operating among MPs. It was set up by Theresa May after a series of such allegations.
Close colleagues, including former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Campbell are considering quitting if he is expelled, The Daily Telegraph reported. A friend of Lord Steel – who is abroad – said: ‘This is really low-hanging fruit for IICSA. There is no allegation about Lord Steel’s personal behaviour, but the way in which he dealt with some publicity about Smith which he raised with him 40 years ago.
‘There is a real fear IICSA will use this as a small trophy and the Liberal Democrats will seize upon any criticism. We think IICSA will scapegoat him on the basis he is the only name they have got.’
The inquiry will also criticise Lord Steel for recommending Smith for a knighthood. Smith, who died in 2010, is accused of sexually abusing scores of boys. He was never charged in his lifetime despite a number of police inquiries.
Lord Steel told the inquiry of a conversation he had with Smith in 1979, in which the then MP for Rochdale admitted he was investigated a decade earlier (Smith is pictured far left with Lord Steel, Jeremy Thorpe and Trevor Jones at the Liberal Party Conference, Southport, in 1973)
The IICSA warned Lord Steel that he faces criticism in a so-called Maxwellisation letter – which is required in public inquiries – sent last year.
The report is understood, according to sources close to the inquiry, to condemn his failure to notify authorities after Smith admitted that claims about him published in Private Eye magazine were true.
Lord Steel told the IICSA of a conversation he had with Smith in 1979, in which the then MP for Rochdale admitted he was investigated a decade earlier.
Private Eye accused Smith of spanking boys and conducting intimate ‘medical examinations’ at a hostel.
Lord Steel told the IICSA last March that he ‘assumed’ Smith had committed the offences.