Tue. May 21st, 2019

Ex-Liberal leader suspended over child sexual abuse inquiry evidence

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Former Liberal leader Lord David Steel has been suspended from the Lib Democrats following his evidence to an inquiry about child abuse allegations against former MP Sir Cyril Smith.

In a hearing on Wednesday, he denied “hiding his head in the sand” over child abuse allegations against Sir Cyril.

The former MP for Rochdale, who died in 2010, has been accused of sexually abusing a number of young boys.

Lord Steel said he asked the late politician in 1979 about claims he abused boys at a hostel in the town and found it dated back to Smith’s time as a Labour councillor in the 1960s.

He told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) that he came away from the conversation “assuming” Smith had committed the offences because he did not deny them.

Lord Steel said Smith had told him police had investigated the claims and taken no action.

The party did not carry out a formal inquiry into the claims, the IICSA heard.

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Cyril Smith in the House of Commons in 1982
Image: Cyril Smith in the House of Commons in 1982

On the suggestion no action was taken then because Lord Steel wanted to avoid a confrontation with Smith, he told the hearing: “I wouldn’t have been hiding my head in the sand.

“These allegations all related to a period some years before he was even an MP and before he was even a member of the party, therefore it did not seem to me that I had any position in the matter at all.”

Following this evidence, the Lib Dems have decided to suspend Lord Steel.

The party said in a statement: “Following the evidence concerning Cyril Smith given by Lord Steel to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse on 13 March 2019, the office bearers of the Scottish Liberal Democrats have met and agreed that an investigation is needed.

“The party membership of Lord Steel has been suspended pending the outcome of that investigation. That work will now commence.

“It is important that everyone in the party, and in wider society, understands the importance of vigilance and safeguarding to protect people from abuse, and that everyone has confidence in the seriousness with which we take it.

“We appreciate the difficult work that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is doing on behalf of the victims and survivors of abuse, and the country as a whole.”


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