David Steel to be investigated by Lib Dems after Cyril Smith abuse admission
Lord Steel could be suspended from the Liberal Democrats after telling an inquiry that Smith confessed to abuse in 1979
David Steel - Image credit: David Anderson/Holyrood
The Liberal Democrats have launched disciplinary procedures against former party leader David Steel after he admitted to being aware that MP Cyril Smith had abused young boys.
Former Liberal leader and Scottish Parliament presiding officer Lord Steel told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse yesterday that he had taken no action after finding out about the abuse in 1979 because it was in the past.
Following the admission, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson announced the investigation into Steel’s actions on Twitter.
She said: “The party has rightly begun a disciplinary investigation into Lord Steel following his revelations.
“Clearly this is incredibly serious and he should be suspended while this takes place.”
Steel said that Smith had confessed to spanking young boys and holding their testicles in a hostel during the 1960s, after an article about it appeared in the Private Eye.
Steel told the inquiry: “What I said to him [Smith] was, ‘What's all this about you in Private Eye?’, and he said, rather to my surprise, ‘It is correct’, that he had been in charge of – or had some supervisory role in a children's hostel, that he'd been investigated by the police, and that they had taken no further action, and that was the end of the story.”
Asked why he had not followed up on the information, Steel said he “saw no reason” to go back to something that was “quite old” and that had happened while Smith was a Labour councillor before he was an MP or had joined the Liberal Party.
Steel said: “My point was that he had gone on since then to be Mayor of Rochdale, to be given the MBE for services to local government, then he joined the Liberal Party, he'd been elected as MP with increasing majorities I think four times.
“So I saw no reason, or no locus, to go back to something that had happened during his time as a councillor in Rochdale.”
Although Steel said he believed Smith had done what he was accused of, he told the inquiry: “It had nothing to do with me.”
He also said it had “never occurred” to him that Smith might still be abusing children or be risk to other children.
Cyril Smith was a Labour councillor in Rochdale from 1952 until 1970 and then a Liberal MP from 1972 to 1992.
He died in 2010 and in 2012 police announced that he was an abuser and the Crown Prosecution Service said he should have been charged with sexual offences.
Lib Dem office bearers are expected to meet tonight to consider what action to take against Lord Steel, which could include suspension from the party.
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A panel of judges in Scotland’s highest civil court found that the decision to suspend was “motivated by the improper purpose of stymying Parliament”.