Lib Dem candidate Dominic Carman says concerns about late MP’s behaviour were rife within Liberal party in 1970s
Liberal party grandees including the former leader Jeremy Thorpe were aware of allegations that Cyril Smith was a serial abuser of boys throughout the 1970s but failed to launch a formal inquiry, according to a Liberal Democrat candidate who has passed his concerns on to the police.
Dominic Carman, who has represented Nick Clegg’s party in two parliamentary elections, claimed that his father, the barrister George Carman, learned that concerns about the late MP for Rochdale’s behaviour were rife within the party while successfully defending Thorpe in a trial for conspiracy to murder in 1979.
Father and son discussed Liberal concerns about Smith at length in May 1979 as Thorpe prepared to go to trial, Carman said, amid concerns that their disclosure could harm the former leader’s defence.
The claims, which have been passed on to Greater Manchester police, will add to widening concern at institutional responses to allegations of abuse against the MP, who died in 2010. Officers believe that Smith was a prolific abuser of boys and should have been charged with crimes more than 40 years ago, it emerged in November.
They will also increase pressure upon the Liberal Democrats as they are forced to confront allegations of sexual harassment against Lord Rennard, one of the party’s most senior figures. Rennard denies any wrongdoing. There is no suggestion he was aware of the claims about Smith.
The party announced an inquiry last week into how it has handled past complaints of sexual impropriety. Tim Farron, the party’s president, has admitted that the party has “screwed up” inquiries into claims that Rennard groped or propositioned female activists.
Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP who first raised concerns about Smith’s activities in parliament in November, said that there is a pattern whenever allegations of sexual abuse emerge inside the Liberal Democrats. “They bury their heads in the sand and claim to know nothing. For the sake of Rochdale victims, Clegg has to stop stonewalling and now come clean on what his party knew about the sexual abuse carried out by Cyril Smith,” he said.
The Thorpe trial gripped the nation in 1979, amid claims of illicit affairs, greed, murder and revenge.
Thorpe, who led the Liberal party for nine years, was accused of plotting the murder of his alleged former lover, Norman Scott, for threatening to uncover their alleged affair. It was claimed that Thorpe and others had hired a hitman to kill Scott, but that the hitman had shot dead Scott’s dog, Rinka, instead.
George Carman’s reputation as a fearsome counsel was cemented after he cross-examined Scott. His son, Dominic Carman, who stood for the Lib Dems in 2010 in Barking and again at the Barnsley byelection in 2011, said that he discussed the Smith allegations with his father in May 1979 as the trial was about to begin.
These discussions were, he claimed, prompted by the publication in the week before the trial of allegations that Smith had abused boys in a children’s hostel printed in the Rochdale Alternative Press, a small circulation local magazine.
Thorpe’s legal team was concerned that the magazine’s report might be followed up by a national newspaper and have a negative impact upon the trial, Carman said.
“My father was told by Thorpe that senior Liberals knew of the serious nature of the allegations against Smith and that they dated back many years. I approached the police in December with information,” Carman said. A spokesman for Greater Manchester police confirmed that an officer has spoken to Carman.
Thorpe was cleared of plotting to murder Scott but failed to regain his political career.
Another source who also claimed to have spoken to George Carman during the trial said that the barrister was concerned about the possible impact of further revelations in the Thorpe trial.
“The reason that it was a genuine fear was because there were so many allegations against Smith involving boys that one assumed there was no smoke without fire,” the source said.
Smith was named by Danczuk in November on the floor of the House of Commons as a serial abuser of boys. Victims of Smith claim he abused many young boys in a hostel and a school in the late 1960s and continued to abuse others into the 1980s.
Police first investigated the claims in 1968, but the Crown Prosecution Service concluded there was no case to answer.
In November, the Crown Prosecution Service re-examined their files but this time said that, if the same evidence was unearthed today, they would have prosecuted Smith.
Alan Collins, a solicitor who represents 11 men who claim they were abused by Smith, urged the Lib Dems to come clean about what it knew about Smith’s abuse of young boys.
“The fact is a group of sexual abuse victims were cheated of justice and the smell of cover-up hangs in the air and needs one way or the other to be dispersed,” he said.
Thorpe, 83, who has Parkinson’s disease, has been given a list of detailed questions asking what he knew of allegations surrounding Smith, but has not responded.
Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, conducted an internal inquiry into what MPs knew about Smith’s abuse of young boys in December, and concluded that there was no case to answer.
A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said they would help police in any future inquiries into Smith: “We are a completely different party to the Liberals on 1979 – a different structure and different rules.”
theguardian.com, Tuesday 26 February 2013 17.20 GMT
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