Exaro fights 16-month battle to uncover document on Liberal politician’s sexual abuse
By Nick Fielding and Tim Wood | 29 July 2014
The report of 1970 raises fresh concerns about why the director of public prosecutions (DPP) at the time failed to charge Smith, who was then a prominent councillor in Rochdale and candidate to become the town’s MP.
In a searing conclusion on Smith, the detective superintendent who oversaw the investigation wrote: “It seems impossible to excuse his conduct. Over a considerable period of time, whilst sheltering beneath a veneer of respectability, he has used his unique position to indulge in a sordid series of indecent episodes with young boys towards whom he had a special responsibility.”
No action was taken, and the paedophile MP was free to continue sexually and physically abusing boys for many more years.
It is the single most embarrassing document for the authorities to have come to light so far in exposing their failure over a powerful, predatory paedophile.
Exaro made a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for files submitted by police to the DPP on Smith and related material in March last year.
The CPS replied the following month by refusing to disclose. Exaro then asked for a review of the decision in May 2013. As Exaro made a series of disclosures about the Smith case, the CPS took more than a year to decide what to do about Exaro’s request.
The CPS finally decided this month to disclose the document – more than a year after our initial request. But it released the document to media outlets of its own choosing quickly, while sending it to Exaro in the post so that it arrived with us several days after stories started to appear about the bombshell report.
The envelope that was sent by the CPS to Exaro is marked as having been “screened by an off-site contractor”, dated after the postmark, further delaying receipt.
Mark Watts, editor-in-chief of Exaro, said: “Why the CPS decided to use the slow boat to China to send the report to Exaro requires explanation. This looks like another example of inappropriate news management over FOIA disclosures.”
“When public bodies are made to disclose documents under FOIA against their will, they often seek to give media outlets that did not force the release preferential treatment. But no journalist should be deterred from forcing such disclosures through FOIA.”
A CPS spokeswoman told Exaro: “Our intention was not to release it anywhere until I had confirmation that you had it, basically. Looks like that did not happen properly. For that, I apologise.”
“I agree with you that is unfair, and it should not have happened.”
The damning report, dated March 1970, was compiled for the chief constable of Lancashire Constabulary, William Palfrey. The disclosed version is quite heavily redacted, and one page is missing.
Police had investigated allegations that Smith had sexually abused eight teenage boys in Rochdale in the 1960’s. Six of them had been residents at Cambridge House hostel, the privately-run care home that Smith helped to establish.
Five of the witnesses “should stand up well to cross-examination,” said the report.
But in July last year, Exaro revealed that Smith made a robust denial to detectives that he sexually abused boys.
However, the detective superintendent was unimpressed, according to his report. He wrote of Smith: “Although at the conclusion of his pre-prepared statement, Smith states most emphatically that he never behaved in an indecent way towards any of the boys, it is perhaps significant that he did not avail himself of the opportunity provided to give specific answers to the allegations as they were put to him.”
“He had difficulty in articulating, and even the stock replies he proffered could only be obtained after repeated promptings from his solicitor.
“Were he ever to be placed in the witness box, he would be at the mercy of any competent counsel.”
However, the DPP decided against prosecuting Smith, who went on to become a prominent Liberal MP.
Unlike other media outlets, Exaro today publishes the entire 14-page report as disclosed by the CPS.
Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread