Smile For The Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith
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Shortlisted for Political Book of the Year at The Paddy Power Political Book Awards 2015 No politician pandered to the media's appetite for personality more than Liberal MP Cyril Smith. Instantly recognisable for his colossal build, Smith was a larger-than-life character in a world of dull grey men. He spoke for the everyman, and his forays into show business blurred the lines between politician and celebrity. Yet 'Big Cyril' was anything but the roly-poly gentle giant of popular imagination. In November 2012, Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk outed Smith in Parliament as a serial child abuser. Now, in an astonishing tale of a spectacular misuse of power, he describes how Smith used his profile to groom and sexually abuse young boys, frequently in institutions he had helped to establish. His victims, often troubled boys from broken homes, had no voice against their attacker and, though rumours abounded, Smith's appalling crimes went unnoticed by the public and unpunished by the authorities. A story deeply rooted in the political culture of the 1970s and '80s, Smile for the Camera brings to life Cyril's domineering personality and his sickening predilections. It reveals the extraordinary double life of a man who hoodwinked the public and evaded justice for decades.
Voters were driven to the ballot box by a message of hope, a new social order promising better housing, free health treatment and employment for all. Much was at stake and Cyril was determined to play a part in rebuilding Britain after years of war. A well-known local Liberal, Frank Lord, convinced Cyril to join the party and introduced him to other members at the Liberal headquarters on Drake Street. Here, Cyril made his first bond with the wealthy mill-owning class of Rochdale, as he shook
It was in the early hours when he pulled over. ‘You can sleep on the bunk here,’ he offered, as he snapped the engine off. ‘There’s plenty of room.’ ‘No, you’re OK. I need some fresh air. Thanks for the lift.’ I spent the rest of that night huddled in a bus shelter, watching the rain on the window and thinking of everything I’d left behind. I never set foot in the Avro factory again. Bus shelters, homeless hostels, strangers’ settees, garages and churches became my home for the next two years.
story appeared, dismissing it as scurrilous smears from his political opponents. In the ruthless cauldron of Rochdale politics people were used to all sorts of malicious rumours flying around. So, in many respects, it wasn’t surprising that the public believed Cyril’s side of the story. His public image was so far at odds with this kind of behaviour that it was hard to begin to contemplate him being involved in child abuse. Cyril was worried, though. One political activist during the period told
he could have his way with, he remained of the view that it was no one else’s business. The Liberals handled the Thorpe affair badly and an indication of how they might have dealt with the allegations about Cyril abusing boys can be seen in the secret internal investigation into Thorpe carried out by David Steel and fellow Liberal MP Emlyn Hooson in 1971. Considered by many to be a sophisticated cover-up, when the allegations became public a few years later the politicians involved in the
following year. As Cyril’s success continued throughout the 1970s his penchant for boys became an open secret. Journalists discussed it in Westminster bars; even Dominic Carman, the son of the barrister that defended Thorpe in one of the biggest sexual scandals of the decade, who would himself stand to try to become a Liberal Democrat MP, knew about it. But still no one raised the alarm. Stephen Moore was a Labour councillor in the 1970s who would go on to lead Rochdale Council. In the