Liberal Democrats peer Lord Steel has quit today, after an inquiry criticised him for failing to report child sex abuse claims against the late MP Cyril Smith.
The former Liberal party leader said he would retire from the Lords “as soon as possible”, after the report accused Steel of an “abdication of responsibility” for failing to act on historic allegations.
The Indepdent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse claimed there was widespread evidence that politicians and police “turned a blind eye” to claims of child sexual abuse and were involved in “actively shielding and protecting” abusers.
Smith and Conservative MP Sir Peter Morrison were “known to be active in their sexual interest in children, but were protected from prosecution” throughout the 1980s by their respective parties.
“Given what Lord Steel knew, it was inappropriate that he saw fit to nominate Smith for a knighthood,” the report said. “In our view, rather than give primacy to the protection of children he yielded to considerations of political expediency and failed to launch a formal internal inquiry into Smith’s alleged activities.”
Today Lord Steel said: “Knowing all I know now, I condemn Cyril Smith’s actions towards children.
“Not having secured a parliamentary scalp, I fear that I have been made a proxy for Cyril Smith.”
Smith, who Steel recommended for a knighthood, died in 2010.
But the report did not stop at blaming these few individuals.
Although the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse said there was no evidence of an organised “Westminster paedophile network” in which children were passed between “persons of prominence”, the report published today found political parties, police and prosecutors ignored victims and showed excessive “deference” to MPs and ministers.
It said there had been “significant failures by Westminster institutions in their responses to allegations of child sexual abuse”.
“This included failure to recognise it, turning a blind eye to it, actively shielding and protecting child sexual abusers and covering up allegations,” the report said.
“At that time, nobody seemed to care about the fate of the children involved, with status and political concerns overriding all else,” the report said.
It added: “Even though we did not find evidence of a Westminster network, the lasting effect on those who suffered as children from being sexually abused by individuals linked to Westminster has been just as profound. It has been compounded by institutional complacency and indifference to the plight of child victims.”
There was “no evidence that party whips deliberately suppressed any specific information about child sexual abuse”, the report concluded. “However, we also gained the distinct impression that the whips’ offices were concerned above all to protect the image of their party. There was a consistent culture for years of playing down rumours and protecting politicians from gossip or scandal at all costs.”
Publishing the findings, the inquiry team said “institutions must learn from past mistakes in order to better protect children in future”. Specifically, they called on the government, political parties and other Westminster institutions to introduce whistleblowing procedures to cover abuse and exploitation, as well as a review of safeguarding policies.
It has also recommended that the Cabinet Office reconsider its position on posthumous forfeiture of honours, “in order to consider the perspectives of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse”.