Today's Daily Mail has an important story by the Labour MP for Rochdale, Simon Danczuk, about how authorities allowed his Liberal predecessor, Cyril Smith, to get away with child abuse for decades.
It’s now known that on three separate occasions files were passed by Lancashire Police to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service containing details of Smith’s abuse. Yet on each occasion no prosecution was pursued. It is as though Cyril was untouchable.
On one now notorious occasion, files of evidence on Smith held by Special Branch were removed by MI5 officers from the safe at police headquarters in Preston and taken to London. They were never seen again. This was just one of several cover-ups which I will reveal in detail later in this series.
Some will no doubt argue that things have changed. The cover-up of Cyril’s abuse was a long time ago. The values of the Seventies are a lot different to the standards expected in public life today. People wouldn’t stand for that now. Awareness of child abuse has improved tenfold. No one would tolerate this kind of behaviour among colleagues, surely?
The Telegraph has previously reported that the file on Smith was passed to MI5 in 1974, during the Conservatives' abortive attempt to seek a coalition with the Liberals.
Interestingly, the Sunday Telegraph reported in early 1976 that MI5 had dismissed allegations against Smith as part of a South African smear campaign. The author of the piece, Peter Gladstone-Smith had previously interviewed a individual called Kenneth Wyatt whose allegations were said to have been passed on to the intelligence services.
I have not had a chance to track down the original story at the British Library. [Update: I have now done so and scanned the first page here]. It may be that if features in future extracts from Danczuk's book, but for what its worth, here is a short extract from the account of it given in Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay's biography of Harold Wilson:
In the next issue of the Sunday Telegraph, Gladstone-Smith reported that as well as an alleged report compiled by MI6 there was one by MI5, who had 'produced a dossier.. [which] accused South African business interests of employing secret agents and mounting an operation to discredit the Liberal Party. The dossier was the basis of Mr Wilson's Commons statement last week.'
This 'MI5 dossier' alleged South African involvement in the Hain frame-up, in the circulation of smear stories against Cyril Smith, in the 'revival' of the Scott-Thorpe allegations, and in the procuring of a pornographic film which included a Liberal MP's daughter, as well as providing evidence that an 'attempt is to be made to smear 5 more prominent liberals before the next election'. [Stephen Dorril & Robin Ramsay, Smear! Wilson & Secret State, Fourth Estate Limited, 1991, p.304.]
Ramsay and Dorril suggest that the MI5 dossier may have been a fiction that allowed Gladstone-Smith to recycle the contents of his Wyatt interview:
There is, however, one notable addition to the material, namely reference to the 'false allegations against Cyril Smith the Liberal Whip, [which] were circulated in his home town of Rochdale.' Wyatt did not apparently name Smith. (ibid.)
This raises profound questions, whether or not the MI5 dossier existed as Gladstone-Smith described it. If it did exist, why would MI5 dismiss the Smith allegations when it would appear to have been in possession of copious evidence that they were true?
And if it didn't exist, who was responsible for the insertion of a claim that now appears calculated to muddy the waters around Smith's activities?
Update: Christopher Andrew's official history of MI5 states that the Security Service was sceptical of claims that South Africa's BOSS intelligence agency was carrying out a dirty tricks campaign against the Liberals. It believed that BOSS agent Gordon Winter was acting on his own initiative in trying to publicise Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe's affair with model Norman Scott.
Andrew goes on to state:
The Prime Minister was convinced that he understood BOSS better than the Security Service. The Intelligence Co-ordinator, Sir Leonard 'Joe' Hooper (formerly director of GCHQ), noted after being summoned to a meeting with Wilson on 23 February: 'PM suspects authors [of an MI5 report] do not know much about the subject and fears that friendly relations with S[outh] A[frican] diplomatic and intelligence people in London preclude their being watched properly. (Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5, Allen Lane, 2009, p.636.)
This confirms that MI5 did produce a written report for Wilson on the South African allegations, as Gladstone-Smith claimed. Ramsay and Dorril, of course, could not have known this when they speculated that Gladstone-Smith invented the dossier.
Gladstone-Smith presumably learned about the dossier from a source other than Kenneth Wyatt. Did this second source also provide the detail that Cyril Smith was mentioned in the dossier, and was that detail also authentic? Even if wasn't, it may still have come from the same source. The fact of the dossier, might have made the detail about Smith appear more credible, and would have fit it into a narrative which many were already disposed to believe.
For that very reason, it might seem that Gladstone-Smith's source could have been someone close to Wilson or Jeremy Thorpe, with an interest in defending the Liberals. However, the only new detail in the MI5 dossier story, not mentioned in Gladstone-Smith's previous interview with Kenneth Wyatt, was the detail about Smith, and we have independent evidence in the Mail and Telegraph articles above that MI5 was suppressing the truth about Smith.
It is hard to believe that the MI5 of Michael Hanley would have done that for the sake of Harold Wilson's Commons majority.