In the wake of the Savile allegations, the news that the late Liberal MP Cyril Smith also had a history of child abuse attracted fewer headlines. Perhaps that’s because Smith wasn't in the nation’s face (a repulsive image – sorry) in quite the same way as Savile. In both cases the revelations were greeted in some cases with astonishment – but actually both fall firmly into the category of tales from the bear’s toilet.
Colleagues of Savile’s in his Radio 1 DJ days described his behaviour as an “open secret”, and journalists have reported that they had known about his paedophilia for years – but had lacked the evidence to satisfy their papers’ lawyers. In Smith’s case allegations were published – in a local
Rochdale independent news-sheet, and in Private Eye – but with no hint of libel threats.
Since the revelations emerged, it’s become clear that both men used their celebrity status and influence to prevent their victims telling their stories, and with some considerable help from the authorities. A former special branch officer working in Lancashire has claimed that MI5 demanded that a file full of claims about Smith’s abuse activity be sent to London, and that the Director of Public Prosecutions had examined the allegations but decided it was “not in the public interest” to take the matter to court.
The commentariat has generally been of the view that neither of these cases could happen today – well let’s hope not. But the power of celebrity is greater than it was 20 or 30 years ago, so we'll have to wait and see.
Whatever, it gave me a chance to pay tribute to Donald McGill, by reviving one of his cartoons – that he thought so good he used it at least twice!