A leading candidate for the Lib Dem presidency was yesterday accused of helping cover up Cyril Smith’s vile catalogue of child sex abuse.
Liz Lynne, who succeeded Smith as MP for Rochdale, allegedly ordered her PA to destroy several pages of notes containing a stream of allegations against the paedophile.
They detailed a litany of abuse at the Knowl View children’s home in Rochdale, which closed in the mid-1990s.
The PA, Deborah Doyle, said she had taken the notes during a 1996 telephone conversation with a former manager of the home, Martin Digan.
Mr Digan had contacted Miss Lynne’s office in Rochdale as claims of widespread abuse had begun to emerge at the home, where boys as young as ten had been raped. He claimed that Smith knew of abuse at the school and that it was being covered up by both the home and the local authority.
But Miss Doyle said her boss did not want to meet Mr Digan and instructed her to get rid of the notes. ‘I was surprised when Lynne said to me, “Don’t put the notes in the bin. Destroy them”,’ said Miss Doyle.
‘I think I took them home and put them on my fire,’ she said. ‘It was the only occasion I can remember when Liz or I did not act on a piece of constituency work, which is why it stuck in my memory.’
Liz Lynne, who was MP for Rochdale from 1992 to 1997, is one of four Lib Dems hoping to take over from Tim Farron as president of the party. Last night she denied all knowledge of the claims.
She told The Guardian she had no recollection of notes detailing child abuse allegations that were written or destroyed by a staff member.
And she said she did not remember being approached by Mr Digan, who was a former social worker at Knowl View. Earlier this year, the politician told the Mail how she had heard ‘inklings of rumours’ about Smith’s involvement in child abuse – but did nothing about it as she thought the stories were spread by political opponents.
The scale of the abuse was revealed in a book earlier this year by Simon Danczuk, the current MP for Rochdale. He said: ‘I am very distressed by this revelation, particularly as I repeatedly tried to contact Liz Lynne to hear her side of the story for our book on Cyril Smith. She never returned my calls and now I know why.
‘If Lynne had acted on the information she was given in 1996 then she could have saved lives as some of the abused boys have subsequently gone on to commit suicide.
‘For years victims have been ignored and Lynne had an opportunity to make a difference and champion their cause.
‘But she was too afraid to stand up to Cyril Smith and that’s why she’s not fit to be anywhere near frontline politics, especially not as the next Lib Dem president.’
The Guardian reported yesterday that Deborah Doyle, who worked for the former MP between 1995 and 1997, said she took three or four pages of notes from a long telephone conversation with Mr Digan in 1996.
Miss Doyle revealed that when she was first offered a job in Miss Lynne’s office, she had to be personally interviewed by Smith.
‘It was like the 1950s. Everything had to go through Cyril, but he wasn’t even a councillor,’ she said.
Miss Doyle said she left her job after Miss Lynne lost her seat in 1997 and went on to become an MEP for the West Midlands until she stood down in 2012. She was not entitled to redundancy pay, but Miss Lynne gave her £1,000 from her own pocket.
She said she told the police about the conversations – but does not know if they were acted upon.
She added: ‘Liz is essentially a good person. I am sure that if she had been forced to look into these allegations, she would have been horrified… but at the end of the day she is a politician and may not have felt comfortable taking on Smith.’
Mr Digan was responsible for passing a dossier of evidence to the police which eventually saw the school shut down in the 1990s.
He told the Guardian that he had arranged visits with Liz Lynne but they were always cancelled.
‘She never got back to me. The shame is that many abuse victims could have been helped if Lynne and many others had taken the abuse at Knowl View seriously at that point,’ he added.
Last night Miss Lynne said: ‘I have no recollection whatsoever of anybody contacting me about allegations against Cyril Smith or child abuse at Knowl View school.
‘If anyone had come to me with serious allegations like that I would obviously have acted upon it.’
Yesterday, at the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow, president Tim Farron appeared to joke about the party’s slew of sex scandals.
He said: ‘Of course there are some parts of the job I am happy to pass on. The next time any of you get caught with your pants around your ankles, the media can call someone else to make a comment.’
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