Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Steel has had his suspension from the party lifted after he was cleared by an internal investigation investigation into whether he knew of Cyril Smith’s abuse of children.
The peer claimed “inaccurate” media reporting was to blame for his suspension in March. The Scottish Lib Dem executive said Lord Steel’s “hearing difficulty and a lack of precision in providing some answers” delayed the outcome of the probe.
Lord Steel was suspended shortly after telling an inquiry into historic child abuse that he had confronted Smith in 1979 about media reports involving the late Liberal MP.
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Smith, who died in 2010, is accused of having abused children at several children’s homes in Greater Manchester from the 1960s to 1980s.
Giving evidence, Lord Steel told the inquiry: “What I said to him was: ‘What’s all this about you in Private Eye?’
“He said, rather to my surprise, ‘It is correct’ that he had been in charge of or had some supervisory role in a children’s hostel, that he’d been investigated by the police, and that they had taken no further action, and that was the end of the story.”
The Lib Dem peer, who served as the first Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, later denied he had told the inquiry he was aware of Smith’s actions, claiming that “some sections of the media have chosen to extract certain passages of evidence and present them without the full context.”
However, he was suspended pending an inquiry ordered by the Scottish Lib Dem executive, which has now cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Party leader Willie Rennie MSP said the executive had “determined, after careful consideration, that there are no grounds for action against David Steel”.
Mr Rennie said: “We take the issue of vigilance and safeguarding incredibly seriously, so it was important to investigate following the evidence that David Steel gave to the independent public inquiry.
“In part because of a hearing difficulty and a lack of precision in providing some answers it was necessary to seek further information from him for clarification.
“The clarifications that David Steel has provided to us state clearly that Cyril Smith did not confess to any criminality which is why he took no further action at the time.”
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Lord David Steel said in a statement: “I am naturally pleased and relieved the Executive of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has completed their investigation and, after fully considering my responses to questions at IICSA, has lifted my suspension from the party and cleared my name.
“I believe in the highest standards of safeguarding for young and vulnerable people. As such, I voluntarily attended the IICSA hearing and offered open and honest answers, some of which have been erroneously reported and taken out of context.
“These inaccurate elements led some to question my own such commitment. Opinions and assumptions are not facts, and those expressed in some quarters have caused me great personal distress.”