For nearly two decades, the man known as “Big Cyril” waddled about the United Kingdom’s parliament, all bombast and waggling fingers. Rumored to be the heaviest member of parliament in British history — weighing over 400 pounds — he would spread his considerable girth across the bench of the House of Commons, grinning in good times, glowering in bad.
Most everyone remembers Cyril Smith. The member of Parliament had a personal touch. He sang. He went on pal Jimmy Savile’s BBC show.
That fact was one of many in a dossier prepared 30 years ago by a crusading member of Parliament who warned of a powerful pedophile ring of “big, big names.” At the time, the man told his family the allegations were “explosive,” according to the BBC. It would, he told his son, “blow the lid off” of the pedophile ring and perhaps take down powerful, famous sex abusers who had infiltrated the highest reaches of British life.
Despite the purported power of the allegations, they weren’t aggressively pursued and no arrests or prosecutions followed. “My father [Geoffrey Dickens] thought that the dossier at the time was the most powerful thing that had ever been produced, with the names that were involved and the power that they had,” son Barry told the BBC late last week after it emerged that the document has since gone missing. “It just seems so suspicious that something so important could just go missing.”
Over the weekend, as its disappearance ballooned into a national scandal, the Guardian reported it may be worse than that. An additional 114 documents relevant to allegations involving the ring are also missing — a revelation sparking suspicion that Margaret Thatcher’s government orchestrated a cover-up of child abuse by politicians.
Norman Tebbit, a former cabinet minister who served under Thatcher, told the BBC on Sunday the inclination at the time may have been to protect “the system” rather than delving “too far” into the claims. Asked if there had been a “big political cover-up,” Tebbit conceded “there may well have been. But it was almost unconscious. It was the thing that people did at that time. You didn’t talk about those sorts of things. It is not the sort of thing that people did.”
That explanation has often emerged in recent weeks as Britain has lurched from one sex abuse scandal among its elite to another. Last week, disgraced painter and entertainer Rolf Harris was sentenced to six years in prison for the “indecent assault” of four girls, one of whom was seven or eight. As is often the case in allegations of abuse, the publicity spurred additional claims, and BBC broadcaster Vanessa Feltz on Sunday said Harris “sexually assaulted me while I interviewed him on live TV.”
But most discussions of sex abuse and pedophilia in Britain loop back to Jimmy Savile — the BBC star accused of necrophilia and abusing 500 children — and these do as well.
One year after Savile’s 2010 death, horrifying allegations of abuse emerged that have “shaken our country to the core,” U.K. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said. The allegations led to investigation upon investigation as British authorities tried to determine whether others like Savile manipulated their celebrity to intimidate victims into silence.
Indeed, there were. One was Harris who, his trial court said, was a “sinister pervert who had a demon lurking beneath the charming exterior.”
Others allegedly belonged to the political class — men who reportedly attended a brownstone Edwardian house in southwest London formerly called the Elm Guest House. “It is just over Hammersmith bridge,” as a 1982 newsletter by the Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality said, according to the Guardian. “The facilities include a sauna, solarium and video studio.” That year, its owners were convicted of running a brothel, which Smith is reported to have patronized frequently.
Now apartments, the structure is nonetheless “at the heart of a simmering scandal threatening to boil over and take with it the reputations of a swath of the political class of the 1970s and 1980s,” the Guardian said. Some of what happened there — and who, perhaps, was in attendance — is thought to be detailed in the missing documents, which reportedly implicate more than 10 former and current politicians.
After news of the documents’ disappearance broke, Prime Minister David Cameron ordered officials to find out what happened. “It’s right that these investigations are made,” Cameron said. “We mustn’t do anything, of course, that could prejudice or prevent proper action by the police. If anyone has information about criminal wrong-doing they should, of course, give it to the police.”