WILLIE Rennie has backed the resignation of LibDem peer Lord Steel over the Cyril Smith child abuse scandal – one year after agreeing there were “no grounds for action”.

According to a major inquiry, Steel – a former LibDem leader and presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament – was amongst those to have committed an “abdication of responsibility” when he “turned a blind eye” to claims that Smith, a long-serving MP, had committed serious offences against boys.

The peer “assumed” the allegations to be true but said it was “nothing to do with” him and failed to pass them on to police before later recommending Smith for a knighthood.

Those comments were made to sessions of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which yesterday published its damning final report.

The release date comes almost one year after the Scottish LibDems reinstated Steel after a temporary suspension triggered by his disclosure to the inquiry. The party ruled there were “no grounds for action” against Steel, and Rennie stated: “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.”

But last night he conceded that it was “right” that Steel resign: “Cyril Smith’s acts were vile and repugnant and I have nothing but sympathy for those affected. This is a powerful report that has lessons for everyone including David Steel, the Liberal Democrats and the wider political sphere.

“It is therefore right that David Steel has decided to resign from the Liberal Democrats and retire from public life including the House of Lords.”

The inquiry concluded there is “ample evidence that individual perpetrators of child sexual abuse have been linked to Westminster”, but said there was “no evidence of any kind of organised ‘Westminster paedophile network’ in which persons of prominence conspired to pass children amongst themselves for the purpose of sexual abuse”. That was suggested by Carl Beech, who was jailed over the claims last year.

The report stated: “It is clear that there have been significant failures by Westminster institutions in their responses to allegations of child sexual abuse. This included failure to recognise it, turning a blind eye to it, actively shielding and protecting child sexual abusers and covering up allegations.”

Those said to guilty of such “shielding” include former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and ex-Tory chairman Norman Tebbit, who knew of rumours about then-MP Peter Morrison’s “penchant for small boys”, but did not act on them.

Instead, a “consistent culture” of “playing down rumours and protecting politicians” from scandal had been allowed to flourish, with senior figures “actively protecting” diplomats and MPs suspected of wrongdoing.

“Nobody seemed to care about the fate of the children involved, with status and political concerns overriding all else”, the report found: “Even though we did not find evidence of a Westminster network, the lasting effect on those who suffered as children from being sexually abused by individuals linked to Westminster has been just as profound.”

Last night Steel, originally from Kirkcaldy, defended himself even as he announced he will quit the Lords and political life, claiming: “I fear that I have been made a proxy for Cyril Smith.”

The 81-year-old went on: “Knowing all I know now, I condemn Cyril Smith’s actions towards children. Children deserve protection from predators, especially those in authority.”

He continued: “That Smith was never a friend of mine is exemplified by his public decision not to speak for any constituency party which had voted for me as leader in 1976.

“I have received indications that some in the Liberal Democrat Party wish me suspended and investigated again, despite a previous disciplinary process in Scotland which concluded that no further action was required. I am told that others are threatening to resign if a new investigation is started.

“I wish to avoid any such turmoil in my Party and to prevent further distress to my family.”

Last night a Scottish Parliament source said political parties “have to be very, very careful about internal enquiries”. Arguing for greater focus on safeguarding, they added: “It’s very hard to believe a colleague of yours has done something wrong.”