WILLIE Rennie and the Scottish LibDems were in hiding yesterday after the lawyer for Cyril Smith’s victims accused them of putting their “own party interest” above the welfare of children abused by the prolific paedophile.

Speaking to The National, Richard Scorer from Slater and Gordon Lawyers slammed “the group of friends of David Steel” for pre-empting the outcome of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) with their own shambolic investigation.

Steel quit the party yesterday following the publication of the damning report into allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster. It claimed there was a culture of “failing to recognise abuse, turning a blind eye to it, covering up allegations and actively protecting high-profile offenders including politicians”

IICSA’s report was particularly scathing on Steel’s inaction over Smith.

The report suggested that the Liberals, still reeling from the scandal over Jeremy Thorpe, were keen to avoid another embarrassment.

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It said Steel “should have provided leadership,” but instead, “he abdicated his responsibility. He looked at Cyril Smith not through the lens of child protection but through the lens of political expediency”.

During their evidence sessions IICSA asked Steel if the Liberal Party in Westminster was aware of the allegations made against Smith.

Private Eye magazine had reported that young boys in Rochdale children’s homes had been stripped, spanked and fondled by their local MP.

Steel, who led the party between 1976 and 1988, said he confronted his colleague in 1979.

“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 peer said.

READ MORE: LibDems threaten to quit if Steel is expelled for abuse cover-up

The inquiry’s lawyer Brian Altman asked Steel if it was his understanding that Smith had “actually committed these offences, from what he said to you?”

Steel responded: “I assumed that.”

The QC then asked: “Wasn’t that all the more reason to take matters further and hold some form of inquiry?”

The peer answered: “No, because it was, as I say, before he was an MP, before he was even a member of my party.

“It had nothing to do with me.”

The exchange sparked uproar and party officials decided that Steel should have the whip withdrawn and face a formal investigation.

His suspension was then later revoked by the Scottish party’s executive group who said there were no “grounds to answer”.

READ MORE: David Steel quits as peer after inquiry slams abuse cover-up

Speaking to The National, Scorer said: “I think that the way that they behaved over this is unacceptable.

“The sensible thing to do would have been to wait for the outcome of this inquiry before deciding to revoke the suspension.

“They decided to do otherwise. The only explanation that one can see for that is that the group of friends of David Steel in the Scottish party decided to preempt the outcome of this inquiry.

“In our view it’s a completely unacceptable way for a party to behave.”

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He added: “What it shows is that they were placing their own concerns in their own party interest above the interest of children and that’s completely unacceptable and wrong.

“By deciding to make their own judgment about this rather than wait for the inquiry which was actually looking at this in detail, looking at this comprehensively, they’re focusing on their own interests and not on the where their concern should be, which is the interest of the victims.”

The Scottish LibDems declined to comment.

In his resignation statement Steel, who was Holyrood’s first presiding officer, claimed he had been scapegoated by the inquiry.