DAVID Steel’s “failure to act” over Cyril Smith “led to more children being abused”, the lawyer representing the prolific paedophile’s victims has claimed.

Richard Scorer, an abuse lawyer at Slater & Gordon who represents eight children targeted by the Rochdale MP, also hit out at Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie and other friends of Steel for trying to “re-write history.”

Steel quit the party on Tuesday following the publication of a damning report into allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster.

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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”

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse’s (IICSA) report was particularly scathing on Steel’s inaction over Smith.

The report suggested that the LibDems, still reeling from the scandal over Jeremy Thorpe, had been 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”.

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

Steel, who led the party between 1976 and 1988, told the inquiry he had 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.

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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.”

In his resignation statement, the peer said the inquiry was making him a scapegoat, and claimed he was being made “a proxy for Cyril Smith”.

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On Thursday, Rennie had tried to claim that Steel did not know that Smith was an abuser.

When journalists reminded him Steel had nominated Smith for the knighthood - which he received in 1988 a decade after the Private Eye story - the MSP said: “The Liberal Democrats did not know. David did not know at that time when those decisions were made. All of that became public later.”

Writing in a daily newspaper on Friday, Magnus Linklater, the former editor of the Scotsman, defended his “friend” saying “things were less clear” around child sex abuse thirty year ago.

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Speaking to the Sunday National, Scorer said: “Steel and his friends are now trying to rewrite history but the fact is that child abuse has always been a crime and no responsible party leader in 1979 would have allowed a known paedophile to remain in a senior role.

“Steel’s failure to act against Smith had horrendous consequences: it allowed Smith to retain his public status, giving him continued free access to children in council care homes in the 1980s, and allowing him to abuse more boys.

“Quite simply, Steel’s failure led to more children being abused.

“This cannot be excused, and this attempt by Steel and his friends to legitimise his inaction and shield him from accountability should be firmly rejected.”

The Scottish LibDems have declined to respond to Scorer’s comments.

Rennie has repeatedly refused to condemn the former LibDem peer.

After his appearance in front of IICSA - when he first admitted to knowing about Smith’s abuse and doing nothing - he was suspended by the LibDems.

However, they soon revoked his suspension saying there were “no grounds for action” as “Smith did not confess to any criminality which is why he took no further action at the time”.

However, in their report IICSA made clear that Steel had been aware of Smith’s criminality.

They pointed out that it was the peer “who volunteered that he had ‘assumed’ from what he was told – that is, he accepted as true – that Cyril Smith had committed the offences”.

Steel pointed to his being cleared by the Scottish LibDems in his statement on Tuesday.

He said that he was only quitting because “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”.

Asked about Steel on Thursday, Rennie said: “We took the decision that there was no action to be taken at that time, we knew there was a further inquiry to come that was going to look into these issues in a wider remit and with more depth, and we knew they would come to a conclusion this year.”

Asked if the party had made a mistake, he said: “I think what we did is we took the evidence at the time and we drew the conclusion there was no further action to be taken at that time.”

When asked if the party had protected Steel last year, Rennie said: “No, we took the decision last year that there was further no grounds for action at that time.”