“We appreciate the difficult work that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is doing on behalf of the victims and survivors of abuse, and the country as a whole.”
Lord Steel was the final leader of the Liberal Party before it merged with the Social Democratic Party, at which stage he became the first leader of the Lib Dems.
Last year’s report by the inquiry – examining Smith’s activities in Rochdale – said there was an “unwillingness” at the highest level to accept the politician could be a predator.
Lord Steel said he “knew nothing” about the wider allegations at the time, but defended his failure to act on the revelations made by his party colleague.
Pressed on his logic, he told the hearing: “It was before he was an MP, before he was even a member of my party. It had nothing to do with me.”
The inquiry’s top lawyer, Brian Altman QC, replied: “He could, for all you knew, still be offending?”
Lord Steel responded: “I have to admit, that never occurred to me, and I’m not sure it would occur to me even today.”
His evidence came as the inquiry holds three weeks of hearings into alleged abuse committed by the Westminster elite.