Police have acknowledged for the first time that the late politician Cyril Smith sexually and physically abused young boys in the 1960s.

Smith, who was elected to Parliament in 1972 and served the constituents of Rochdale for the Lib Dems, was dogged by rumours of abuse throughout his career but charges were never brought.

Both Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said if Smith had been accused he would be charged and prosecuted.

A GMP spokesman said: "The Force is now publicly acknowledging that young boys were victims of physical and sexual abuse committed by Smith.

"Three separate files regarding Sir Cyril Smith's actions were passed to first the director of public prosecutions (DPP) and the Crown Prosecution Service although on each occasion no prosecution was pursued."

Smith was secretary of the Rochdale Hostel for Boys Association, where he was accused of abusing vulnerable youngsters by spanking and touching them.

GMP has been looking at cases which date back to 1974 - when the force was created - and any before that were investigated by Lancashire Police, who previously covered Rochdale.

Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS North West, said: "The decision made in 1970 would not be made by the CPS today."

He confirmed a file was handed to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Sir Norman Skelhorn in 1970, which contained allegations made by eight men that they had been subjected to indecent assaults by Smith as teenagers. But the then DPP wrote back to the Lancashire Constabulary, who had passed on the file, advising against a prosecution.

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: "These allegations are abhorrent and should be taken very seriously. Clearly the party does not endorse any person proved to have been in incidents such as these."