FEW typify commitment to public life and the common good better than Professor Alexis Jay OBE. After more than 30 years in social work helping vulnerable children, the visiting Professor at Strathclyde University distinguished herself further by heading the inquiry that exposed horrific child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

Professor Jay is now doing similarly sterling work as the Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), whose latest report, on Westminster, was published this week. It is the likes of Professor Jay that give the notion of the great and the good a good name.

David Steel, Lord Steel as he became, has been in the public eye far longer than Professor Jay, some 55 years. Former Liberal leader, ex-MP and MSP, Presiding Officer in the Scottish Parliament from 1999-2003, the Scot is a pillar of the liberal Establishment in every sense. Or at least he was until this week.

READ MORE: Lord Steel quits

On Tuesday a report by IICSA criticised Lord Steel for his failure to act over the paedophile MP Cyril Smith, despite knowing about the allegations against him.

The report concluded: “[Lord Steel] looked at Cyril Smith not through the lens of child protection but through the lens of political expediency.”

Following the report’s publication, Lord Steel announced his resignation from the LibDems and retiral from the House of Lords.

If it seems a small price to pay for what the report called an “abdication of responsibility” that is because it is.

The manner of Lord Steel’s leaving did not do him much credit either. Although he condemned Smith’s actions, he followed this by accusing IICSA of using him as a fall guy because all the prominent figures mentioned in the report were dead.

“Not having secured a parliamentary scalp,” he said, “I fear that I have been made a proxy for Cyril Smith.”

There is nothing like departing with good grace, and that was nothing like departing with good grace. But then when it comes to ocean-going, copper-bottomed hypocrisy you have to go a long way in British politics to beat the Liberal Democrats. In this sorry saga it is not just Lord Steel who should be resigning.

READ MORE: Victims criticise party inquiry

In his appearance before IICSA last year, Lord Steel gave evidence about a meeting with Smith in 1979. He had asked to see Smith following the publication of allegations about the MP in Private Eye.

As the IICSA report said: “It is clear that Lord Steel assumed from what Cyril Smith told him that he had committed the offences reported in Private Eye yet he did nothing about it.”

He did nothing because the offences took place before Smith joined the Liberal Party and became an MP. They were therefore, felt the then party leader, nothing to do with him.

But the IICSA report was devastatingly clear on this point: “This failure to recognise the risk that Cyril Smith potentially posed to children was an abdication of responsibility by a political leader and an example of a highly placed politician turning a blind eye to something that was potentially troublesome to his party, with no apparent regard for criminal acts which might have occurred or for any victims, past or future.”

Lord Steel, who later recommended Smith for a knighthood, now says he had trouble hearing the questions at the inquiry and denies that Smith told him the Private Eye story was true. Yet as the inquiry said, he could have corrected his evidence at any point but did not.

It was after he gave evidence that Lord Steel was suspended by the Scottish Lib Dems and a party investigation began.

A short time later, without waiting for IICSA to report, the party lifted the suspension and welcomed Lord Steel back into the fold.

READ MORE: Steel has whip restored

Given the damning conclusions of the IICSA report, one has to wonder how rigorous this party investigation was. What evidence, if any, was taken from others about what Lord Steel knew or did not know when Smith was alive?

When the suspension was lifted, Willie Rennie, the Scottish Party leader, said Lord Steel had clarified his initial IICSA evidence and as a result the party found no grounds for action. Why did Lord Steel not offer that same clarification to IICSA itself? What was the clarification?

Mr Rennie said on Tuesday that it was “right” that Lord Steel had resigned and would retire from the Lords. If this was an acceptance by Mr Rennie that the IICSA report was correct, then it is also, by implication, an admission that his party’s inquiry got it wrong.

In which case one wonders why Mr Rennie, who bears ultimate responsibility for the party investigation, is still in his job.

The Lib Dems would clearly like everyone to accept that with Lord Steel gone from the party and the Lords there is nothing left to see here, and that we should all move on.

But that is not good enough. The party needs to explain in detail why its investigation came to the conclusion it did.

If it does not, then the public would be justified in thinking that Lord Steel had his suspension lifted for no better reason than a General Election was widely held to be in the offing, and the party wanted to put a lid on the matter.

The Lib Dems are never slow to accuse other parties of hypocrisy if they think the occasion demands it. They are accustomed, by dint of their size and distance from power, to not being subject to as much scrutiny as larger parties.

But now it is their turn to answer some difficult questions and they should do so without delay.

The best way to start putting matters right would be to reopen the party investigation, and at the same time review internal inquiry procedures. Otherwise, what chance do future inquiries have of coming to the right conclusions?

Judging by his statements this week, Lord Steel feels himself hard done by, ill served after more than half a century in public life. He should instead be directing all of his sympathy towards the victims of Smith, none of whom will ever receive the justice they deserve.