Alleged abuse by late politician Cyril Smith "illuminated" a broader picture of abuse suffered by boys in Rochdale institutions, an inquiry has heard.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has begun evidence hearings examining how the Liberal MP was allegedly able to target young boys at Rochdale institutions.
Smith was the subject of sex abuse accusations and investigations over decades during his career in the town, but was never prosecuted and received a knighthood before his death in 2010.
His offending was alleged to have centred on the Cambridge House hostel and the Knowl View residential school, both of which he had a hand in setting up.
In his opening statement, counsel to the inquiry Brian Altman QC said: "I emphasise that this is not an investigation into Cyril Smith; this is an investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation of children residing at or attending Cambridge House Boys' Hostel, Knowl View House and other institutions where their placement was arranged or provided by Rochdale Borough Council."
But, he added, the public interest in Smith's alleged offending allowed a wider pattern of abuse to come to light.
He said: "The decision to embark upon this investigation was in part a response to the public concern that some politicians including Cyril Smith were involved in child sexual abuse and able to abuse with impunity because they were protected by the establishment."
He added: "In many ways, it illuminated the day-to-day experiences of children that would have gone unexamined."
The three weeks of evidence hearings began with chairwoman Alexis Jay thanking the core participants for their assistance, some of whom claim to have been abused by Smith.
She said: "We are conscious of the great challenges that many of you have encountered as a result of your experiences as children."
Mr Altman added: "Society and culture may have changed but many people whose lives were forever blighted by the abuse they suffered have understandably been unable to move on and they continue to seek justice.
"These events did not happen so long ago as to consign them to history."