Nick Clegg has insisted the Liberal Democrats did not know about the "repugnant" allegations against former MP Sir Cyril Smith.
The Deputy Prime Minister sought to distance himself and his party from the former Rochdale MP, who died in 2010.
At a Westminster press conference the Lib Dem leader insisted his party was unaware of the "truly horrific" actions carried out by Sir Cyril.
Asked if there should be an independent inquiry into what the party knew he said: "The se are incredibly serious revelations, repugnant ones, about Cyril Smith. They stretch back to the 1950s, the 1960s.
"My party, the Liberal Democrats, did not know about these actions. It's up to the police - these are very serious matters which the police may well want to look into and it will be up to the police to conduct those investigations. They are the right people to look into these things."
Allegations about Sir Cyril's behaviour were published in Private Eye in 1979, but Mr Clegg dismissed claims that he should have been aware of the rumours about the MP.
Mr Clegg paid tribute to Sir Cyril on his 80th birthday in 2008 and again when he died two years later.
He pointed out he was only 12 in 1979 and added: "Cyril Smith stood down as an MP 13 years before I became an MP. Many of the actions, the repugnant actions, which we now learn about took place well before the party I now lead even existed - in fact, took place before I even existed.
"Given those facts and that chronology it is - as my party has made quite clear - not surprising that the Liberal Democrats, who were founded in 1989, two or three years before Cyril Smith stood down, were not aware.
"I would never have dreamed of saying the things that I said about Cyril Smith on his 80th birthday and when he died if I was aware of the truly horrific nature of the actions which he is alleged to have undertaken over a long period of time."
Sir Cyril was elected a Liberal MP in 1972 and became a Liberal Democrat on the formation of the new party before leaving Parliament in 1992. He was knighted in 1988.
The Daily Mail, which is serialising a book about Sir Cyril by Labour's Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk, claimed that victims of the former Liberal and Lib Dem MP could sue Mr Clegg's party.
Richard Scorer, a solicitor at Slater and Gordon representing six men who claim they were molested by the MP as boys, is investigating how much senior Liberals knew.
He told the newspaper: "We are examining who knew what about the MP, and that includes the Liberal Democrat Party and Rochdale Council, and we are actively considering all possibilities in relation to those potential defendants."
In November 2012, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said Sir Cyril abused young boys in the 1960s in his role as secretary of the Rochdale Hostel for Boys Association.
He had been accused of abusing eight youngsters at Cambridge Hostel in the town by spanking and touching them.
Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable, in discussion about Sir Cyril's case on ITV's The Agenda, said: " It is horrific, it is really horrible. Let's remember this was a very long time ago. We're talking 40-50 years ago. This is the Savile era.
"I was actually a member of the Labour Party when all of this happened. I've no personal recollection of it."
On whether the case was an establishment cover-up, Mr Cable said: "That's the suggestion, I mean these are allegations.
"They are very serious. This is criminal paedophilia on a very large scale. It's absolutely awful."