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Cambridge House, Knowl View And Rochdale Investigation Revisited

23 February 2021

In April 2018 the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published its Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale investigation report, following three weeks of public hearings in 2017. 30 witnesses gave evidence in person and 28 written statements were offered in evidence.

It followed allegations that were made about the sexual abuse and exploitation of children at Cambridge House Boys’ Hostel and Knowl View School in Rochdale. Former Liberal Party MP, Cyril Smith, had been named as one of the alleged abusers. The investigation examined these allegations and considered the extent to which institutional failings may have allowed the sexual abuse and exploitation of vulnerable children at Cambridge House, Knowl View and elsewhere in Rochdale to take place. 

The investigation highlights the vulnerability of the children at the council-run Knowl View School and heard from victims and survivors of child sexual abuse spanning over a period of 25 years.  It finds staff were complacent and arguably complicit. 

Sexual exploitation of boys was also happening in the town centre, the bus station and the Smith Street public toilets which were across the road from the council’s offices.  The report catalogues the total lack of urgency on the part of the authorities to treat the matters as serious sexual assaults; boys as young as 11 were not regarded by those in authority as victims but as authors of their own abuse.

The Inquiry heard evidence about sexual abuse at Cambridge House Boys’ Hostel and outlines lost opportunities to prosecute former Rochdale MP Cyril Smith (who was Honorary Secretary of Cambridge Boys’ Hostel) in relation to allegations of child sexual abuse.

The Inquiry also heard evidence from Richard Farnell, who was Leader of Rochdale Council from 1986 until 1992 and then from 2014 until his resignation in December 2017 following evidence he gave to the Inquiry. The report is clear that the Inquiry did not believe his evidence. His refusal to accept responsibility for events is described by the Inquiry as ‘shameful’. He has since been elected as a councillor for Balderstone and Kirkholt in Rochdale.

The Inquiry made no specific recommendations as a result of this investigation, as at the time of the publication of the report it was still due to consider further evidence in other investigations relevant to the protection of children in the care of local authorities. The Inquiry did however expect the local authority and other public bodies to reflect on the report and make such changes to practice that are necessary to protect children in the future.

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