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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Executive Summary

This investigation report concerns child sexual abuse in Rochdale, relating to Cambridge House, Knowl View School and the late Cyril Smith. We are primarily concerned with the institutional responses of Rochdale Borough Council, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Smith first came to prominence as a local councillor, then Mayor and later as Member of Parliament from 1972 until his retirement in 1992. He died in 2010.

Cambridge House was a hostel for working boys run by a voluntary organisation of which Smith was Honorary Secretary, and was open from 1962 to 1965. He had ready access to the boys living in the hostel, allegedly facilitating his sexual abuse of them under the guise of ‘medical examinations’ including, in most cases, of a boy’s private parts. He also administered punishment for truancy, illness or absconding, which included spanking a bare bottom. He told police in a written statement in 1970 that at all times he was acting ‘in loco parentis’ to the boys, but we found it inexplicable that he thought his role permitted ‘medical examinations’ when he had no medical qualifications. He had considerable control over which boys were admitted to the hostel and, in general, showed a strong, perhaps unduly detailed, interest in children in care as his political career developed. This interest appeared to go unchallenged by the Council.

Cyril Smith’s prominence and standing in Rochdale allowed him to exert influence on others locally – in particular, to put pressure on them to keep quiet about any allegations of abuse. Although the Lancashire Constabulary investigation into Smith pursued the allegations robustly and diligently, the Director of Public Prosecutions advised that there should be no prosecution. It has been suggested that Smith or his supporters may have exerted improper influence on the Director of Public Prosecutions, but there is no evidence to support such an allegation. Valuable opportunities were, however, lost in 1998 and 1999 to charge and prosecute Smith during his lifetime, and for the complainants of his alleged abuse to seek justice.

Smith’s standing in public life increased, and in 1988 he was awarded a knighthood for his political services. It is clear that there were some frank discussions at the highest political level about the rumours in circulation about him, with no obvious concern for alleged victims. Rather, the concern was about what would be fair to Smith and whether the honours system might subsequently be brought into disrepute. We concluded that this demonstrated a considerable deference to power and an unwillingness to confront the possibility that a person of public prominence might be capable of perpetrating sexual abuse.

Cyril Smith’s links to Knowl View School in Rochdale led the Inquiry to a wider investigation of that school and allegations of sexual abuse by other individuals of children who lived there. It was the sexual abuse of children by others that became the focus of the Inquiry’s investigation. We heard from complainants of sexual abuse who had been at Knowl View School in a period extending over 25 years, beginning in 1969.

The evidence demonstrated that the children who attended the school had a range of complex needs, including learning disabilities, autism and mental health. Many had also suffered from adverse experiences in their family life and had already been abused. We concluded that, far from taking additional steps to protect these children, the school and other institutions had come to regard their sexual abuse while at Knowl View as almost expected, or as something that could not be prevented. The children’s experience of the school was extremely poor at the most basic level of the fabric of the building, which bore no resemblance to a homely environment. Nor was the school safe, secure, caring or therapeutic. It was supposed to offer education and care, but in reality, it offered neither in any way that could be seen as adequate, let alone nurturing. The institution failed in its basic function to keep children in its care safe from harm and, in particular, safe from sexual harm, both within and outwith the school.

Child sexual abuse involving children from Knowl View occurred from its early years onwards. Within the school, there was sexual abuse of boys by staff, and of younger boys by older ones. Sexual exploitation of some boys was also taking place in Rochdale town centre, in the public toilets and bus station, by men paying for sex. Some boys were also trafficked to other towns for that purpose. In a particularly shocking incident in 1990, Roderick Hilton, a known sex offender who had previously been convicted of sexually abusing a boy at Knowl View in 1984, gained access to the school and the boys over two nights, when he indecently assaulted at least one of them. Hilton was well known to the staff of the school, who did nothing over many years to deter him from targeting the school. He was imprisoned in 1991 for a series of child sexual offences. Despite this, on his release from prison on licence, he continued to be a malign presence at the school, ‘little’ was done to stop Hilton’s continued access to the grounds and buildings.

For most of the school’s existence, staff were at best complacent but arguably complicit in the abuse they knew to be taking place, and they must take their share of the blame for what was allowed to occur. It was our strong conclusion that Knowl View staff simply treated the sexual abuse between boys as ‘normal’, without differentiating between what was experimentation and what was coercive and intimidating. There was little evidence that the school appreciated the profound harm that peer-on-peer sexual abuse could cause.

Sexual exploitation of children from the school at Smith Street public toilets was known about by the authorities from at least 1989. Indeed, some Social Services’ staff could see the toilets from their offices, recognised some of the boys as children in care and were deeply suspicious of what was going on, although there was no apparent follow-up. The records of individual children convey a total lack of urgency on the part of the authorities to address the problem and treat the matters involved for what they were – serious sexual assaults. One boy’s file recorded that he had contracted sexually transmitted hepatitis through ‘rent boy’ activities. We concluded that no one in authority viewed any of this as an urgent child protection issue. Rather, boys as young as 11 were not seen as victims, but as authors of their own abuse. 

Subsequent police investigations show that the police did not turn a blind eye to the sexual exploitation of boys in Rochdale town centre. They knew children were being exploited in Smith Street toilets, but did not obtain suffcient evidence to prosecute. There is evidence of a willingness on the part of police offcers to investigate. Nevertheless, the records that survive do not provide any satisfactory answer as to why police did not charge anyone, despite knowing the names of men involved and obtaining some disclosures from the boys who were victims.

Later, Diana Cavanagh, the Director of Education, commissioned a report from Valerie Mellor on the sexual abuse at the school, but this report was unlikely to have prompted a police investigation due to its paucity of information and lack of rigour. 

Following revelations in 1991, we were incredulous that Ian Davey, the Acting Director of Social Services, did not choose to pursue the child protection issues concerning the school through the formal child protection procedures. It was his decision alone; it was inexplicable, professionally indefensible and extremely poor judgment on the part of the most senior social work offcer in the Council’s employment.

Mrs Cavanagh disagreed with Mr Davey and attempted to bring about an independent review of child sexual abuse at Knowl View School by commissioning the Mellor report, then later the Hodge/Dobie report and, finally, in 1992, producing her own report on staff behaviour at the school. While some of this was useful, each of the reports was flawed in some respects, including factual accuracy. Worse, there appeared to be no urgency on the part of senior offcials to address the problems of sexual abuse at the school. Matters were allowed to drift. All this occurred on Mrs Cavanagh’s watch, made worse by a feeble Board of Governors who seemed unable to fulfil their governance responsibilities. Regardless of the Board of Governors, Rochdale Council was the provider of the facility and its external manager.

We heard nothing to demonstrate that there was effective liaison between the departments of Education and Social Services in Rochdale during the period under investigation. The necessity for this relationship to work well was enshrined in the 1988 ‘Working Together’ guidance issued by the then Minister for Health. Indeed, some three years on from ‘Working Together’, the guidance had still not been implemented by the Council. There were no regular meetings between the two departments about child protection or any other matters of mutual concern. This reflects badly on the Directors of Education and Social Services at the time, and exemplifies some of their failures of leadership. 

We heard evidence from Richard Farnell, who was Leader of Rochdale Council from 1986 until 1992. He denied being aware at that time of what was occurring at the school for which, ultimately, he had responsibility. In the light of other evidence we heard, we did not believe him. It defies belief that Mr Farnell was unaware of the events involving Knowl View School, especially within the context of a public scandal in 1990–91 about children in the care of Rochdale Council. We also reject the notion that Mr Farnell was not alerted by the then Chair of Education, the late Mary Moffatt, about a further potential risk to the reputation of the Council, let alone its statutory duty of care towards abused children.

Regarding Mr Farnell’s final statements at the hearing, it was shameful that he refused to accept any personal responsibility for the young lives blighted by what happened at the school while he was Leader. Instead, he laid all blame for what occurred at the door of the senior offcials in Education and Social Services.

It was also the view of the Chair and Panel that Paul Rowen, Liberal Democrat Leader from 1992 to 1996, bore considerable responsibility for the school during his tenure. As with Richard Farnell, he was prepared to blame others without acknowledging his own failures of leadership, including his decision to give the school’s problems low priority. 

Finally, the Inquiry heard evidence about sexual abuse at other institutions in Rochdale. This included the convictions of four men – Thomas Mann, Dennis Leckey, Anthony Andrews and Raymond Cullens – on numerous charges of sexual abuse at schools and children’s homes. This demonstrated that the police and the Council were capable of confronting allegations of child sexual abuse, and taking action. 

The Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale investigation is one of three investigations that the Inquiry is currently undertaking that focuses on events within named local authorities. The other two investigations are Children in the Care of Nottinghamshire Councils and Children in the Care of Lambeth Council. 

While the focus of the Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale investigation has been on events covering the early 1960s to the mid-1990s, the issues that have come to light and the conclusions that we have reached in this report remain of potential relevance today. However, because we will be considering evidence that is relevant to the protection of children in the care of local authorities in the outstanding local authority investigations (as well as in some of the Inquiry’s thematic investigations, such as Child Sexual Abuse by Organised Networks), we will be better placed at a later time to consider the making of overarching recommendations arising from this investigation and any or all of the related investigations.

For these reasons, we do not intend making any recommendations on the Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale investigation at this stage in this report. We expect the local authority, and other public bodies, however, to reflect on this investigation report and make such changes to practice that are necessary to protect children in the future.

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