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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Introduction to Knowl View School

1. Cambridge House Hostel had ceased to operate in 1965 under the auspices of the Rochdale Hostel for Boys Association, yet Smith remained heavily involved in Rochdale Council’s provision of services to children including (in due course) leading the campaign for the establishment of Knowl View School.[1] By this time he had become even more powerful. In 1966, he was selected as the Mayor of Rochdale (for the Labour Party) and he was awarded an MBE “for his services to youth”, as was later recorded by Superintendent Leach in his report in the Lancashire investigation in 1970.[2]

2. This part of the report focuses on Knowl View School. The school became of interest to the investigation because of Smith’s involvement in its foundation. On closer examination, it became clear that he was far less involved in this school than he had been in Cambridge House. While Smith’s involvement drew attention to Knowl View School, examination of it drew into sharp focus an institution that was supposed to care for vulnerable children in Rochdale, yet failed to act in the face of information that those children were being subjected to different kinds of sexual abuse. Knowl View School gave the Inquiry an opportunity to consider in some detail why an institution from the not too distant past was unable to confront the sexual abuse it knew children in its care were suffering.

3. We are grateful to the former pupils who provided evidence to the Inquiry about their experiences at Knowl View School. We appreciate the pain and the complexity of feelings that recalling these experiences invoked. That evidence made real the lifetime consequences that childhood experience of sexual abuse has, particularly upon vulnerable children. Much of what happened to children who attended Knowl View is not controversial. There are records showing that children were being sexually exploited in the town centre by men paying them for their services; Roderick Hilton was convicted in 1984 and again in 1990 of having sexually abused children from the school; and there are records from the time voicing concerns about coercive sexual activity between children. So, there was no shortage of information about the reality of what some children at the school were facing and the risks that other children were exposed to. Steven Ford QC for Rochdale Borough Council accepted in his Closing Statement that there was “a wealth of evidence” that children from Knowl View School were being sexually abused.[3] He also repeated the Council’s apology for the “frankly unforgivable” failings in its management of Knowl View School and its response to concerns about the sexual abuse of children from the school.[4]

4. We are concerned with why these failings occurred in the first place, and what sort of conditions in a supposedly caring environment permitted the sexual abuse of children or allowed them to be exposed to that risk. This part will to some extent consider Cyril Smith’s role in the school, but will focus more closely on the experiences of children.

5. The original idea for Knowl View School appears to have been developed in 1963 as a joint undertaking among four local authorities (Lancashire, Bolton, Rochdale and Oldham) to establish a residential special school for ‘maladjusted boys’. In April 1968, Cyril Smith was appointed the Chairman of the ‘Special Sub-Committee Re Residential School for Maladjusted Boys’. This sub-committee was charged with making the practical arrangements for the setting up of this school. Just as he had been instrumental in bringing Cambridge House into existence, so too was Cyril Smith central to the establishment of Knowl View School. On 15 January 1970, powers related to the running of the school were transferred from the Special Sub-Committee to the Board of Governors. Cyril Smith was appointed a member of the Board in 1970.[5] He remained a member of the Board and chaired it until his election to Parliament in 1972.[6] It is important to note that Smith was on the Board of Governors of a number of other schools during the same period.[7] Cyril Smith joined the Board of Governors again in 1994. He and Harry Wild were Governors of Knowl View School at approximately the same points in time, which is further evidence of the longstanding nature of their association.[8]

6. The first pupils were admitted to the school, under the umbrella of ‘maladjustment’, on 8 January 1969.[9] It is clear that this term covered a range of different needs. Witnesses who gave evidence to us said that certain children who resided at the school would now be regarded as being on the autistic spectrum.[10][11] Gail Hopper confirmed in evidence her view that the pupils admitted had every social, emotional and mental difficulty conceivable.[12]

7. The school was intended to provide residential schooling for approximately 50 boys aged from 7 to 16 years of age. As will be seen later, accommodating children of this range of ages in one building was to expose younger children to a serious risk of sexual abuse by other children.

8. It also appears that, from an early stage, it was intended that children would live at the school during the week and at weekends. A statement of policy from 1977 specified that children did not automatically go home at weekends; rather each child should go home at least once per half term.[13] The policy also demonstrated an appreciation of the risk that residential schooling could isolate a child from his family by altering the dynamics of the family home. The imperative was therefore to support the child so that he could live within the family unit.[14] We note here that this mission appears to have changed over time in that the school began to accommodate children at weekends for the opposite purpose, that of removing them from very difficult family circumstances.[15]

9. That children did not go home at weekends was confirmed by Martin Digan, a residential social worker at the school from 1978 to its closure. He gave evidence that some pupils “had to earn the right to go home” at weekends and that other children lived at the school all the time save for school holidays.[16]

10. Children who come to live in residential schools do so because they have emotional, educational or behavioural needs. In his evidence before us, Stephen Bradshaw, who became the Head Teacher of the school in 1991, emphasised that the need for attention by children with emotional, educational or behavioural needs rendered them particularly vulnerable. It was part of the responsibility of a school to find positive ways of providing such attention.[17]

11. This was understood by those with responsibility for the school. According to Diana Cavanagh (then Director of Education), writing in 1994, children who were attending Knowl View School “… have been unable to cope with mainstream and (often) their family circumstances. Many have a poor self-image, have been abused and are on the Child Protection Register, have not found it possible to make good relationships with other children. Some are extremely withdrawn, avoiding contact or relationships with others and running away if pressurised. Some are aggressive and violent towards their family, other pupils and staff, both posing a physical risk to others and disrupting other pupils’ education. Some manipulate or bully other children and constantly use inappropriate language or inappropriate sexual behaviour. They may be out of control and attention-seeking at home and school …” [18]

12. We quote this in full because it highlights a fundamental point about the ambiguous position that Knowl View School occupied. It was not a children’s home yet children could spend most of their time there (apparently at the direction of the school). Many of the children who lived at the school were vulnerable before they arrived and came from families with complex needs. Ms Hopper gave evidence that some children appeared to have been placed in the school as an alternative to being placed in care; others were already in the care of a local authority.[19] Ms Hopper also accepted that regardless of whether they were in care or not, and whatever their parents’ views, children who lived at such a school seven days a week were, in all but name, in care.[20]

13. Ms Hopper also commented that the placement of children at a residential school, rather than in care, may have been informed by financial pressures (such an arrangement would have been favourable to the Social Services Department because the costs would at least be shared with the Education Department, if not borne by it entirely).[21] She remarked upon how unusual it was to see references to financial pressures about the funding of residential placements in children’s individual records, yet they were referred to in records she examined.

14. Despite the fact that, in reality, Knowl View was home to many children over the years, it was not subject to the oversight that would apply to a children’s home. There is little evidence that the life provided for children outside the classroom had any of the comfort or warmth that ought to be a feature of residential care. For some of its pupils, Knowl View School might well have provided conditions that were at least better than their own home but this only reinforces how important it was that the school provided them with the safe, secure and caring environment they may otherwise have lacked.

15. Terence Hopwood, the Head Teacher of Knowl View in 1977, recognised that “Residential education must not be confused with residential care”,[22] and that the school was not a residential home, and was not capable of providing the level of support that children in need of residential care required. It is apparent to us that over time the school lost sight of its primary purpose to educate children and instead became an institution for little more than their containment.

16. When he gave evidence to us, Mr Bradshaw said that the cold, institutionalised and inhospitable conditions at the school played their part in the children’s behaviour and that this, in turn, put them at risk of sexual abuse.[23]

17. At the very end of his evidence to us, Mr Bradshaw was asked to identify what he believed to have been so wrong with Knowl View School that enabled the sexual abuse of children to take place. His answer was that every part of it was wrong, “... the place was wrong. The environment was not conducive to … caring … for children, it was very stark, so the environment was wrong. The people were wrong. They didn’t have any leaders. The governance was wrong. The curriculum was wrong…[24]

18. This part of the report will explore how that came about. It will consider how public authorities in Rochdale responded to children who were sexually abused by a man who targeted the school, children who were sexually exploited by men paying them for their services, and children who engaged in sexual activity with each other.

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