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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Knowl View School: the early years

19. There is not a great deal of evidence about what life was like for children who resided at Knowl View School in its early years, but an important source is Father Michael Seed’s book Nobody’s Child, extracts of which were read out in the hearing. Father Michael was a pupil at the school between the years 1970 and 1974. He describes in graphic terms the exploitation of his fellow pupils in Rochdale town centre by “kerb crawling” men and how other pupils tried to recruit him into this.[1]

20. The evidence shows that exploitation of boys from Knowl View School (some very young) by paying men continued into the early 1990s. This exploitation of children was an enduring feature of school life from its beginning to its end.

21. Father Michael’s book also describes how, in this very early period, David Higgins, a Knowl View teacher, would wash boys in the showers and encourage some to masturbate. According to Father Michael, Higgins had the “ingenious technique” of taking children on hikes or potholing so that they needed to shower after. He would help them to wash and touch them in the process. He also got boys to masturbate. Father Michael thought this to be normal at the time, the sort of thing that happened in a boarding school.[2]

22. We were unable to hear oral evidence from Father Michael, but he spoke to the Garnham Review. When he was interviewed by Neil Garnham QC (now Mr Justice Garnham), he did confirm the accuracy of the information contained in his book.[3] The information in the book reflects other evidence that the Inquiry has considered and that demonstrates that boys from Knowl View were being sexually exploited at this time. A clear example of this appears in the witness statement of a social worker who had responsibilities for a pupil at the school. He describes collecting this pupil from the south of England (he had “absconded” from Knowl View School). He was covered in scabies and lice and said that he had been giving sexual favours for money. According to the social worker, he had a good talk to the boy on the way back to his parents’ home, and made him “promise to be a good boy”. [4] This is dealt with so matter of factly in the social worker’s statement that it supports the suggestion that, at that time, the exploitation of Knowl View pupils was thought neither shocking nor out of the ordinary.

23. David Higgins was appointed as a teacher to Knowl View School in 1969. He resigned on 31 December 1971 for reasons that are unknown.[5] One of the Core Participants (RO-A7) gave evidence that, when Higgins left the school, the rumour was Higgins left because he had raped a pupil (RO-B201).[6] Higgins was later convicted in 1976 and 1983 of the sexual abuse of children not related to Knowl View. However, he was also investigated as part of Operation Cleopatra, which was a wide-ranging investigation into the sexual abuse of children within children’s homes in the Greater Manchester area. In 2002, Higgins pleaded guilty to offences involving the sexual abuse of two pupils from Knowl View, for which he was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment.[7]

24. Detective Chief Inspector Sarah Jones of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) (the Senior Investigating Officer on Operation Jaguar[8]) confirmed that, some 30 years after he left Knowl View School, one of the children whom Higgins had been convicted of sexually abusing was RO-B201.[9] This is the boy RO-A7 said was rumoured to have been raped by Mr Higgins at the time he left the school.

25. RO-A7 gave evidence to the Inquiry despite his fragile health. He went to live at Knowl View School in February 1969. He was one of its first pupils and one of the youngest. He recalled the four dormitory names were Lilliput, Bliss, Nirvana and Valhalla. He recalled that some of the staff were good but he was sexually abused by others. He was also sexually abused by other children.

26. Like Father Michael, RO-A7 gave evidence that Higgins took children on camping or hiking trips. According to him, Higgins was “always molesting him”. This included abuse that took place on camping trips and at the school.[10] At the school, Higgins watched RO-A7 shower and instructed him how to masturbate himself.[11] Higgins would also take photographs of RO-A7 naked in the shower.[12]

27. RO-A7 was also sexually assaulted by other boys. He described how a group of them would assault him, which included masturbating over him. Such assaults would take place inside and outside the school. He also described how a female teacher would bathe him and buy him clothes. She taught him how to ‘French kiss’.[13]

28. RO-A7 also gave evidence that he was sexually abused by Cyril Smith. He described how he was called into the staff room on one occasion where he saw Smith, who shouted at him, but he did not know why. He recalled crying whereupon Smith took him on to his knee. While he was sitting on his knee, Smith put RO-A7’s hand on his penis which was inside his trousers.[14] A member of staff came into the staff room and asked RO-A7 if he was okay. This, he said, enabled him to get away. RO-A7 recollected that the Head Teacher came to know about this and was very angry with him, accusing him of trying to ruin Cyril Smith’s career, for which he was spanked by the Head Teacher in the gym in front of other boys.[15]

29. Excerpts from RO-A8’s witness statement were read to the Inquiry. RO-A8 went to Knowl View School when he was 12 years old in 1969. He was one of the first to be admitted. To him, Knowl View seemed luxurious. Everything was new. The food, he said, was better than anything that he had eaten at home. He initially thought the place was fantastic but his feelings changed and in time he grew to hate the place.

30. RO-A8 also described Higgins enjoying walking and hill climbing, which he too enjoyed. When they came back from cross-country running, they would be filthy and would have to shower; Higgins always supervised them.[16] On one such hike, RO-A8 saw RO-B201 masturbating Higgins and saw too that Higgins had his hands inside the child’s trousers. RO-A8 did not think that at the time he appreciated the enormity of what he had seen. He saw the same thing happen on a further occasion.[17]

31. Shortly after this, Higgins touched RO-A8 while driving him in a car.[18] On one occasion RO-A8 had to go to Higgins’ flat. The door was ajar and when he went in he saw that there was a wallet on the table. RO-A8 was in the process of taking a £5 note from it when Higgins came in. RO-A8 began to cry and Higgins was initially very angry. He soon changed tack, rubbing RO-A8’s back and telling him that he would have to tell the Head Teacher, the police or even RO-A8’s father. He then began to fondle RO-A8’s buttocks. RO-A8 pushed him forcefully, telling Higgins that he would tell his father what he had done to him. RO-A8 recollected taking the £5 note with him, and the incident was never mentioned again.[19]

32. RO-A8 also recounted an incident that occurred on the day of the school’s opening ceremony. RO-A8 was given the job of directing cars where to park, supervised by Higgins. He got into trouble for directing one particular man to park his car with the others rather than closer to the school. It was, he told us, Cyril Smith.[20]

33. After the opening ceremony, Higgins told RO-A8 to come up to his flat. He said that on his arrival Smith was with Higgins who said that RO-A8 had to be punished for telling Smith to park in the wrong place. RO-A8 said that he was pushed over the back of a chair by Higgins who also pulled down his trousers. RO-A8 said he could feel that Smith was behind him and he felt another hand reach round and grab his genitals. RO-A8 thought that this could only have been Smith. RO-A8 broke free and left, later telling Mr Turner, the Head Teacher, whom he considered to be a nice man. However, he quickly saw a different side to him when he slapped RO-A8 across the head and called him a liar.

34. In the 1970s, the Head Teacher referred children to Dr Simpson who saw boys from the school on a weekly basis.[21] The Head Teacher documented his reasons for referring certain children, which were wide-ranging and in some instances now appear dated, for example referrals for “delinquency” or “effeminacy”. Other behaviours were indicative of serious psychiatric conditions and of increased vulnerability.[22]

35. The records suggest that there was a therapeutic aspect to the care of children at Knowl View School during this period. Over the years any such ethos appears to have largely disappeared. Overall there appears to have been little by way of external professional involvement with individual children as part of a planned programme of intervention. Indeed, Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Alison Fraser gave evidence to the Inquiry that she stopped visiting Knowl View because there was so little interest in the services she was offering staff to help the children.

36. These records also demonstrate that pupils from the school were involved in sexual activity that was of concern in the 1970s and remained of concern in the 1990s. A report prepared in 1976 by Terence Hopwood (who succeeded Mr Turner as Head Teacher) documented the fact that five named boys had been found out of bed, and that there was evidence of “sexual malpractice” among them. The report concluded that this behaviour had been ongoing for a number of years. Even at this early stage in the life of the school, Mr Hopwood was to observe, “It has become clear that this sort of behaviour has become a subcultural tradition.”[23]

37. Other records about one boy RO-A137 (from 1976 and 1977 when he was aged 15) documented concerns that he had contracted pubic lice from homosexual contacts.[24] This boy is referred to in a note made in 1977 (by the then Deputy Head Teacher Mr Winn), which recorded that RO-A137 had been introduced to an “undesirable element” (older men) by another boy RO-A140 (also 15). RO-A140 was regarded by Mr Winn as “using” older men for alcohol and money. Mr Winn noted that RO-A140 was very much at risk and that he had also taken two boys from Knowl View School into very serious situations.[25] The extent of this risk was borne out by RO-A140 contracting a sexually transmitted disease.[26] Although it is not stated in direct terms, it is clear from these records that a reference to RO-A140 receiving money from adult men was a reference to his being paid to engage in sexual activity by adults. Dr Simpson thought that police should be involved, and he wrote to the Chief Education Officer to inform him of his concerns.[27]

38. Martin Digan said that when he started at Knowl View School in 1978 he found out things that were disturbing to him, which included him being told that prior to his arrival boys from the school were taking women’s clothes off clothes lines and senior staff were, apparently, allowing them to dress in them.[28]

39. Further evidence about what the school was like during its early years emerges from Operation Jaguar. This was the recent investigation by GMP into allegations of sexual abuse at Knowl View. In her evidence to the Inquiry, the Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Chief Inspector Sarah Jones, confirmed that two complainants had given similar accounts about having been sexually abused by one former pupil. From the point of view of her investigation, she regarded it as significant that this former pupil had not only accepted being involved in sexual activity with other children at the school, but also had acknowledged it to be a common occurrence. According to the former pupil, such sexual activity had started when he first arrived at the school, and it continued. He believed it to be normal and a culture at Knowl View.[29]

40. In the course of Operation Jaguar, a number of adult men made allegations that they had been sexually abused as children by staff members at the school, including female staff. As evidence of this, on 27 December 1980, a female teacher, who had taken a pupil away for a night, was given a final warning on the basis that she had formed a “personal and private friendship” with one of the pupils, which she had not notified to the child’s houseparent.[30] The nature of the supposed friendship does not appear to have been pursued as part of the allegation.

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