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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Peer-on-peer abuse at Knowl View School

83. Sexual activity between children at Knowl View was not a new issue. As we have noted already, by 1984, Mr Hopwood considered that sexual activity between boys was already an ingrained part of the culture. Records in the years thereafter suggest that the culture persisted. This is borne out by a report of 9 March 1992, which Mr Bradshaw wrote and in which he observed that there had been a number of incidents of a sexual nature dating back as far as 1981, logged and mentioned, but never resolved, with seeming indifference to it.[1]

84. These records are not now available but records that have survived provide some idea as to the incidents recorded. A logbook entry of 11 December 1987 records boys masturbating and wiping semen over other boys.[2] Another record of 9 March 1990 notes that children were overheard talking about one child who masturbated and wanted another child to watch.[3]

85. We approach this issue on the basis that there may be consensual sexual experimentation between children of a similar age who live in residential schools, and the need to approach this issue with sensitivity. What we have been struck by in our consideration of Knowl View School, however, is the wholesale lack of concern that sexual activity between children can also be coercive, bullying, frightening and ultimately damaging. Even among older children who might agree to engage in sexual activity with each other, it raises issues about the appropriateness of such conduct and whether children understand the risks and feelings that such sexual activity might give rise to. Yet what we have heard and what we consider in this report is far from being informed sexual experimentation between older children.

86. Until the arrival of Mr Bradshaw in 1991, it appears that there was little if any sex education at the school. This was well documented in the investigations that followed the Hilton incident in September 1990. In an institution that was failing to protect children from sexual abuse, far from equipping children with the information they needed about how to keep themselves safe or the risks they faced, no sex or relationship education was provided.

87. An incident that occurred in 1989 illuminates how Knowl View responded to the possible sexual abuse of one child by another child. In a letter of 18 April 1989 from Mr Ashton, the then Acting Head Teacher, to the Chief Education Officer, but addressed for the attention of Brian Williams, one boy had reported two incidents: oral intercourse and attempted anal intercourse on him by another boy. This was an attempted anal rape by the other boy. The boy reported that the attempt had been repeated.[4]

88. The letter shows that Mr Ashton had his doubts about the truthfulness of the allegation on account of the unpopularity of the child identified as having assaulted the other. This boy was interviewed in an apparent attempt to get him to admit what he had done. Both children were also interviewed together (involving the complainant giving his account in front of the boy he said had tried to anally penetrate him). The notes record that Martin Digan (the houseparent who interviewed the boys) was of the view that a serious sexual assault had taken place. Mr Ashton’s view was that it was best not to overreact and to view the incidents within the context of emotionally disturbed boys experimenting while having problems in making relationships.

89. There are further examples within the records that suggest that violence might have played a part in coercing children into sexual activity. RO-A11’s account from December 1990 points not only to the complicated experience of children at Knowl View School, but also to the reality that violence might have been a factor in his engaging in oral sex.[5] This sort of activity was observed by staff, in one instance by the school keeper, who had also been given a care role (despite his lack of suitable qualifications).[6] Other children also reported what they saw. [7]

90. Other records demonstrate the cynicism with which children were treated. RO-A11 was one of the children who was involved in the incident in September 1990 when Hilton spent two nights in the school. He disclosed to staff that he was involved in a sexual relationship with an adult male. When he retracted this a month later, staff simply accepted it. Duncan Eaton was RO-A11’s houseparent at Knowl View School and thus played a central role in his care. In a report of 31 January 1991, Mr Eaton said of RO-A11 that “He believes that due to his stay at Prestwich hospital he has numerous psychiatric difficulties. It is my belief he has no more emotional and social problems than any other child in this school.”[8] RO-A11 had been an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital prior to his admission to Knowl View. A psychiatric report on RO-A11 indicated that there was no evidence of formal mental illness, but he exhibited emotional immaturity, delayed social development, relationship difficulties and attention deficit.[9]

91. RO-A11’s request for an AIDS test, regardless of the fact that he might well have been at real risk, was regarded as a “shock tactic”. The concern recorded was that such a test might have repercussions such as for insurance.[10] There was no exploration as to why RO-A11 thought he was at risk or whether this was something that was weighing on his mind. The fact that he was sexually involved with other children does not appear to have entered the equation. One boy at the school had contracted hepatitis believed to be from sexual activity; there is no evidence that this prompted any concern for the health of other children. RO-A11’s request for an AIDS test certainly did not do so.

92. It appears to us that the records about RO-A11 suggest staff antagonism towards him; they did not want to believe him. Records relating to other children suggest they fared little better. On 14 January 1991, two members of staff visited the home of RO-A12 specifically to discuss a communication from his mother that he had been sexually assaulted by other boys.[11] One of the members of staff sent to deal with this disclosure was the school keeper who, as noted above, had a care role, despite having no qualifications.

93. On 15 January 1991, RO-A12, who was only 13, did not report inappropriate experimentation, but he disclosed of his fellow pupils, “They made me suck them off and they told me to let them bum me. If I didn’t let them do it, they would batter me up.[12]

94. The involvement of the Education Welfare Officer, Hilary Marsh, in RO-A12’s disclosure that he had been sexually assaulted does not provide any comfort that his allegation was dealt with properly. A report by Ms Marsh of 21 January 1991 suggests “school will investigate and counsell (sic) the sexual abuse boys…”[13]

95. RO-A12’s disclosure raises another issue that ought to have been a source of the highest concern at Knowl View School, which were the risks that younger children were being exposed to. There is evidence that far younger children were involved in sexual activity with older children within the school. In the course of his evidence to us, Mr Bradshaw, who became the Head Teacher in April 1991, confirmed there was information that one of the youngest children at the school had been found in bed with an older boy, that he had played games in the toilets late at night with older boys and was encouraged onto another boy’s bed after lights out.[14] It is of note that children from the school were also suspected of having sexually touched, or having had sexual activity with, much younger children outside school, such as foster siblings.[15] We will consider this further in this report when we look at the documentation compiled by Mr Bradshaw.

96. Another record from August 1992 noted that RO-A18 had not been back to the school since April 1991, save for one day, because of bullying, he having witnessed fellow pupils being sexually abused by other pupils.[16]

97. As soon as staff at Knowl View School were aware that pupils were being exploited outside the school and reporting coercion by other pupils within the school, they ought to have been alive to the risks posed to the youngest children in the school. It does not appear that they were. By contrast, there was a wholesale lack of curiosity or concern on the part of staff at Knowl View about what might be happening to children in their care at Knowl View at the hands of other pupils. There is no evidence that it prompted any concern about why it was happening in the first place.

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