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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Roderick Hilton

41. One of the most extraordinary aspects of what happened to children at Knowl View was that the school was targeted over a period of at least ten years by Roderick Hilton. He was to be convicted twice of the sexual abuse of children who lived at the school. He is also someone we know very little about, but he may have had his own vulnerabilities.

42. We were struck by the evidence given by Detective Chief Inspector Jones, that one former Knowl View pupil (P16) believed himself to have been in a consensual sexual relationship with Hilton while he was at the school. Ms Jones confirmed that the former pupil was under 14 years of age at this time.[1] The fact that a child could carry on a ‘relationship’ with an adult sex offender, who frequented the school grounds and was known to staff, demonstrates the risks children were exposed to at Knowl View.

43. In 1984, Mr Hopwood, the Head Teacher, wrote a report dated 8 February 1984 about two pupils who had been sexually abused by Hilton. This abuse had occurred over the weekend of 27–29 January 1984.[2] The report captures the school’s attitude to Hilton at that time. He is portrayed as the victim of cunning children, and is described as a “slow witted eighteen- year-old youth … whom they knew had homosexual tendencies”. The report describes the two pupils intending to trick Hilton or to “rip off” Hilton, in their words, by promising “sexual favours” for cash.

44. The reality of what happened is that three pupils from Knowl View were involved in bringing two other pupils to Hilton so that Hilton could sexually abuse them. There are a number of features about the record of this incident that are troubling, apart from its portrayal of Hilton as having been duped. The first is that it conveys no sense of the two boys who were sexually abused by him as being victims; there is simply a passing reference to them having been examined by a General Practitioner who “declared them free of infection”.[3] Second, it appears that a considered decision was made not to tell the parents of the children involved what had happened. Third, there appears to have been no investigation as to how Hilton was known to the three boys who brought the other children to Hilton or how they were able to bring them to him. Fourth, there is a passing reference to pupils from Knowl View School informing the Head Teacher that Hilton was drunk and making threats to come into the school with a knife (but there is no mention of how these threats came to be made).

45. The Head Teacher did involve the local police in this matter and Hilton was ultimately charged with one offence of sexual assault in respect of one child. The offence in respect of the other child was taken into consideration; in other words, that offence was not separately charged but it was considered at the time of sentence. The police correctly anticipated that Hilton would receive a small fine and probation, and that there would be minimum publicity. Hilton was ultimately sentenced to two years’ probation on 19 March 1984.[4] By then, Hilton had turned 19. A press article from the time reported the proceedings. According to the article, the boys (who were referred to by the prosecutor as “entrepreneurs”) were paid 50 pence for bringing the other boys to Hilton.[5]

46. Consideration was given by the police to charging all five Knowl View School pupils with offences such as blackmail and procuring in relation to the incident, but that was not pursued.[6] The records also make reference to Hilton being afraid of the children, and to his mother complaining to the police about his being threatened.[7] 

47. There was passing mention in Mr Hopwood’s report to it having “come to light” that one of the boys who took one of the other boys to Hilton had masturbated and ejaculated over another sleeping boy. The records suggest that this was not made known at the time.[8]

48. This entire incident was an early example of the school’s failure to grapple with a very serious incident of child sexual abuse. It was a warning sign to treat Roderick Hilton as an obvious danger to children and it was a failure to appreciate the risk that children may pose to other children. It illustrates two emerging themes: the characterisation of children as though they were the authors of their own sexual abuse and, fundamentally, a failure to consider sexual abuse from the perspective of the child.

49. The incident in January 1984 was to resurface in 2014 in the course of Operation Jaguar. One of the boys who had brought another boy to Hilton approached the police as an adult and gave an account that a teacher, who had sexually abused him, had instructed him to bring the boys to Hilton and that on two occasions he had received £15 for it. He describes one child who was his friend throwing bottles at Hilton so that he would leave him alone. The other one was a younger boy he did not like whom he left with Hilton.[9]

50. In her evidence, Detective Chief Inspector Jones confirmed that the former pupil said that he had not mentioned the teacher at the time of the incident because he felt threatened. There was insufficient evidence upon which to identify the teacher and the former pupil did not wish to support a prosecution.[10]

51. It is not possible for us to make any finding as to whether or not a teacher was involved in arranging for children to meet Hilton. In a functioning, well-run school it might seem improbable, but this cannot be said of Knowl View. Regardless of whether a teacher was involved or not, the fact that pupils received money from Hilton so that he could sexually abuse two of their peers was, on any view, extraordinary.

52. Six years later in 1990, Hilton was still very much a feature of school life. He was to sexually assault at least one other pupil, having gained entry to, and stayed two nights at, the school. That he continued to be part of school life and to sexually assault other children after 1984 demonstrates that the risk he posed was never taken seriously.

53. There is evidence that the school went into a period of decline in the years after 1984. Between 1980 and 1985, pupil numbers were consistently at around 40. From 1986, there was a dramatic reduction with numbers falling to an all-time low of 19 in 1989.[11] In his evidence, Stephen Bradshaw suggested that Rochdale’s placement officer, Richard Flammer, had stopped placing children at Knowl View, preferring to send them out of the borough. Although careful to say that he did not know the reason why, Mr Bradshaw surmised that it was because Knowl View School was regarded as substandard.[12] If that knowledge was held within the Education Department, it should have been acted on decisively and thereby spared the children years of further abuse.

54. In 1988, the school moved from its arrangement with the other local authorities so that it became the sole responsibility of Rochdale Council.[13] This coincided with considerable instability in the management of the school. Mr Hopwood was absent (through illness) in 1988 and retired in 1989. Ian Ashton became the Acting Head in January 1989. Brett Andrews was appointed Deputy Head and then he became Acting Head in September 1989. In October 1990, it was proposed that Michael Poulton (who was the Head of another school) should be seconded to Knowl View. This was an immediate response to the incident with Hilton in September 1990. His secondment for one term commenced in December 1990. Mr Bradshaw was appointed Head with effect from April 1991.[14] Some witnesses who appeared before us regarded this as having created a vacuum in leadership until the appointment of Mr Bradshaw. We agree that there was a profound lack of leadership among staff at the school, which only the appointment of Stephen Bradshaw addressed, but this is not a complete answer to what went wrong at Knowl View School.

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