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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

The Hilton incident

1. Section 1 sets the scene for events that occurred in September 1990. At that point in time, a number of children from the school were being sexually exploited by adult men, and children at the school were engaged in sexual activity with each other. Both issues had been allowed to drift. In this section, we explore what brought matters to a head, and what (if anything) made Knowl View School reflect on what was happening to the children it ought to have been protecting. As we have seen, some of those involved in the care of individual children expressed concerns about them, which were communicated to Rochdale Council officers, but there was little action. It is against this background that we turn to Roderick Hilton’s intrusion into the school in September 1990.

2. Earlier in this report, we referred to the fact that Roderick Hilton had been convicted of sexually assaulting a Knowl View School pupil in 1984. There is a good deal of evidence that he had become a permanent fixture at the school, someone whose presence was tolerated, someone who was himself in need of help and understanding, rather than the clear and present danger he was to children at the school. This was neatly encapsulated by Duncan Eaton, a member of Knowl View School care staff, who told the Inquiry that the then Acting Head of the school, Mr Andrews, had invited Roderick Hilton into his house, which was on school premises, for refreshments and was “... trying to do a bit of social work with him. He got a very sympathetic audience”.[1]

3. On Tuesday 11 September 1990, Graham Hutchinson (Acting Deputy Head) recorded in the school communication book that Hilton was in the area and that staff should be vigilant. The undisputed facts are that Hilton gained entry into the school that night and slept under a boy’s bed.[2] On the next day, Wednesday 12 September 1990, he gained entry to the school again and sexually assaulted at least RO-A14, a vulnerable boy whose personal circumstances before joining Knowl View School had been a source of concern. RO-A14 was suspended the day after he was sexually assaulted, because he had physically assaulted another boy from the school.

4. The records about this incident and how it came to light are a cause of separate concern. A record of 11 October 1990 noted that on 17 September 1990 a Knowl View School staff member, Paul Davies, had overheard Hilton saying that he had been into the Norden Unit 308 (the unit where Hilton had stayed overnight), and this prompted Mr Davies to interview the boys from that unit, apart from RO-14 who had been suspended and one other boy.[3] It was at this point that boys disclosed that Hilton had spent the night in RO-A14’s room.

5. This sits uneasily with a note made three days earlier, on 14 September 1990, in which Mr Hutchinson described how on the Tuesday morning it had been reported that Hilton was in the vicinity, and that on the Thursday night (in other words, 13 September 1990) he was seen with one of the pupils at 9.30pm (at the door of the Norden Unit), and was told to leave, but was seen on a further three occasions that night with the same boy. According to the note, the police were informed about this but did nothing. The note goes on to record that at 10.35pm a group of boys were speaking to Hilton who told them to let him inside. At 11.15pm he was seen by a member of staff on the roof and was dealt with. The note states that two boys told staff that Hilton had stayed the night under RO-A14’s bed on the Tuesday and Wednesday night, and concludes with the words “Rod has given RO-A16 £1 and we believe that Rod will want his pound of flesh rather than a £1 coin…” [4]

6. The truth was that Hilton had already obtained his pound of flesh. Despite staff being told that Hilton had spent two nights in the boy’s room, RO-A14 was not asked about what had happened until he returned to school on 21 September 1990.[5]

7. A further note of 18 September 1990 records that a staff member contacted Hilton’s probation officer who informed him that Hilton was in breach of a probation order. With telling understatement, Hilton’s probation officer was of the view that, as Hilton was a Schedule 1 sex offender, it was “not unreasonable” that he be kept away from premises where there were children.[6]

8. Returning to the immediate aftermath of the Hilton incident, RO-A14 provided an account to the NSPCC on 21 September 1990. This was short and lacked any detail as to the surrounding circumstances. Mr Eaton is recorded as having said that the police position was that there was nothing they could do while children were inviting Hilton into the school (because he was not breaking in). It appears that the NSPCC thought the matter ought to be handled by the police.[7]

9. It is hard to conceive of a greater failure on the part of a school to provide protection for its pupils than the ability of a convicted child sex offender to spend two nights on the premises and to sexually abuse at least one child. Having heard all of the evidence, we have concluded that no one who dealt with this incident at the time appears to have treated it with the significance and urgency it demanded.

10. There was an obvious imperative to get to the bottom of the incident quickly and to ascertain precisely the nature of the involvement of the other pupils in the events of both evenings. There was, at the very least, a pressing need to find out if other children had been abused.

11. There is no evidence to suggest that the children on the Norden Unit were properly interviewed to ascertain what had happened and whether any other children had been abused by Hilton. This is despite early suspicion that there was more to this incident, and that others might also have been abused. There are no records of interviews and there are no references in any accounts to the contents of interviews. While it appears that Mr Davies spoke to boys from the Norden Unit at some point around 17 September, there is nothing to suggest that this was documented or anything more than an informal conversation with a single member of staff. 

12. We do know that Hilton appeared before the Magistrates’ Court on 7 December 1990 and pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting RO-A14.[8] The matter was adjourned until 4 January 1991 for reports, with a condition of bail that he  not enter the school grounds. On 22 February 1991, he was sentenced to 2 years’ probation.[9]

13. Had he been alive, we would very much have wished to hear from RO-A14. Sadly he died in 1996. According to Mr Digan, RO-A14 told him that the school keeper had let Hilton into the school.[10] We cannot say whether this is accurate but we are satisfied that Hilton was perfectly able to sleep on the school grounds on occasions. Regardless of the exact position, what is beyond doubt is that Hilton was able to get into the school with ease, to stay in a child’s room wholly undetected by staff and that children were able to move about the school at night (with Hilton) with apparent freedom.

14. Staff at Knowl View School did inform the Education Department at Rochdale Council about the incident but not until 21 September 1990. Mr Hutchinson informed Brian Williams (the Special Needs Adviser in the Education Department) who came to the school that day. It appears that staff were interviewed about what had happened on 24 September and then interviewed again on 11 and 12 October 1990. According to Diana Cavanagh, Mr Williams informed the Chair of the Education Committee, Councillor Mary Moffat, before informing her on 24 September 1990 about the events.[11]

15. Those staff interviews also afforded staff at the school an opportunity of bringing the issues about child exploitation directly to the attention of the Education Department. We have considered the records of staff interviews carefully. Paul Davies considered that they could not have prevented Hilton from entering the school to abuse children.[12]  The Acting Head, Brett Andrews’ response is of particular note: “Nothing could have been done to prevent the intruder getting in, in this way![13] This was a view echoed by the then Head of Care (Steven Cohen).[14]

16. Mr Davies described Hilton’s night at the school on 11 September as a “night of pranks” while also saying that, although Hilton had slept under RO-A14’s bed, boys were exposing themselves to him.[15] There are references to the pupils feeling sorry for Hilton.[16] The school keeper hinted that there was more to Hilton, that he was vindictive when intoxicated, and abusive, and had threatened to burn down the school keeper’s house.[17]

17. Martin Digan (then a houseparent) said that he had spoken to Hilton, whom he had known for eight years, and he had confirmed what had happened. Mr Digan also mentioned that Hilton had engaged in sexual activity with pupils from the school some seven years before.[18] This is in keeping with the fact that Hilton was convicted of indecently assaulting a Knowl View boy in 1984.[19] Mr Digan seems to have been the only member of staff to have mentioned this. He also said that the member of staff who had been on duty on 11 September had been the Acting Head but that he had slept in his own house, so there were no staff on duty on the senior side of the school.[20]

18. Duncan Eaton (also then a houseparent) described the boys as having had a party with Hilton on the first night that went on until 5 or 6am. Mr Eaton was recorded as having said that the school had sailed close to the wind with staff sleeping in their own houses.[21] We took this to mean that staff who ought to have been sleeping in stayed in their own homes instead.

19. When Mr Eaton gave evidence to the Inquiry, he initially gave the impression that Hilton’s entering the school on 11 and 12 September was somehow linked to the recent admission of RO-A11, who had only arrived that week. Mr Eaton went on to correct this impression but commented on RO-A11’s admission being inappropriate because he was in a relationship with an adult male.[22] We have no doubt from what we have heard and read that Hilton’s targeting of the school and its pupils had been going on for years by the time of the September 1990 incident. The admission of RO-A11 raises separate issues given his psychiatric background and his disclosure that he was in a relationship with an adult, but he cannot be regarded as having caused a change in the behaviours of other children.

20. What the staff interviews ought not to have done was give Rochdale Council any reassurance about how the school was being managed. Not only was there a defeatist attitude among some staff members about how they could have stopped Hilton getting into the school and abusing children (as he done in the past), but also there was a distinct lack of clarity among them about the proper ‘sleeping in’ arrangements at the school. In fact, there were no waking staff at night and there were references to staff who should have been on ‘sleeping in’ duty not always sleeping in the duty rooms.[23] There was a clear indication that Mr Andrews, the Acting Head, was one of those who ought to have been on duty on one of the nights Hilton got in but was not. In due course, it was to emerge that part of the reason why staff were not aware of incidents at night was because of their own sexual activity with each other. This did not surface during the October 1990 enquiries.

21. No member of staff mentioned in October 1990 that a number of children from the school were being sexually exploited at Smith Street toilets. In addition, there was no meeting of all the staff to discuss what had happened after the Hilton incident.

22. It is at this point that Diana Cavanagh features in the events at Knowl View School. She had been made the Acting Chief Education Officer for Rochdale in September 1990 (on the retirement of Neville Naylor). Mrs Cavanagh thought that she took up her acting role at the same time as the Hilton incident.[24] She went on to be appointed Director of Education in early 1991.

23. She was a very important witness in this investigation. Her first involvement in Knowl View School was to write a brief report, Serious Incident at Knowl View School, dated 24 October 1990.[25] In that report, Mrs Cavanagh observed that the Hilton-type incident was not unknown in residential schools but that should not lead to the incident being trivialised or treated with complacency. There is no indication in the report that she was aware of any wider background to these incidents. The report was intended to be a starting point for discussion by the school governors.

24. Her report refers to the police having interviewed boys involved in the Hilton incident. Mrs Cavanagh confirmed in evidence that she had not seen any such interviews. She understood the school to have carried out interviews.[26] As noted above, the investigation found no records of any recorded interviews by the school.

25. Setting to one side that the staff interviews did not refer to the sexual exploitation of Knowl View School children, they ought to have prompted anxiety on the part of the Education Department about the welfare of Knowl View School pupils. A passing reference to children having exposed themselves to Hilton on 11 September raised the realistic prospect that there had been a far more sinister aspect to that night.

26. As we have said, Mrs Cavanagh’s report was intended for the Board of Governors who met with Mrs Cavanagh on 25 October 1990. The Board had refused on 17 October 1990 to hear from Cliff Bentley (the Special Adviser) about the events of 11 and 12 September as a special item on their agenda. In her evidence, Mrs Cavanagh explained that she believed this to be defensiveness on their part and borne of a concern that the Education Department would be critical of the governance. [27]The Governors wished to meet again in order to formulate their response.[28] The Board duly met on 7 November 1990. The fact the Governors’ meeting took place almost two months after the event does not suggest any sense of urgency on their part either.

27. Hilton, despite being on bail and awaiting sentence, remained very much part of the scene at Knowl View School. On 8 December 1990, pupils reported that he was at the shops drinking and had a gun.[29] On 21 December 1990, Mr Andrews sent Hilton what might, in the circumstances, be regarded as an extraordinarily polite letter asking that he stay away 335 from the school. He telephoned Mr Andrews on 9 January 1991 to take issue with it.[30] 

28. This was to prove characteristic. One of the most alarming aspects of the Hilton incident is that even after his convictions in 1984 and 1990 for sexually abusing Knowl View School pupils, he continued to target and harass the school and the pupils effectively unimpeded. We agree with the evidence Mr Bradshaw gave that the latter event represented the most serious sort of incident that any residential school could face,[31] yet, apart from interviewing staff, there is little evidence that this provoked the anxious concern or decisive action it so plainly called for. It did not even appear to have prompted investigation as to whether the Acting Head had neglected his duty by not being on the premises.

29. The Hilton incident also did not provoke wider consideration about the other sexual abuse issues that were affecting the school. Mrs Cavanagh’s evidence was that no one mentioned to her in September/October 1990 that certain pupils were being sexually exploited. She had no memory of learning about this until early 1991. Her memory about peer-on-peer sexual activity was that she did not come to understand its seriousness until February/March 1991, and before then any activity she had heard about had been characterised as “horseplay”.[32] So, according to her, the whole picture did not emerge for a number of months.

30. In terms of tracing the response to the Hilton incident, there was a Governors’ meeting on 7 November 1990.[33] The minutes of the meeting demonstrate that improvements to the security of the school remained outstanding. They also record Mr Andrews saying that when he arrived at the school some staff thought it appropriate to drag pupils by the hair and to throw them against the wall, but there was much less violence now. Superintendent Marshall also attended this meeting. He is recorded as having said that the police could only take action if Hilton was mentally disturbed or committing a breach of the peace.

31. However, action was taken to appoint Michael Poulton, a temporary Deputy Head Teacher from Oulder Hill (a ‘mainstream’ secondary school). He took up this post in December 1990, despite initial reluctance on the part of Governors.[34] 

32. The immediate actions Mrs Cavanagh took were appropriate for someone occupying her role.

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