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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

The appointment of Stephen Bradshaw

75. It was in this context that Stephen Bradshaw arrived to take over the headship of Knowl View School. Mr Bradshaw was recruited from a background working as the Deputy Head of a residential school like Knowl View in order to help stabilise Knowl View School. He was Head Teacher between April 1991 and July 1994. He went on to have a distinguished career in the provision of education to children with social, emotional and mental health needs.[1] He was in a position to see first-hand how the school operated. He went about documenting the abuse of Knowl View pupils soon after his arrival. He was the only witness from whom we heard who was in a position to compare Knowl View School with similar schools. His evidence has allowed us to gauge the risks Knowl View pupils were facing when he joined the school, and what, if anything, was being done in the post-Hilton period.

76. The physical conditions at the school were dismal. In a report Mr Bradshaw wrote to Mrs Cavanagh on 17 April 1991, he described the living areas of the school as “cold, institutionalised and inhospitable”.[2] The bedrooms and bathrooms were open plan; there was no privacy. There were ablution blocks for showers (not individual cubicles or even curtained areas). Soft furnishings had been removed from the children’s living area and replaced with plastic chairs. There was fluorescent strip lighting. There was nothing to make the children’s living space homely or comforting; there were no toys or games. Doors had been ripped off the wardrobes and never replaced.[3]

77. The physical condition of the school was a stark reflection of the level of care the children were given, and of their worth. As Mr Bradshaw put it, these children were not at Knowl View School to be punished but to be cared for and educated, adding, “they deserved more than this”.[4]

78. Mr Bradshaw’s evidence also demonstrated that the Hilton incident had not even prompted any improvements to the security of the school. There were no lights around the outside of the school. There was no front gate. There were 12 different entrances to the school. There was no door access system. There were no alarms.[5] Mr Bradshaw was asked directly what he understood to have changed after the Hilton incident. He said that nothing had happened, it was exactly the same.[6] This confirms that the Hilton incident had not been regarded as the profound breach of responsibility (which undoubtedly it was), and that it had not prompted any real or constructive action to protect pupils.

79. Mr Bradshaw also confirmed that there was no proper system for the recording of significant events and incidents within the school. He agreed that the school lacked the basic infrastructure for the protection of children.[7] He later explained that he was also concerned that men, other than Roderick Hilton, had been targeting the school.[8]

80. As regards staff culture, Mr Bradshaw said that there were some staff who were very good but that the general culture was macho and as though the world owed those staff a living. There were very high rates of absenteeism and staff claiming payments for work that was not done –in short, a culture of taking from the school as opposed to contributing to it.[9]

81. The culture was not to educate but to “contain and entertain”.[10] Mr Bradshaw did not think that the problems at Knowl View School lay in the complexity of its pupils’ needs; this was an average school of its type and its children were no more difficult than any other group of children he had provided care and education to.[11] One of the primary functions of the school was, however, to provide children with boundaries and guidance as to what was appropriate and inappropriate.[12] 

82. Mr Bradshaw’s perception was that there was an awareness of the exploitation of the pupils at Smith Street toilets, like Roderick Hilton’s involvement with the school, but no one grasped the nettle that it was an area of concern. When asked the direct question whether that meant at the time that staff did not regard the exploitation of children at Smith Street toilets as sexual abuse, his response was to say “That’s a difficult one, but I would probably say yes”.[13]

83. Returning to the chronology, by 10 May 1991, Mr Bradshaw had already written to Janet Weeks (Bowyer) highlighting his increasing alarm at the length of time that it was taking to initiate child protection procedures at Knowl View School, and pointing out that he still had children at risk in the school.[14] In his evidence, he recalled people saying such as “Well this is just normal behaviour”, with which he disagreed. In his view, this was not normal behaviour.[15]

84. On 17 May 1991, Mr Bradshaw did something that no professional involved in the school had done to date: he set about documenting the factual matters that were contained within boys’ files, as well as allegations that he regarded as “hearsay” –in other words, abuse that was verifiable and that which was then unverifiable. He described this document as “who is doing what to whom” and sent it to Freema Taylor in the Social Services Department.[16] Mr Bradshaw told us that it seemed logical that someone should put together all available information.[17] His document is important in this investigation as it confirms the records that were available at the time. Its importance also lies in the fact that it appears to be the first systematic attempt by anyone to bring all the information together.[18]

85. Mr Bradshaw’s documentation of the sexual abuse to which Knowl View boys were subjected makes very grim reading; it demonstrates the reality of what some children at the school were experiencing. His report documents as fact that one of the very youngest children in the school had been found in bed with an older boy.[19] One of the children who was being exploited at Smith Street toilets was friendly with a convicted child abuser. Some of these children frequented the homes of abusers. Another child who was being exploited at Smith Street toilets had been sexually abused by a neighbour. A different child who had been exploited at Smith Street toilets had been involved in sexual activities with a male friend while babysitting a girl of four. It confirmed that there was group masturbation among boys and that some were forced into sexual activity. One child had engaged in sexual play with young children within his foster family. The report also documents as fact that a second child was sexually assaulted by Roderick Hilton on 12 September 1990, and that other boys had engaged in group masturbation in the presence of Hilton.

86. This is the information which was provided to Freema Taylor of Social Services in a clear and unvarnished way at the precise point in time the Social Services Department was considering what action it should take in respect of the school.

87. In fact, on the very day Mr Bradshaw sent the report to Freema Taylor (which was 17 May 1991), Diana Cavanagh met with Ian Davey, John Pierce (Chief Executive Officer) and David Shipp. The meeting, which is revealed by a memorandum from Ian Davey to Diana Cavanagh of 30 May 1991, was to discuss the concerns about Knowl View School.[20] Mrs Cavanagh’s account to us was that Mr Davey arrived at that meeting with a predetermined view that the incidents at Knowl View School did not fall within child protection guidelines.[21] She considered that this was not a view he could have taken and maintained without the support of Mr Pierce.[22]

88. Mr Davey’s evidence was that he attended the meeting on the basis of the stance that Freema Taylor was taking (that is, that the children identified fell outside the child protection guidelines) and that Mr Pierce asked that he reconsider this in light of the clear difference of opinion.[23] Mr Davey was asked whether all the facets of the sexual abuse of children at Knowl View School were discussed at this meeting or whether it was limited to sexual activity between children. Although claiming he had no memory of the meeting, he appeared to think that only the peer-on-peer sexual activity between children was discussed.[24] He added that the intruder incident was not a subject for the meeting, and the activity at Smith Street toilets was Freema Taylor’s role.[25]

89. A memorandum of 28 May 1991 initialled “FT/AMS” (almost certainly a reference to Freema Taylor and her document) sets out what appears to be a check of the information contained in the Shepherd report. It suggests that ‘cottaging’ was taking place Monday to Friday while four named boys were at Knowl View “but now definitely not the case though it is thought it continues weekends and holidays”.[26]

90. The Social Services response to all this (as foreshadowed at the meeting on 17 May) was encapsulated in the memo of 30 May 1991 from Ian Davey (who was still the Acting Director of Social Services) to Diana Cavanagh. Mr Davey concluded that the peer-on-peer allegations that had emerged about children at Knowl View School since March 1991 neither[27] fell within the Child Abuse Guidelines nor the definition of sexual abuse between children.

91. We consider Mr Davey’s conclusions bewildering. First, he only refers to the three boys who had been considered for interview (RO-A14, RO-A15 and RO-A11) but who had not been interviewed. According to Mr Davey’s memo, RO-A15 was being dealt with by Manchester Social Services, RO-A14 was “a perpetrator rather than a victim” and RO-A11 was “a willing partner … quite able to see off unwanted advances”. RO-A14 and RO-A11 did not fit within the definition of sexual abuse between children. Mr Davey added in the memo that consideration had been given to whether one further child fell within the definition but that more information was needed. Second, the memorandum is limited to considering the position from the perspective of sexual abuse between children. It says nothing about the exploitation of Knowl View boys by paying men or any of the other matters documented by Stephen Bradshaw.

92. Mr Davey confirmed the guidance document he turned to on “Child to Child Sexual Abuse”.[28] It included a list of factors that provided guidance in assessing situations in which sexual contact between children may be suspicious and abusive. The guidance stipulated that “Particular regard must be paid to the nature of the incident, age, maturity and intent.” 

 93. Mrs Cavanagh was asked why the 30 May 1991 memorandum only considered the position through the lens of sexual activity between children. She said that she “surmised” at the time that the exploitation of children at Smith Street toilets was not mentioned in the memorandum because the police had said that there was no more activity there following their surveillance.[29]

94. Mrs Cavanagh also told us she felt it a misjudgment by Ian Davey to ignore other boys who had been subjected to peer-on-peer abuse within the school, and it was a misjudgment by him to have ignored the activity at Smith Street toilets. Even if it had ceased, in her view, he should have continued the investigation into it.[30]

95. Ian Davey was asked in evidence whether an interview would have illuminated whether or not it was a fair assumption that RO-A14 was a perpetrator rather than a victim of sexual abuse. In answer to that question, Mr Davey said “Yes, I do now”.[31] He was challenged as to how it was that anyone was not of that view at the time. His response was that “obviously” the view that RO-A14 was a perpetrator was the view taken by the staff and also by Freema Taylor.[32] He was referred to what he had said during the Garnham Review, in which he had claimed “some significant sense of disappointment” that the matter was not being pursued in the way he had expected. In evidence he said “unease” was the better word to express his feelings about Freema Taylor’s advice. He accepted that he could have overridden her advice, but did not do so, and he conceded that ‘the buck stopped with him’.[33]

96. The response was seriously flawed professionally. Had his decision been different – that is, to proceed within the formal child protection procedures – children in Knowl View School might have suffered less abuse both at Smith Street toilets and within the school itself.

97. In her evidence, Janet Weeks highlighted the fact that the two social workers that Ian Davey named as having been involved in this decision (Freema Taylor and Annie Dodd) had not been brought in as child protection specialists (which Ms Weeks was). Ms Weeks had not been involved in the decision and did not agree with it. She felt that the recourse to Ms Taylor and Ms Dodd was to marginalise her.[34]

98. Freema Taylor provided evidence to the Garnham Review but unfortunately she died thereafter. In evidence to the Garnham Review, her response, when asked what view was taken from a child abuse perspective about boys being exploited at Smith Street toilets, was that it could be viewed as “the function of the damage to the lads”. When asked about an adult intruder coming into the school, she responded “It’s a hard one that ...”[35] In a statement she made on 19 September 2014, she said that child-on-child sexual abuse would be dealt with by Social Services’ child protection procedures unless it was deemed to be consensual or experimental, in which case the Education Department would deal with it.[36] She did not say how anyone could form a view about which it was without making a full assessment of the situation, including careful monitoring of the child or children concerned.

99. There were some voices in the other direction. Christine Scarborough gave evidence to the Inquiry that she had a major row with Freema Taylor about her view that the issues at Knowl View School did not fall within child protection, because child protection only applied to children in families, not educational establishments. The row erupted because Christine Scarborough could not believe that Social Services (of which she was a part) had made that decision.[37]

100. We have concluded that the approach to children in Knowl View School up to this point, the decision whether they should be interviewed, and the ultimate decision not to interview the children as the activity of concern did not fall within child protection guidelines, demonstrates just how blinkered and confused Rochdale Council officers (from its Chief Executive to its Acting Director of Social Services as well as to individual social workers) were about child protection. Yet it goes far beyond this. Stephen Bradshaw’s “who is doing what to whom” report could hardly have put in any plainer terms what had happened to children in Knowl View School, and to children with whom Social Services were already involved. He provided Rochdale Social Services Department with all the information. The idea that any or all of this activity did not fall within the framework of child protection is incomprehensible.

101. All of the focus was ultimately on the allegations around sexual activity between children. We have concluded that this was because of a general attitude to child sexual exploitation that it was not really sexual abuse at all.

 

References

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