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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

The meeting of 4 March 1991

40. The meeting of 4 March 1991 highlights how much the various institutions knew about the sexual abuse of Knowl View pupils at this point. According to the minutes of the meeting,[1] it had been arranged by Social Services, but it appears likely that it took place at the instigation of Dr Fraser and Christine Scarborough who attended. Other attendees were Janet Weeks (then known as Bowyer) (Child Protection Officer at Rochdale Council), Brian Williams (the Assistant Education Officer), and five members of staff from the school (Duncan Eaton, Bill Roberts, Martin Digan, Janet Wheeler and Hilda Wenlock). Steven Cohen was listed as having attended but he did not in fact attend.

41. The typed minutes of the meeting referred to the detail of the sexual exploitation of four pupils at Smith Street toilets (RO-A10, RO-A9, RO-A13 and RO-A12). One of these children was referred to as having been sexually abused at the age of nine. As regards the Hilton incident, the minutes refer to there having been a party on the first night that involved boys drinking cider with Hilton but no sexual contact. On the second night, the minutes record Hilton sexually assaulting RO-A14 but there were suspicions that another boy had been sexually assaulted. We have seen no evidence to suggest that recorded accounts were actually taken from all of the boys involved in this incident.

42. According to the minutes, staff felt that something had to be done about the Norden Unit as a matter of urgency to solve the issue of ongoing sexual activity between the children (only one of whom was not involved). In addition, this meant that no children were being placed on the Norden Unit, which resulted in children being placed on other units regardless of their age.[2] There was also reference to RO-A11’s request that he have an AIDS test.

43. A handwritten note of the same meeting demonstrates that other issues were discussed. Annotations include “Poppers from a sex shop…” and negligence ... HIV”.[3][4] The reference to poppers was a reference to RO-A10 being found in possession of poppers (amyl nitrate) that he said he had bought from a sex shop in Bury.[5]

44. This note also refers to the first night Hilton stayed in September 1990 as involving the children “flashing touching” and that the boys engaged in mutual masturbation without involving Hilton.[6] There is also a margin note beside the name of the second boy suspected to have been sexually assaulted by Hilton: “needs to be interviewed”.[7] This supports our conclusion that the boys whom the note listed as having been involved in the Hilton incident were not asked to give recorded accounts about the events over the course of the two nights. 

45. Moreover, this was the first occasion on which the three different aspects of the sexual abuse of children at Knowl View School had been discussed openly between the professionals charged with the care of Knowl View pupils and Council officers who had oversight of their protection. The question is why it had taken so long.

46. The meeting of 4 March 1991 was swiftly followed by a multi-agency meeting of 8 March 1991. This was the first multi-agency meeting to take place. Present were representatives of the Education Department (including Diana Cavanagh), Greater Manchester Police (GMP), Social Services and Knowl View School. Brief typed minutes of the meeting noted that the level of abuse was “way above” that which you would find in a male boarding school.[8] 

47. A chronology of events that was prepared within the Social Services Department described this meeting as “very difficult”.[9] The identity of the author of the chronology is not certain but it is probable that it was Janet Weeks.[10] The chronology records that Cliff Bentley (Chief Adviser) and Marilyn Simpson (Special Needs Adviser) considered that the sexual behaviour being described was “normal” within a boys’ school. The chronology also referred to the police not wanting to be involved in any action. It went on to state that an impasse was reached with the Education Department, with staff saying that they did not consider the behaviour to constitute abuse.[11] 

48. Ms Simpson denies that she or Mr Bentley described the behaviour as “normal”. A separate handwritten record of the meeting on 8 March 1991 (believed to be Brian Williams’ note) refers to her as saying that she “doesn’t minimise the activity but not unusual in an all boys community”.[12]

49. The handwritten minutes of the 8 March 1991 meeting record Diana Cavanagh saying that she reported on the September incident but had no knowledge of wider problems until the call from Dr Fraser who suggested there was a wider problem.[13] 

50. A clear point emerges about these minutes. There is no clear reference to the sexual exploitation of boys at Smith Street toilets, only an oblique reference to “Other group of boys involved in stranger abuse”.[14] The main issues for discussion were the Hilton incident and the sexual activity between pupils at the school. It is significant that, at the first multidisciplinary meeting to take place, the issue that most needed urgent addressing was only mentioned in passing. This is further evidence of not confronting child sexual abuse. This was expressly accepted by Rochdale Council in its Closing Statement to the Inquiry. Mr Ford QC on the Council’s behalf conceded that there was at times a complete failure to treat child exploitation and sexual activity between children with anything like the significance and seriousness they deserved, and to see them as normal behaviour.[15]

51. In her evidence before us, Mrs Cavanagh described this meeting as “rather woolly”.[16] After 8 March 1991, the position appears to have been left that there would be a followup meeting. Mrs Cavanagh confirmed her belief that Social Services and the police were to see if further enquiries and interviews should take place. The emphasis in the Education Department was to be on therapy and settling the situation.[17] This is not consistent with the note of the outcome of the 8 March meeting in the chronology of events, which recorded that no action was to be taken by the police or the Social Services Department at that time; rather, the Education Department was to collate their information and obtain statements from relevant care staff, and to contact other agencies when it was available.[18] 

52. The chronology of events shows there was then a change in direction on the part of the Education Department in that on 18 March 1991 a decision was taken that the behaviour in the Norden Unit was considered to constitute “child to child sexual abuse”, and so the Education Department asked the Social Services Department to conduct protocol interviews in relation to the relevant boys. However, because the Easter holidays were about to start, no action was taken to interview the children concerned.[19] 

53. Collective judgment was poor and there was a lack of urgency.

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