Skip to main content

0800 917 1000 Open weekdays 8am-8pm, Saturdays 10am-12pm

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

The Shepherd report

54. It took the intervention of another outsider to prompt action on the situation at Knowl View School. This was Phil Shepherd. He had been a nurse in the local area who developed an interest in education and care regarding HIV and AIDS. This was at the time a developing field. In or around 1988, Rochdale Health Authority set up a small team of workers dedicated to health promotion work around AIDS and HIV, and the counselling of those who had either condition. A report entitled AIDS – The challenge to Local Authorities noted that there was a local incidence of HIV, that drug users in Rochdale constituted a risk of transmission and that many drug users in South Manchester were known to be HIV positive.[1] Mr Shepherd was a member of that team.

55. On Friday 15 March 1991, he and a colleague attended Knowl View School to provide education to the care staff at the school. It was organised by Kath Widdowfield of the Education Department. Mr Shepherd was unable to give the training. In his evidence to the Inquiry, he explained that the care staff wanted instead to vent their frustration, anger and their worries about the boys in their care.[2] 

56. Mr Shepherd said he was completely shocked by what staff reported to him.[3] It prompted him to write a report dated 20 March 1991, which he sent to Ms Widdowfield, Mr Poulton (Acting Head Teacher of Knowl View School), Dr Bullough (the Director of Public Health), Brian Williams, Marilyn Simpson and Diana Cavanagh. He confirmed to us what he said in the report that in the few days that had elapsed since his visit to the school he had attempted to clarify what action, if any, had been taken by various agencies involved with the boys, but that those attempts had been fruitless.[4] This echoes the evidence given by Dr Fraser and Christine Scarborough about their initial attempts to raise issues about the school within the Social Services Department.

57. Mr Shepherd’s report is the first written record that we have seen documenting specific information from staff about what was happening to children at Knowl View School. Mr Shepherd noted that five of the junior boys were said to have been, or were, involved in “cottaging in and around public toilets” and that men from all over the north of England were coming into Rochdale for this purpose. He also noted that one of the children being exploited at the public toilets was an eight-year-old. In evidence, Mr Shepherd said that he thought, although he could not remember precisely, that this child came from Knowl View School.[5] He also referred in his report to having been told that some boys were “forced” to have sex with others.[6] 

58. Among the staff concerns was that they felt that important information was not shared with them. Mr Shepherd was told that they had not been informed about the Hilton incident in September 1990 for a number of days and not informed about the background social histories of the children they cared for.[7] He confirmed to us that he was informed that anyone could be left to supervise the children, and that on one of the units, where most problems occurred, the caretaker and other casual staff worked back to back with a team leader.[8] This was the same caretaker who had been one of two people sent by the school to deal with the family of a child said to be experiencing peer-on-peer sexual abuse.

59. Mr Shepherd’s overwhelming sense of the school was one of abandonment. The boys had been abandoned, no one was looking after them and focusing on them. The staff seemed abandoned. In his words, “They’d just been left to their own devices.”[9] 

60. Mr Shepherd concluded in his report that the difficulties encountered by him in attempting to speak to agencies outside the school led him to believe that, although many people knew bits of information about children in Knowl View School, no one was pulling this information together. He added that symptoms were being treated without the real problems being recognised. He considered that if he was wrong in this belief, communication between staff groups was “certainly abysmal”.[10] Mr Shepherd’s view was that all staff involved in any way with children in Knowl View School should meet urgently to collate information. It appeared to him that, even within the school, the education and care staff never met.[11] 

61. Given his background in sexual health, Mr Shepherd was asked for his view about the evidence that one of the boys at Knowl View School who had been sexually exploited (and who would only have been around 11 or 12 years old) had hepatitis B (something he did not know about at the time). His evidence was that this was of “enormous” significance because of the possibility of the transmission of other infections, as well as their potential lifelong consequences. He agreed that the implications of one boy having hepatitis in an environment where children were involved in sexual activity with each other was serious and required urgent address.[12]

62. Mr Shepherd thought that by sending his report he might galvanise the authorities into action. He thought that the AIDs Unit might play some role in addressing the situation. The reply that he received from Diana Cavanagh was not to that effect; rather, Mrs Cavanagh assured him that concerted professional action was being taken and asked that he not circulate his report any further or take any independent action.[13]

63. We have had to consider whether this was an attempt to suppress the information that had not emerged in such a clear way before, or whether it might have been a legitimate concern about such events being passed to the press. Mr Shepherd’s view was that he was being told “Keep your mouth shut and don’t go anywhere else with it”, which he said he had no intention of doing.[14] By contrast, Mrs Cavanagh’s evidence to us about it was that there were now very few pupils at Knowl View School; they would be very readily identified in the press, especially if it was indicated that they were on the Norden Unit. She regarded this as potentially very harmful.[15] Mr Shepherd’s reply to Mrs Cavanagh was that what was of greatest concern to him was that staff were still approaching other professionals to “get something done”.[16] 

64. While we understand that the potential leak of this information could have been damaging to the pupils remaining at the school, equally we understand Mr Shepherd’s perception that he was being told to ‘shut up’. The tone of the letter to Mr Shepherd was we think high-handed, and it showed little appreciation of his concerns. We also found Mrs Cavanagh to be unduly critical of staff who spoke to Mr Shepherd, when she said in a witness statement, “The details they gave were the same that Mr Poulton had obtained by interviewing all staff members, yet some of them saw fit to repeat these complaints to a stranger who had attended to deliver some training.”[17] More importantly, we cannot agree that by this time decisive action was being taken to address the problems afflicting Knowl View School.

65. The Shepherd report was passed to Councillor Pamela Hawton who was Chair of the Rochdale Health Authority. It caused her to write to then Acting Director of Social Services, Ian Davey, suggesting that an independent investigation should be carried out under the auspices of the Social Services Department.[18] She had been to see him the day before her letter.[19]

66. Ian Davey joined Rochdale Council in 1987 as the Assistant Director of Operation in the Social Services Department. He was made Acting Director of Social Services at the very end of March or the beginning of April 1991. His appointment was due to the resignation of the then Director, Gordon Littlemore, in the wake of the judgment in the Middleton cases. Mr Davey was to be appointed Director of Social Services on 4 December 1991. In his evidence to us, he confirmed his surprise that he had been appointed to the Acting role given that he too had been the subject of criticism in the Middleton judgment.[20]

67. Mr Davey told us he did not think he had been aware of the exploitation of children in Rochdale town centre before he received the Shepherd report.[21] He also said that he was unaware that Social Services were using Knowl View School as an alternative to taking children into care, or that there were children who were living between a children’s home and Knowl View School.[22] In a memorandum of 28 May 1991, however, Freema Taylor (since deceased) expressly referred to the difficulty in keeping contact via RO-A10’s placement at Knowl View School and his children’s home.[23] Although Mr Davey told us he did not believe that he had seen this note,[24] given his role, we fail to understand how he could have been unaware of the fact that some of these children were in care. Also, we find it hard to accept that he could have been unaware of the exploitation that was taking place at Smith Street toilets just opposite Rochdale Council’s offices.

68. Ian Davey wrote to Councillor Hawton in a letter of 16 April 1991. He told her that, following consultation with staff and with the appropriate parents, a number of boys would initially be interviewed by police officers and social work staff. Depending on the outcome of those interviews, he added, further joint investigations might need to be undertaken.[25] Mr Davey gave evidence that the situation as conveyed to him by Dr Bullough and Councillor Hawton raised the level of concern and anxiety about the school and “the need to “... make sure that something was happening”. He agreed that meant he was effectively taking the lead in this.[26]

69. Janet Weeks confirmed from the chronology of events document that a meeting took place on 11 April 1991 that she, Cliff Bentley, Marilyn Simpson, Richard Flammer, Mansoor Kazi, Brian Williams, Duncan Eaton and Stephen Bradshaw (the new Head Teacher of Knowl View School who had just taken up his post) attended.[27] Stephen Bradshaw and Duncan Eaton were charged with finding one or two victims to initiate the process of protocol interviews.

70. The same entry goes on to state that Stephen Bradshaw had identified RO-A14, RO-A11 and RO-A15. The chronology continues “However these are not considered to be victims. Knowl View to prepare relevant information for SSD”.[28] Yet RO-A14 had been sexually assaulted by Roderick Hilton, RO-A11 was a child who had been a psychiatric inpatient and had disclosed he was in a sexual relationship with an adult male, and there was information dating back to February 1991 that RO-A15 had engaged in sexual activity with another boy.[29] Janet Weeks had no hesitation in saying that even boys who might be viewed as perpetrators were still victims.[30]

71. Despite that, these children were not interviewed to ascertain whether they had been sexually abused.

72. Ian Davey was asked in evidence for his view of the decision that these children were not ‘victims’ and what he regarded as the correct approach to be taken to vulnerable children engaging in sexual activity with other children. Regrettably, Mr Davey was unable to provide a satisfactory answer to this. He said that he had taken the advice of Freema Taylor and the other staff involved, and that this was a conclusion that he had “supported”. He accepted that it was not the right conclusion.[31] And we agree.

73. On 7 May 1991, Chris Spankie, a Principal Social Worker, wrote to Janet Weeks about conducting interviews with boys about sexual abuse. The suggestion in his letter was that they had earlier agreed that it would be “impossible” to conduct an interview with any of the boys until there was some clearer and more detailed information available, “not least because there was some uncertainty as to whether any sexual abuse had actually taken place”. The letter went on to state their concern that “the first interview(s) should take place with victim(s) of abuse rather than alleged perpetrators or victim/perpetrators”. On that basis, Mr Spankie recorded his view that it was not appropriate to interview RO-A11 because the evidence whether any sexual abuse took place was inconclusive.[32] The idea that a child should not be interviewed about sexual abuse in the absence of some degree of certainty that sexual abuse had occurred was not a view unique to Freema Taylor.

74. A memorandum of 20 May 1991 from Diana Cavanagh to Mansoor Kazi and Brian Williams referred to the concern of David Shipp (Deputy Town Clerk) about the lack of progress of the investigation into the events. The memo referred also to the Social Services Department questioning the need for an investigation at all and suggesting it might be done by the Education Department, if required.[33] Social Services were quite prepared to abdicate the responsibility for any investigation on to the Education Department.

Back to top