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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

The Middleton case

1. The Middleton case (also referred to as ‘the Langley case’) was a high-profile case in which Rochdale Social Services Department was found to have seriously mishandled the taking into care of children from the Langley Estate in Middleton, Greater Manchester, whom it was believed had been subjected to ritual abuse. Rochdale Social Services had removed twenty children from six families. Interim care and control was granted to Rochdale and access to their families suspended. Rochdale applied for the permanent removal of all the children from their families.

2. On 18 September 1990, the Minister for Health requested that the Social Services Inspectorate conduct an immediate inspection of Rochdale Social Services. This request was made in response to the publicity surrounding the Middleton case. The resulting report referred, among other points, to Rochdale Social Services still working to guidelines on child abuse that had not been updated to reflect the 1988 ‘Working Together’ guidance.[3] In her evidence before us, Gail Hopper expressed surprise that some three years down the line ‘Working Together’ still had not been implemented by Rochdale Council.[4]

3. In the course of his evidence, Mr Davey was asked whether there were regular liaison meetings between the Education and Social Services Departments on matters of mutual concern of a strategic or operational nature (which would have included child protection). He could not recall any particular liaison meetings.[5] This reflects badly on the Directors of Education and Social Services, and exemplifies some of their failures of leadership.

4. The cases went before the High Court. The judgment of Mr Justice Douglas Brown, handed down on 7 March 1991, was damning.[6] He found, in particular, that the interviews of the children involved were of very poor quality and failed to comply with the recommendations or essential requirements of the Cleveland report published in 1988. The interviews had not been videotaped, and advice from a psychiatrist or psychologist had not been obtained before the children were removed.

5. Following the judgment, on 11 March 1991, the Social Services Committee noted the resignation of Gordon Littlemore, the Director of Social Services. Ian Davey, who had been the Assistant Director, was made the Acting Director of Social Services at around the end of March 1991.

6. The question is whether the High Court judgment impacted on how Social Services were protecting children in Rochdale, and, if so, to what extent. A number of witness considered that it did have an impact. By way of example, Janet Weeks (formerly Bowyer) believed that it created a pressure not to overact and encouraged managers to keep a low profile.[7] Christine Scarborough considered that Rochdale went from being an interventionist authority to one that made it very difficult to get children into care.[8]

7. The only witness we heard from who did not think Middleton impacted on Social Services’ approach to children at risk was Ian Davey. He was firmly of the view that concerns about Social Services having become overly cautious after the Middleton judgment related only to intervention in families – that is, to children who were living with their families. The issues about Knowl View School were, in his view, clearly different.[9]

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