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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Police involvement in Knowl View School

5. GMP officers did investigate and prosecute Roderick Hilton in both 1984 and 1990 in relation to the sexual abuse of children at Knowl View. A distinct issue that arises is the role that the police took in the investigation of other types of sexual abuse at Knowl View in the late 1980s and early 1990s: the exploitation of boys in Rochdale town centre and coercive sexual activity between children at the school.

6. We start with the sexual abuse of children from Knowl View by the men who frequented the town centre toilets at Smith Street and other locations. The children who were to become involved in this exploitation were already on the radar of both Rochdale Council and GMP in early 1989, and known to gather at the ‘Tasty Bite’ café during the school day. It would appear from the record of a meeting on 17 February 1989 that the concerns were related to their very young ages (10 to 14), and that they were already known to the Council and were becoming involved in criminality.[1]

7. Between April 1989 and August 1992, there are numerous entries in the Social Services files of RO-A10 that show police awareness of ongoing involvement in sexual activities with men in Smith Street toilets. However, RO-A10 appears to have been reluctant to repeat any detailed allegations to police officers.

8. It appears that throughout the summer and autumn of 1989, GMP was receiving information about RO-A10 and other boys being exploited but there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone. For example, there was information that between 13 and 27 September 1989, RO-A10 was involved with a man around Rochdale Bus Station and received £5 for masturbating him; there was also information that RO-A10, RO-A24, RO-A9 and RO-A106 were going to an address in Salford to watch pornography. As a result of this, Detective Constable Bentley visited the bus station but could find nobody who fitted the description of the man given by RO-A10. He considered that there was not enough information to charge any of the individuals identified.[2] 

9. There was a flow of information from the police to staff at Knowl View. On 9 March 1990, Police Constable Bottomley (a Rochdale officer) had direct contact with the school about organised ‘rent boy’ activities going on at Smith Street toilets.[3] PC Bottomley is recorded as having reported that this involved a ring of 14 children (“all absconders”) from various children homes who were “extracting money in return for sexual favours”. The record named two boys from Knowl View as being part of the ring.

10. The same note records PC Bottomley describing a police raid on 8 March 1990 in response to complaints from the public about young boys who were importuning in the men’s toilets in Rochdale town centre. It is this record that refers to the “vast numbers of men from all over the North West” who had been attracted to the toilets, and that the police had interviewed men from as far away as Blackpool.

11. An entry of 9 March 1990 in RO-A10’s Social Services record showed that RO-A10’s social worker contacted PC Bottomley. In addition to the information about the ring, the social worker recorded that police had concerns that boys were going in cars with adults, and police were monitoring the situation. PC Bottomley emphasised, however, that there was “no concrete evidence as yet”.[4]

12. On 21 May 1990, there was information that RO-A10 and three other boys had visited Smith Street toilets. They had masturbated men at the toilets. On their return to Knowl View, they disclosed to an unknown member of staff that they had masturbated a man (whose name they gave) for money. The boys were also charged with theft arising out of the same visit to Rochdale town centre.[5] A corresponding Knowl View record confirms this.[6]

13. No charges were brought against any adult committing offences against these boys despite a name having been given. Another entry in RO-A10’s Social Services record of 24 May 1990 referred to the police intention to keep investigating the incidents at Smith Street in the hope that they would catch the men involved; they were going to interview RO-A10 in more detail about this.[7][8]

14. There was further contact between the police and RO-A10’s social worker. On 7 June, there was a meeting at Rochdale police station between RO-A10’s social worker and Police Sergeant Goggins. Police Sergeant Goggins took RO-A10 and RO-A24 to Salford to identify where they had gone with certain named men but they were unable to locate them.[9] In July, there was a police investigation of an incident at Smith Street toilets involving RO-A10 and other boys, but it was decided that no further action could be taken.[10]

15. On 7 December 1990, there was a planning meeting in respect of RO-A10 and it was agreed that police would be contacted to assess his involvement in possible sexual activities in the toilets. Detective Constable Goggins (as he was now) was seemingly not contacted until February 1991.[11][12]

16. Evidence suggests that Dr Alison Fraser and Christine Scarborough had become alarmed by the referral of Knowl View pupils to Dr Fraser in the autumn of 1990, and that Dr Fraser spoke to Diana Cavanagh in December 1990 about these referrals. There was a meeting on 4 March 1991, which was almost certainly arranged as a result of Dr Fraser and Mrs Scarborough pressing their concerns about these boys. The police did not attend the meeting on 4 March, but a note of the meeting records, in respect of Smith Street toilets, “No further action could be taken in relation to Smith Street toilets, other than making their parents aware of the risks”.[13] It is not known who made this comment.

17. We have already considered the record that was made of the multi-disciplinary meeting held on 8 March 1991, which Superintendent Henderson and Detective Sergeant Sterndale attended. A note of a meeting that took place on 15 March 1991 refers to Mrs Cavanagh’s misgivings about the passivity of the police.[14] Later, in June 1991, Mrs Cavanagh was to note of the 8 March 1991 meeting that police felt that they should not be involved and that consideration should be given to investigating the alleged activities under the Council’s child protection procedures.[15]

18. When the overall content of a manuscript note of the meeting on 8 March 1991 is considered, the police reaction is not surprising. What was discussed at that meeting were the issues of sexual activity between children and Hilton’s sexual assault of RO-A14 (which the police had already dealt with). There is only a passing reference to “stranger abuse” in the handwritten notes of the meeting. According to the note, Superintendent Henderson “… agreed that children need to be told that what they are doing is wrong! An investigation would probably only lead to conclusions that MP had already arrived at.”[16] ‘MP’ is a reference to Mike Poulton (the temporary Acting Head). Detective Superintendent Henderson did not recall anything about the meeting of 8 March 1991 when, in 2014, he was spoken to by Operation Clifton. However, he said that, had matters of a sexual nature been reported to him, he would have ensured that they were investigated, but if the information had been more general, without any specific allegation or identified victim, then his advice may have been for the Council to investigate and report any identified concerns.[17]

19. The police officers present at the 8 March meeting do not appear to have pressed the point that the exploitation of children ought to be looked at as part of the whole picture of what was happening to children from Knowl View but nor did any of the other agencies represented, all of whom were well aware at this stage of what had happened.

20. In May 1991, the Social Services Department decided that the incidents at Knowl View did not fall within the ambit of child protection and that it had no role to play in investigating what was happening to children at the school. It was for this reason that the Education Department decided that it would embark on its investigation (to be carried out by Mrs Mellor). The police did not play a role in the Social Services Department’s decision as it was sexual activity between children and the Hilton incident (so far as the police were concerned) had been investigated. As explained by Peter Marsh in evidence, the police could have played a part in a multi-disciplinary approach, but they would not have gone into Knowl View and unilaterally commenced a criminal investigation absent an evidential basis on which to do so.[18]

21. The meetings that were convened by Mrs Cavanagh during Mrs Mellor’s investigation were not attended by police or Social Services’ representatives. Mrs Mellor did, however, have contact with GMP. As discussed in Part 3, it appears from the notes made of the meeting of 25 June 1991 that Mrs Mellor communicated to the meeting that she had spoken to Detective Inspector Henderson to find out if there were any ongoing police enquiries about children at Knowl View School. According to Mrs Mellor, there were none, “... nor were there any ongoing police concerns about activities related to Town Centre toilets”. Mrs Mellor also reported to the meeting that the police had not pursued enquiries with individual pupils as they had no grounds to suspect criminality and they wanted to avoid upsetting pupils (this appears to be a reference to sexual activity between children). Detective Inspector Henderson promised to keep Mrs Mellor informed.[19]

22. This representation was extremely unfortunate as it appears to have led Mrs Mellor and the Education Department to assume that the exploitation of children had stopped. It is also of concern because, as is plain, the exploitation was not limited to Smith Street. It had already been documented that pupils were meeting adult men to watch pornography and engage in sexual activity at other locations.

23. In her February 1992 report, Mrs Mellor said that, although there had been surveillance at Smith Street toilets during the summer of 1991, there was no longer any homosexual activity going on there, certainly none involving any Knowl View boys. She added, at that time, that the police had no intention of pursuing any further line of enquiry involving Knowl View boys, but were prepared to become involved if new information came to light.[20] Information from Rochdale police had been the source of assurance that that exploitation had indeed stopped.

24. In his evidence, retired Detective Superintendent Martin Bottomley, now a Force Review Officer, agreed that the appearance given by the records was that there had been monitoring of the toilets rather than full-scale surveillance.[21] He provided some assistance as to what surveillance or monitoring of the toilets might have amounted to at that time. He had been a plainclothes police officer in North Manchester in the early 1980s. His experience was that if complaints had been made by members of the public or the Education Department, plainclothes police officers would conduct a surveillance operation on the toilets. That did not mean that they would be there every day, all day, with cameras. It would probably mean that if, for example, there had been a complaint that from 4pm to 6pm men were congregating at the toilets (with a view to importuning young boys), plainclothes police officers might sit in an observation point in a Council office overlooking the toilets or sit in a car 50 to 100 yards away. If they saw any suspicious activity, they would make the necessary arrests.[22]

25. The suggestion that child sexual exploitation at Smith Street toilets had stopped was, however, a false comfort. In October 1991, Moss Side CID were aware of a number of children (including RO-A9) being involved with three adult males at their addresses (at which other adults would visit).[23] This was described at the time as “part of a network where young boys are abused”. It appears that Rochdale Social Services was aware that RO-A9 was subject to observation at these addresses. It is important to reiterate that this is information that was available while Mrs Mellor was in the process of preparing her report but that she was not party to it. Neither the Social Services Department nor the police were attendees at the meetings held at Diana Cavanagh’s office in the autumn of 1991.

26. A further Social Services record of December 1991 confirmed that CID were watching a number of addresses where men were believed to be luring young boys to engage in sexual activities.[24]

27. As set out in the previous part, there was an important communication from Chief Inspector Berry to Mr Graham from the Young Offender Team at Social Services that appears critical (and possibly exasperated) about the communication between the police and Social Services in relation to RO-A10 and RO-A24. It referred to sexual abuse on an organised scale involving several young boys. It was in respect of this that Chief Inspector Berry welcomed views as to how the police and Social Services could develop a joint strategy.[25][26]

28. That Smith Street toilets was still a venue for exploitation was borne out by RO-A9 and RO-A10 being picked up there in August 1992 for “importuning an adult male."[27] It would appear that the police used this as an opportunity to take statements from RO-A9 and RO-A10 (on threat of prosecution). RO-A10 was to visit the police station for a decision as to whether he would be charged or receive a caution.[28] RO-A10 was also discussed at a cautioning panel; although the police were going to charge the man involved with the boys at the toilets, they were “unsure” about what to do about the boys. The concern appeared to focus more on RO-A9 than RO-A10. The final recommendation was that RO-A9 be cautioned.[29]

29. In his evidence, Peter Marsh stressed two points. The first was that it would be a last resort for the police to seek to charge or caution a child who had been found importuning. The second was that the decision to caution RO-A9 in this instance was a decision by a multi-disciplinary panel.

30. A number of police officers who are named in the records as having been involved in the investigation of child sexual exploitation at Smith Street toilets were approached as part of Operation Clifton.[30] This was to see if they had any memory of investigating what was happening to boys from Knowl View School or any memory about GMP’s response to child sexual exploitation. None of the officers spoken to had any memory of carrying out specific surveillance at the toilets.

31. Detective Superintendent Henderson (since retired) recalled attending the multidisciplinary meeting on 8 March 1991, but could not recall the others present or the nature of the meeting. He said that, had offences or issues been raised, such as sexual abuse, which warranted investigation, he would have instigated such an investigation.[31] Detective Sergeant Sterndale (also retired) provided a written statement to Operation Clifton in which he stated that he had had no direct dealings with any investigation involving staff, pupils or any other officials at Knowl View School. He remembered an incident at the school when a male called Hilton was released from prison and began to frequent the school grounds. He believed that the Council was going to take out an injunction against him.[32]

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