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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Elizabeth Lynne, Lorna Fitzsimons, Colin Lambert and Detective Superintendent Huntbach

84. Martin Digan who gave evidence to the Inquiry said he had been a residential social worker at Knowl View School from 1978 until 1994 when he became joint head of care at about the time before the school closed temporarily.[1] 

85. He told us that one night in 1994 when he was on sleeping-in duty and checking the security of the school building, he found the then Head Teacher’s door unlocked and open with the light on. The Head Teacher should have been on site but was not. Mr Digan said he went into the office and turned the light off. He said he found in the office a file that was open, containing, among other things, Mrs Mellor’s report. He said he helped himself to the file, and then worked through the documents, which have become known as his ‘dossier’.[2] [3]

86. In a witness statement Mr Digan made to the police on 29 October 2014, he gave some more detail about finding the dossier. He said he had been looking for the Head Teacher when he found a box file of documents in his office which he read through. He was astonished by discovering a difference between the Mellor report he had read during a meeting to present it in March 1992 at which he was present, and what he was now reading, and so he decided to copy the documents.[4] Mr Digan said that he sought to make contact with Diana Cavanagh, the police and then the press as regards the dossier.

87. Germane to this section of the report, Mr Digan told us that he had spoken once to the sitting Liberal Democrat Party Member of Parliament for Rochdale, Elizabeth (‘Liz’) Lynne, who was in office between 9 April 1992 and 1 May 1997. She agreed to meet him, but then cancelled the appointment. Mr Digan said he spoke to Ms Lynne’s PA, Deborah Doyle, whom he said had been instructed to destroy the documentation he had given her. He said he did not mean by that destruction of the dossier, but destruction of the evidence of the communications he had had with Ms Lynne.[5]

88. Mr Digan said that he had also been in contact with Lorna Fitzsimons who succeeded Liz Lynne as the Labour Party Member of Parliament for Rochdale from 1 May 1997 until 5 May 2005. Mr Digan told us that he had provided her with the dossier but never heard back from her.[6]

89. Finally, Mr Digan told us that in about 1999 or 2000 he had seen Colin Lambert (who had been Education Chair and then went on to become Leader of Rochdale Council) with Jim Dobbin. Mr Digan said that Mr Lambert had made contact with him, and he gave him and Mr Dobbin a full copy of the dossier. Mr Digan said they had told him they were going to deal with it, but again nothing happened.[7] 

90. We did not hear live evidence either from Deborah Doyle, Ms Lynne’s erstwhile PA, or from Liz Lynne. Extracts of the accounts they gave were read to the Inquiry.

91. Deborah Doyle said she was employed by Ms Lynne in about late 1995. She said that Ms Lynne took her to see Cyril Smith for his approval to the appointment. Ms Doyle said she recalled a time in 1996 when Martin Digan phoned. Ms Lynne was away on holiday, she recalled. She said that Mr Digan told her he was a former social worker at Knowl View. He said he had been sacked by Rochdale Council, that he knew things were going on and he talked about abuse, albeit without specifying what kind. He told her Cyril Smith had his own keys and would wander about. He told her about others coming and going, and that the boys were vulnerable.

92. She found Mr Digan’s language garbled and he seemed to her to be “strung out”. During the conversation, Ms Doyle made notes and, on Ms Lynne’s return, she handed her the notes she had made and went through everything Mr Digan had told her. She told Ms Lynne that Mr Digan wanted a meeting with her, to which Ms Lynne said “I’m not meeting him. This is all the Cyril Smith things again. I’ve heard it all before”. According to Ms Doyle, Ms Lynne added it was “political mischief” and she knew that Mr Digan was suing the Council and she did not want to become involved. According to her, Ms Lynne made clear she did not want her to ring him and if he called back she was to put him off.

93. Ms Doyle said she asked Ms Lynne if she should file the notes she had made. Ms Lynne’s reaction was to tell her to get rid of them and, because of their content, not to put them in the bin. Ms Doyle recalled putting the notes, which were in her notebook, on her wood burner at home but, because she felt it important, she kept Mr Digan’s details in her 1995– 96 Filofax. Ms Doyle never spoke to Ms Lynne about Mr Digan again.[8]

94. Liz Lynne said in a witness statement dated 30 October 2015 that Deborah Doyle’s account of Ms Lynne taking her to see Cyril Smith for his approval to her (Ms Doyle’s) appointment is untrue.[9] She described her account about her advice to destroy the notes she had made of the conversation with Mr Digan as “ludicrous”. She said she refuted any suggestion that she covered up allegations of child sexual abuse and felt the allegation against her was malicious.

95. She described a Guardian newspaper story about the claim she had covered up the allegations as devastating. She said she did not recall Mr Digan asking for a meeting but if he had wanted a meeting all he had to do was to attend her surgery in the town hall, which, she says, is what she and her office would have suggested, rather than arrange a separate time and place for a meeting.

96. She stated that she was in receipt of a Rochdale Observer press cutting of 6 March 1996,[10] which reported that she had written to Mr Digan and to Valerie Mellor. So even though she had no recollection of it, the fact that she was being reported as having had communication with Mr Digan, and had acted on it by writing to Mrs Mellor, she felt vindicated her.

97. The police who took her witness statement also showed her an earlier Rochdale Observer article of 19 July 1995[11] that suggested she had been given documents by Martin Digan, but she said she had no recollection of it, and, if she had indeed received them, what she had done with them.

98. We have only heard Mr Digan’s side of the story about Lorna Fitzsimons and so we cannot arrive at any conclusion about his account of her alleged inaction. Equally, although we have heard accounts read to us by Ms Doyle and Ms Lynne, we feel we cannot make any findings of fact, not least because there is some information (albeit second hand) to suggest that Ms Lynne may have written both to Mr Digan and acted on his information by writing to Mrs Mellor. In light of the fact that we have not sought live evidence either from Ms Doyle or Ms Lynne, we cannot make, and it would be quite unfair to make, any findings about the truth or accuracy of either’s account.

99. Colin Lambert was not called to give evidence and his witness statements were not read or summarised to the Inquiry in the course of the hearings. Out of fairness, however, we feel it right to summarise what Mr Lambert had to say in witness statements he made to the police on the Digan claims insofar as the dossier goes. In a statement he made on 6 July 2015,[12] Mr Lambert said that he was elected to the Council on 9 October 1997, taking the seat previously held by Jim Dobbin. According to him, he first had contact with Martin Digan in 2000 when he attended a meeting with him and Jim Dobbin at his Parliamentary office in Heywood. Mr Digan was not one of their constituents and so it was unusual to be contacted by him, but he felt that they could do something. Mr Lambert felt he might have been contacted because he had just become Education Chair and had recently launched the NSPCC ‘full-stop campaign’. When they met, Mr Digan told them he had been a social worker at Knowl View and had been trying to get a story out about abuse. Mr Lambert said that Mr Digan handed them “snippets of information and allegations about Knowl View School” and Mr Lambert read a couple of pages of the Shepherd and Mellor reports, but Mr Digan did not hand over the full reports. Cyril Smith was not mentioned, as he recalled it.

100. Jim Dobbin took the decision as an MP to review the information Mr Digan had provided and to go straight to the police. Mr Dobbin contacted Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and Detective Superintendent Robert Huntbach came over and took away the paperwork. It was three weeks later, according to Mr Lambert in this statement, that Mr Huntbach arranged a meeting with him and Mr Dobbin, when he informed them that “there was very little given and nothing new”. At that stage, Mr Dobbin decided they could go no further with it. Mr Lambert has a distinct recollection of informing Mr Digan of the outcome by phone.

101. In a second statement made the very same day,[13] Mr Lambert described the material Mr Digan handed over. He estimated it contained around 10 to 15 pages of paper but could not be described as a dossier. He said it was possible they photocopied the material. As far as he recalls, Mr Digan took away his original bundle of material. It was, he said, about four to five days later (as distinct from three weeks later) that Mr Huntbach informed them that he had viewed the papers and there was nothing new in the material and no further investigation would take place. He thought the papers might have been returned to them.

102. It is hard to understand how, on the very same day but in two different witness statements, Mr Lambert changed his account from it being three weeks after Mr Huntbach’s meeting with them that he informed them there was nothing new in the material to it being a mere four to five days later that he did this.

103. As for Mr Huntbach, he made a statement on 22 September 2015.[14] He retired from GMP in March 2001. He recalled an occasion in 2000 when he went to Jim Dobbin’s office in Heywood but this, he said, was pursuant to his enquiries on Operation European.[15] He recalled only ever seeing Colin Lambert on one occasion, when he characterised him as a “bag carrier for Jim Dobbin”. He recalled going to the office with Detective Inspector Waller. He could not recall Mr Lambert giving him any documents about Smith or Wild, which was the reason for them being there.

104. Detective Inspector Waller made a witness statement on 19 October 2015.[16] He was involved in Operation European. He retired from GMP in October 2002. He was asked if he could recall any visit to the office of the late Jim Dobbin MP. He said he had no recollection of the visit, or being handed any dossier. Mr Waller said he did not even know the names of Mr Lambert and Mr Dobbin.

105. We cannot say whether in the case of the police officers this is a failure of recollection or not. It is remarkable, however, that both Mr Lambert and Mr Huntbach recall a meeting with the late Jim Dobbin at his office, but both Mr Lambert and Mr Huntbach have entirely different recollections about its purpose and outcome, whereas Mr Waller does not recall any meeting at all. The only possibility is that they are talking about two different meetings with two different purposes, but this is pure speculation.

106. Like the differences between the accounts of Ms Doyle and Ms Lynne, we are of the view that the evidence is so unsatisfactory that it is incapable of resolution; consequently, it is safer and fairer not to attempt to resolve it. It is, however, beyond dispute that Mr Digan did bring his concerns to the attention of Deborah Doyle (Ms Lynne’s PA) as well as to Colin Lambert and the late Jim Dobbin.

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