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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Paul Rowen

60. Paul Rowen was a Liberal Party councillor from 1983. He said in evidence to the Inquiry that he was a member of the Education Committee and the Further Education Subcommittee “probably most of the time that it actually existed”.[1] He agreed with the suggestion that that meant from the time he started on the Council in 1983 until about 1992, and he said he was Leader of the opposition in the years 1990 to 1992. In 1992, Mr Farnell having lost his seat in the election that year, Mr Rowen became Leader of Rochdale Council in a Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition. Mr Rowen remained Leader until 1996. He became the Member of Parliament for Rochdale in 2005 and was in Parliament until 2010.[2] 

61. Insofar as Cyril Smith was concerned, Mr Rowen recalled the RAP article in 1979, which was some years after he had joined the Liberal Party as a 17-year-old but before he became a councillor in 1983.[3] He said that he did not believe what had been written by RAP and took it “with a pinch of salt”.[4]

62. He said he had heard no rumours about Smith when he was involved in the Liberal Party and he did not know about the investigation into Smith between 1969 and 1970 until a few years ago.[5] While he had heard that David Steel had interviewed Smith about the allegations, he was unable to say what the local Liberal Party had done about RAP’s allegations as he was not living in Rochdale at the time. He suspected there had been no Liberal Party investigation and, in the years that followed, he said he had heard no more rumours about Cyril Smith.[6]

63. David Bartlett, who gave evidence to the Inquiry, told us that following the publication of the RAP article in 1979, Smith was returned to Parliament with an even greater majority. His reason for this was that Rochdale was not surprised by the allegations because the rumours had been “circulating in most taprooms of the town for a very long time. There was nothing very new ...”[7] Mr Rowen for his part said the fact that Smith increased his majority in 1979 showed that people did not believe the allegations, and his view was that Smith was innocent until proven guilty.[8] 

64. Insofar as Knowl View School is concerned, Mr Rowen told the Inquiry that he had become aware of the Hilton incident by what was printed about it in the Rochdale Observer. In the course of his evidence, Mr Rowen was asked whether, as a member of the Education Committee and, having read about it, he brought it to the attention of anyone within the Education Department or whether he spoke to anyone about it.[9] His response was to say that in 1990, as an opposition councillor, it was difficult to get information about anything, and it was not “top of [his] radar” as there were other pressing issues about finance; he said he did not recall “anything coming to Education”.

65. When asked if he had asked about the school, he said that Neville Taylor who was then the Director of Education was not the sort of person to have a direct, easy conversation with; he said he might have asked one of his other deputies, but could not remember; he said he did not raise the issue with the Education Committee because, as an opposition councillor, you did not set the agenda: the agenda was set by the committee chair and, at that time, there was no possibility of raising issues within the committee. He said they had to “fight for every little bit of information about anything”, and that if an opposition councillor wished to raise concerns he would have to go to the media. He said the same issue applied to the Policy Committee of which he was a member.[10]

66. Mr Farnell was asked about Mr Rowen’s evidence on this issue when he came to give evidence later, and he said that what Mr Rowen had said was untrue. He said that any member could ask for an item to go on to the agenda; no one had to fight for information; and members had the right to see any document held by the Council provided they could demonstrate a need to know that was understood by the officers who would provide the information.[11] 

67. Mr Rowen told the Inquiry that once he took over in 1992 he was asked in a phone call by Bill Lawley (the Borough Solicitor) if he wished to see documentation about Knowl View, but because he had been given to understand that “the school had stabilised and the issues had been sorted” he declined, as it would be “just going over old ground … it was not relevant to where the school was now”. He added that because of the many issues and problems he had to deal with once in power, he had to prioritise, and because he was under the impression that everything was alright with Knowl View, it was low down on his priority list.[12]

68. Mr Rowen said he did not recall seeing the Mellor report right away after he had taken over, but much later. He agreed that he could not be satisfied from having read it that there were not still very serious issues of child protection in Rochdale, but said that he understood that matters were being progressed by Councillor Hawton, chair of the health authority and Deputy Leader, who was taking the lead on it, and she had discussed it with Ian Davey, the Director of Social Services. Mr Rowen said his style of administration was to operate differently from that in the past, and he said he expected Council officers to find solutions to the problems they were presented with.[13]

69. Mr Rowen said he had only become aware since then that Social Services had declined to become involved because the issues did not fall within child protection procedures or guidelines, and that, he said, appalled him.[14] He told the Inquiry he was unaware that the reason the Mellor report had been commissioned was because Social Services had decided not to become involved.[15] He said that when reading the Mellor report he must have missed the fact that Social Services had not investigated, but that did not prompt him to make any enquiry as it was his understanding that the school was improving.[16]

70. He agreed that Knowl View raised its head again in 1994 when Harry Wild was chair of the governing body. Mr Rowen recalled that at this time Wild had concerns about the building.

71. Mr Rowen said he had no reason to doubt Cyril Smith’s integrity or honesty when he became a governor of the school in 1994; he said Smith had just retired from Parliament, adding “one thing I did learn with Cyril was it was important to keep him busy. So this was an important job that came up and I thought his experience … would be valuable to the school”, and he would strengthen governance at the school. The past rumours about Smith did not come to mind when Mr Rowen recommended him for appointment.

72. Finally, he told the Inquiry that the only time they had a real discussion about the serious issues in and around the school was when they were taking the decision to close the school, and not before that.[17] 

73. On 8 November 2017, almost three weeks after he gave evidence to the Inquiry (on 19 October 2017), Mr Rowen sent the Inquiry a letter in which he said he regretted not agreeing to see the report into incidents at Knowl View School when given the opportunity to do so within 10 days of becoming Leader of the Council. He said that this was a snap decision during a telephone call while he was at work and during a period when he was just becoming aware of the burden of responsibility his new role entailed.

74. The explanation that he made a snap decision seems to be inconsistent with his evidence, which suggests a reasoned decision to decline to see the report as it was “just going over old ground” and was low down on his priority list.

75. He accepted that Rochdale Council as “corporate parent” failed the young people completely. He said that, as an elected member in a senior position during the period up to his assuming leadership of the Council, he “was not made directly aware of the unfolding events at the school”. He said they were not reported to the Education or Policy Committees of which he was a member.

76. This was not quite the same as his account in his oral evidence, when he said he had asked no questions because the then Director of Education was not a person to have an easy conversation with, that it was difficult to get information about anything when in opposition, and that he had been unable to raise questions with the Education Committee because in opposition he could not set the agenda; and that the same went for the Policy Committee.

77. He said that Councillor Hawton had told him informally what she was asking the Social Services and Education Departments to do, and he relied on her judgment and expertise, rather than challenging officers himself directly, particularly in relation to the Mellor report.

78. Insofar as his 1994 recommendation of Cyril Smith as governor goes, he insisted that he would not have recommended him had there been any suggestion of sexual misconduct. He accepted being aware of the 1979 RAP article but “given the passage of time, denial and lack of further information, it was not on my radar when I suggested his appointment”. He added he was confident that at no time during his time as Leader did Cyril Smith engage in any inappropriate behaviour.

79. In further correspondence of 14 March 2018 with the Inquiry, Mr Rowen informed us, contrary to what he had said before, that, having had an opportunity to check the public records, he ceased to be a member of the Education Committee after April 1990 and, in support of this, he sent the Inquiry a minute of 10 May 1990 showing that he was not elected on to the Education Committee on that date. Thus, he said, he was not a member of the Education Committee when the Hilton incident happened in September 1990 and the subsequent events that followed. 

80. Clearly, Mr Rowen intended his letter of 8 November 2017 to mitigate his position, but in our view it aggravated it. We think that Mr Rowen bore considerable responsibility for the school as Leader. We felt, just like Richard Farnell, that he was prepared to blame others for their faults without acknowledging his own failures of leadership.

81. At best, he was insufficiently inquisitive about Knowl View School when the evidence that he knew about was that serious problems persisted there, which would not be resolved quickly; at worst, he turned a blind eye to the very serious problems that were in his judgment low down on the priority list.

82. Although he boasted that the style of his administration was to be a departure from the past, his misplaced reliance on Council officers allowed him to sidestep his own responsibility, and blame others when he never made any or any sufficient enquiry either about the really serious problems that affected the school and its children or the efforts to deal with those problems while he was Leader. This demonstrated a lack of judgment and a failure of leadership.

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