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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Richard Farnell

1. In 1980, Richard Farnell was elected on to Rochdale Council as a councillor for Newbold Ward. In 1985 he became Leader of the Labour Group and in the following year, when Labour took control of the Council, Mr Farnell became Leader. In 1992, Labour lost control of the Council and Mr Farnell lost his seat. It is noteworthy that Mr Farnell who was born in 1958 was in his late twenties when he became Leader and he left the Council when he was still in his early thirties. Following a gap of some 22 years, in 2014, Mr Farnell was re-elected as Leader of Rochdale Council, and when he gave his evidence to the Inquiry on 24 October 2017 he was still in office.

2. Mr Farnell, who did not seek Core Participant status, and was legally represented when he appeared at the hearing, said to us in evidence that part of his role during his first term as Leader was to chair the Policy and Resources Committee, which met about twice during a six-weekly cycle.[1] This would be a meeting of committee chairs with opposition members included. There was a ‘Chairs’ Panel’, which was a panel of all the various committee chairs including Education, Social Services, Development Services etc., who would also meet around twice during the same cycle. It was he, Mr Farnell said, who established the panel so that councillors could talk through “the big issues” together. It was a forum to discuss major manifesto issues, but major contentious issues could be brought to the meetings also. The Chief Executive would be in attendance, who at that time was John Pierce.[2] He also described informal ‘leadership meetings’ attended by the deputy, the Chief Executive and the Head of Legal Services, at that time David Shipp.[3] 

3. Mr Farnell explained to the Inquiry that there were essentially four ways in which serious issues could be brought to his attention: at the informal leadership meetings; a report could be made to the Policy and Resources Committee; the matter could be raised at the Chairs’ Panel meeting; and directors of Council departments could seek a direct meeting with him. He added that matters could also be brought to his attention informally.[4] 

4. In the course of his evidence, Mr Farnell was asked about his close colleague, and the chair of the Education Committee throughout his period of time as Leader, Mary Moffat (since deceased).[5] He said he had known that Mrs Moffat had an office in the Education Department of the Council, and he said that she had been Mr Farnell’s deputy for about a year during the first half of his period as Leader.[6] Mr Farnell told the Inquiry that they were on a number of committees together.

5. However, Mr Farnell told the Inquiry that, despite being his close political colleague and erstwhile deputy, and despite the fact that, in about March 1991, Rochdale Council was mired in a scandal on both a local and national scale – the fallout from the Middleton satanic abuse cases – and could ill-afford another public scandal, he “had no recollection” of Mrs Moffat ever bringing to his attention the allegations of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation that had afflicted Knowl View School during the time Mr Farnell was Leader.

6. Mr Farnell agreed that it was hardly something he would have forgotten, so he agreed that when he said he “had no recollection” of Mrs Moffat raising such issues with him, what he really meant to say was she did not bring them to his attention.[7]

7. The evidence we have heard was that Mrs Moffat was well-versed and well-briefed in the issues affecting Knowl View. She was the first to be told about the Hilton incident in September 1990.[8] She was present at a meeting two years later on 13 March 1992 when Mrs Mellor presented her report to opposition party education spokespersons as well as advisers and Knowl View School’s Head Teacher,[9][10] and she chaired a meeting on 27 March 1992 at which the report was also presented to the school staff.[11][12]

8. Mr Farnell denied being informed about the result of a strategy meeting that took place on 11 April 1991 by anyone, despite the fact that Diana Cavanagh had written in a note of 4 April 1991 that he was to be informed about it.[13] In her evidence to the Inquiry, Mrs Cavanagh said she could not say that Mr Farnell had been provided with the minutes of the strategy meeting or the actions required to be taken. However, she thought it was “likely” because, according to her, he was already aware of some of the difficulties at Knowl View as there were financial consequences to the appointment of an interim Head Teacher and a permanent Head Teacher, which would go through the Policy and Resources Committee of which Mr Farnell was chair. She added that there had been an amendment to the budget at a Policy Committee meeting in October or November 1990 to accommodate the expense, so, according to Mrs Cavanagh, Mr Farnell was “already in the loop … in knowing that Knowl View was of concern”.[14] 

9. When he came to give his evidence to the Inquiry, Mr Farnell said that Mrs Cavanagh’s evidence about this was incorrect. Having heard her evidence on Friday 20 October 2017, he said he went to the reference library to dig out the minutes of the Policy and Resources Committee meeting she was referring to and found a meeting of 26 November 1990, in which he said there was no mention of any amendment to the budget or to Knowl View. The only thing he said came close was a resolution that the responsibility for the appointment of Head Teachers be delegated to the Chief Education Officer after consultation with the chair and vice-chair of the Education Committee. In any event, he said that if there had been sensitive issues around Knowl View they would not have been raised on the public agenda, and they were not raised with him by any other means.[15]

10. When it came to the joint commissioning of the Mellor report in early 1991 by the Education Department and Legal Services, Mrs Cavanagh told the Inquiry in her evidence that the report was commissioned on behalf of the Leader, Richard Farnell, and on behalf of Mary Moffat, the Education Committee chair. She said that she could not imagine that the report could have been commissioned in the Leader’s name without him knowing, not least as there were financial consequences to commissioning the report: Mrs Mellor had to be paid and Mrs Cavanagh said that the Education Department did not pick up the bill; she assumed it was Corporate Services, which reported to the Policy and Resources Committee of which Richard Farnell was chair.[16][17] 

11. Given the joint commissioning of the Mellor report, which was dated 18 February 1992,[18] in light of the fact that Mrs Mellor had expressed the report to be “confidential to the Directors of Legal Services and Education, their properly delegated officers and such members of the council as the chair of the same as advised by the said directorates shall decide”,[19] and given that it was to be circulated to leading members of the political parties (among others), Mrs Cavanagh said she had “no doubt” that Mr Farnell got a copy of it.[20]

12. By contrast, Mr Farnell, when giving evidence to the Inquiry, insisted that it was unusual for a report by an external adviser to be commissioned in the Leader’s name, as was Mrs Cavanagh’s account. Mr Farnell said external advice was sought by chief Council officers under delegated powers, and if the Education Department did not pay for the report then he presumed it was the Legal Department that did.[21] 

13. As for the confidentiality section of the report, Mr Farnell refuted the suggestion that the term “the chair of the same” was a reference to him. Instead, he said he had looked the point up and there was “a very clear legal definition” that “the chair of the council” meant the Mayor of Rochdale. Whether or not Mr Farnell found a legal definition to suggest this, we firmly conclude that Mrs Mellor, a child psychologist, whose words these were, did not have in mind the ceremonial office of the Mayor of the town rather than the Leader of the Council when she wrote them. To suggest otherwise, as Mr Farnell did, is risible.

14. Thus, Mr Farnell continued steadfastly to adhere to his account that not one of his political colleagues, neither his Chief Executive Officer nor any Council officer, had ever brought to his attention the facts of the September 1990 Hilton incident, and he denied that he had ever read about the incident in the local press. Moreover, in the teeth of the evidence, he denied seeing any report or knowing that child sexual abuse and exploitation had been occurring in and outside Knowl View School ‘on his watch’, as it were.

15. After many years in local politics, in 2012, Peter Joinson was elected to Rochdale Borough Council for Labour. In the following year, he became Labour’s chief whip.[22] On 8 June 2014, Mr Joinson became aware of press articles, one in the Manchester Evening News, and the other on Rochdale Online,[23] which were in relation to Mr Farnell’s then appointment as Leader of the Council and his public claim that when he was in office between 1986 and 1992 he was unaware of allegations about sexual abuse at Knowl View School. 

16. Three days later, on 11 June 2014, Mr Joinson had a meeting with Mr Farnell. Mr Joinson’s account of the principal reason for the meeting was that he was the Labour Group’s chief whip. There had been a change of leadership but, prior to Mr Farnell taking control, his job was to send out to all Labour Group members the potential Group positions that they would have wanted for the following municipal year. There were, he said, many minor positions on various subcommittees and various panels that needed filling, and he had the documentation for that so arranged a meeting with Mr Farnell.

17. A secondary reason Mr Joinson wished to speak to Mr Farnell was as a result of the press articles, because, as chief whip, one of his jobs was to ensure that no action brought the party or Council into disrepute, and so he wanted Mr Farnell to clarify his statement to the press for party records.[24]

18. According to his evidence, the meeting took place in the Riverside offices in Rochdale. It lasted around 20 minutes. They sat at a table in Mr Farnell’s office and Mr Joinson made some handwritten notes from which he made a faithful, typed copy, probably the next day, he thought.[25] 

19. Mr Joinson referred in evidence to his typed note, in which he had recorded Mr Farnell’s reaction to Mr Joinson raising the press articles with him. According to Mr Joinson, Mr Farnell told him that he had received a report from Councillor Hawton’s senior officer that had been written by a sexual health worker employed by the health authority,[26] as a consequence of which the Council was preparing a report. Mr Farnell told him that this had been between about March and June 1992. Mr Farnell also said that he had only seen a draft report and the full report was not complete until June, by which time he (Farnell) had lost his seat and ceased to be Council Leader. Mr Farnell added that the full report was presented to Councillor Rowen who had taken over leadership of the Council. The report Mr Farnell told Mr Joinson he had received must have been the Shepherd report. Mr Farnell seems also to have mentioned a report that was produced in response to the Shepherd report. This could only have been the Mellor report.

20. As a result of what Mr Farnell had told him, Mr Joinson took the matter to the Deputy Leader of the Council, Peter Williams, and he sought advice from the regional Labour Party who referred him to a senior officer of the Party in London who referred him back to the regional director. By this time, Operation Clifton had commenced and the regional director advised that the police action should take its course.[27]

21. Mr Joinson said he contacted the police in light of their appeals for information.[28] Mr Joinson spoke to the police first on 30 October 2014 and then again on 7 April 2016. It was in his 2016 police witness statement that Mr Joinson said that Mr Farnell had actually named the sexual health worker as “Shepherd” and he had said that there were allegations of sexual abuse in the draft report he had seen. Although he had not noted them at the time, Mr Joinson told the Inquiry that he recalled those facts following his meeting with Mr Farnell. 

22. Mr Farnell was asked about Mr Joinson’s allegations. He said that the meeting had been very brief, and Mr Joinson had only popped his head round the door to ask him whether he was aware of anything to do with Knowl View, to which he said he responded “I was not aware of the incidents at Knowl View”. That, Mr Farnell said, was the sum total of the conversation.

23. Mr Farnell was shown Mr Joinson’s typed note. He said there was no discussion about various Group positions as he had already dealt with them, so there was no need to meet about them and he said Mr Joinson took no note. Mr Farnell claimed that Mr Joinson had invented the content of his typed note. He said that Mr Joinson’s reasons for doing so was that he had run Colin Lambert’s campaign during the leadership election in 2014. Mr Farnell was challenging Mr Lambert as Labour Group Leader and there was, he said, a nasty campaign to smear him along the lines that Mr Farnell had been Leader at the time of Knowl View, that he had known about it and covered it up. So this was nothing more than an invention to damage him politically and undermine him since becoming the new Leader.

24. However, Mr Farnell was forced to agree that Mr Joinson did not in fact deploy the note to damage him politically, and he agreed that it only surfaced when Mr Joinson first spoke to police in October 2014, several months after the election.[29] 

25. Following Mr Joinson’s evidence, the solicitors for Rochdale Council brought to the Inquiry’s attention minutes of the annual meeting of the Council of 4 June 2014, at which, among others, Mr Farnell and Mr Joinson were both present. The solicitors wrote “This is the annual meeting at which the Council appoints elected members to committee positions on the Council. Our understanding is that the appointment recommendations from the Party Leaders would have gone to the committee clerks on either the 2nd or 3rd June 2014.” The implication from this is that the minutes show that the appointments Mr Joinson said he was meeting Mr Farnell to discuss on 11 June 2014 were actually made on 4 June. However, the minutes do not support any suggestion that all appointments were made by the 4 June 2014 meeting, as it is clear from the minutes that there were still several appointments to be made and it would be normal for a Council to make more minor appointments on a phased basis following an election.

26. In his Closing Statement, Steven Ford QC argued that the evidence about this meeting was unsatisfactory, that the minutes show Mr Joinson cannot have been right because the issues were resolved the week before, and so it was unnecessary for us to make any findings of fact, but, if we proposed doing so, we should bear in mind the unsatisfactory nature of the evidence.[30]

27. By contrast, Ms Hoyano for the complainant Core Participants argued that Mr Farnell’s evidence that he was ignorant about Knowl View during his time in office between 1986 and 1992 was “extremely implausible”.[31] She asked us to prefer the evidence of Mr Joinson and accept it as the truth for a number of reasons. First, there is no dispute that a meeting did happen on 11 June 2014. Second, Mr Joinson says he took notes, whereas Mr Farnell did not. (As we know, Mr Farnell denied that Mr Joinson took any notes during their meeting.) Third, despite being political enemies, Mr Joinson never did use the information for his own political purposes, but informed the regional office and then London as directed, in keeping with his position as chief whip. Fourth, Mr Joinson did not disclose the information to anyone other than Labour Party officials and the police in due course. Fifth, and peripherally, Ms Hoyano argued that the minutes of the annual meeting of the Council on 4 June 2014 did not undermine Mr Joinson’s account of the principal reason for the meeting with Mr Farnell a week later on 11 June.

28. Ms Hoyano argued that it is open to us to find that Mr Farnell did not give truthful evidence to the Inquiry that he did not know about endemic child sexual abuse at Knowl View; and that, if he did not know, then he must have been “wilfully blind”.

29. Finally, she argued that contrary to Council officers who had no personal motive to conceal such damaging information about the school from Mr Farnell, he, on the other hand, had “a motive of deniability”, because it was arguably helpful to him to ensure that he did not know “inconvenient truths”. If that was the case, then that was wilful blindness and amounted to a cover-up at the level of the leadership of the Borough Council.

30. Mr Joinson gave his evidence the day following Mr Farnell and with very little notice, as he had only been asked to do so in light of Mr Farnell’s claim that Mr Joinson had invented Mr Farnell’s admissions to knowing about child sexual abuse at Knowl View during his time in office. When asked whether the effect of his evidence was that Mr Farnell had lied to the Inquiry, he answered carefully, “I don’t like using that word but I would say he’s probably not telling the truth.”[32]

31. Towards the very end of the investigation hearings in October 2017, Rochdale Council provided to the Inquiry the name of Councillor Stephen Moore. One of the solicitors to the Inquiry made contact with him on 27 October 2017, which was in fact the last day of the hearings and on which Closing Statements were being made by Core Participants. Among other things, Mr Moore told the solicitor in the course of a telephone discussion on 27 October that elected members were kept away from child protection issues and so he “was not surprised when Farnell said he was not aware”.

32. On 15 December 2017, Rochdale Council sent the Inquiry a letter[33] dated 26 October 2017 from Mr Moore, which predated by one day the final day of the public hearings in this investigation and the Inquiry’s contact with Mr Moore. According to the Council, Mr Moore had been in touch with them and had attached the letter by email. It seems Mr Moore had first sent the letter to other Rochdale Council officers as well as to Mr Farnell. The letter states in stark terms, “Richard Farnell is telling the truth. Former Rochdale Councillor Stephen Moore believe (sic) Council Leader Richard Farnell told the truth about Knowl View School in his evidence to the Child Abuse Enquiry (sic).”

33. In his letter, Mr Moore goes on to say that leading councillors were given precious little information about what was going on and, given his own experience, had “no doubt that Cllr Farnell is telling the truth when he says he was not informed as to what was going on”.

34. On 19 December 2017, the Inquiry also received information from Gail Hopper who told us about a phone call she received on 30 November 2017 from Councillor Peter Williams who told her he could corroborate Mr Joinson’s evidence, as he was aware of the meeting between Mr Joinson and Mr Farnell before it took place and he saw the note Mr Joinson made afterwards. This is the same Peter Williams to whom Mr Joinson first took his concerns.[34]

35. In a letter dated 7 December 2017[35], which Mr Williams has sent to the Inquiry, he confirms that Mr Joinson had told him in advance of his arrangement for the 11 June 2014 meeting with Councillor Farnell, and that there were two reasons for it: sorting out some minor appointments for Council committees and to raise his concerns about Mr Farnell’s public statements. Mr Williams adds that Mr Joinson showed him a copy of the typed note Joinson made of the meeting about a week after doing so.

36. Mr Williams says also that between the meeting with Farnell and being shown the note, he, Williams, had a phone conversation with Mr Farnell about the new Cabinet Business Skills and Employment portfolio Farnell had wished Williams to fulfil. Mr Williams says he took the opportunity during the call of asking Farnell what he knew about Knowl View in the 1990s. According to Mr Williams, Farnell told him that he “was aware that Education and Social Service officers were working on a report about the Knowl View issues and that when it was finalised it was eventually passed to Cllr Rowen the new Leader from May 1992, and he (Cllr Farnell) never saw the final version of the report”.

37. Moreover, by reference to the Council minutes of 4 June 2014, Mr Williams clarifies that 11 minor changes were made to Labour appointments between the 4 June Council meeting and a 23 July meeting, supporting Mr Joinson’s account of the principal reason for the meeting with Farnell on 11 June.

38. Finally, Mr Williams emphasises that problems at Knowl View were well known among the Labour Group in 1991–92; Mr Williams had been advised by Councillor Moffat in 1991 about the nature of some of the concerns about the activities of boys at Knowl View in a general sense. Mr Williams could not understand why Councillor Moffat would advise him but not the Leader of the Council, and to him it was inconceivable that the issue would not have been discussed, not least because Councillors Moffat, Farnell and Jim Dobbin (who was a Labour councillor from 1983 to 1997 and then the Labour Party Member of Parliament for Heywood and Middleton from 1 May 1997 until his death on 6 September 2014) were political allies and friends at the time.

39. On 23 January 2018, Neil Emmott sent the Inquiry a letter[36] saying that in the early 1990s he had been a Rochdale Labour councillor. He said not only was he a close political colleague of Mary Moffat, but also he was a close personal friend of hers – much closer than Mr Farnell ever was – yet she never spoke to him about the child sexual abuse at Knowl View.

40. We have received a letter[37] from Mark Bramah dated 23 January 2018. Mr Bramah says he was employed as a policy officer by Rochdale Council from August 1989 until September 1992. His responsibilities included providing political support and assistance to the Leader, then Richard Farnell, as well as his deputy, Jim Dobbin. He adds that he also worked closely with Mary Moffat, the Education Chair. As such, he says he was probably closer to the leadership of the Council than any other serving officer. He says that during his time he attended meetings and informal briefings involving the Leader and his Deputy and the issue of Knowl View School was never raised at any meeting while he was present, neither did any report to his knowledge come before the leadership during that time. Thus, he says it is “completely misleading” to say that Mr Farnell knew about Knowl View School or indeed ever received a report about it. He continues to say that, had it been brought to the attention of the leadership, it would have been reported to the relevant committee or subcommittee and, to his knowledge, was not.

41. David Moffat, Mary Moffat’s husband, wrote to the Inquiry[38] on 12 February 2018, saying that as a leading councillor and a member of the Policy and Resources Committee and the Chair’s Panel, he was unaware of the abuse and exploitation of children at Knowl View. Moreover, he says that his wife never mentioned the issues at Knowl View to him and, had she been made aware of the extent and seriousness of events at Knowl View, and been concerned about Education Department failings, she would have done something about it. Thus, he asserts that Mrs Cavanagh’s evidence to the Inquiry that Mrs Moffat was kept fully informed about events at Knowl View is incorrect or untrue.

42. The Inquiry has received a letter[39] of 23 February 2018 from Vernon Earnshaw who was an elected councillor for Rochdale between 1984 and 1992. He tells us that he was on 690 the Education Committee for some nine years, and that during his years in office he never heard or was told about any problems at Knowl View. He adds that he knew Mary Moffat quite well and she never told him about Knowl View.

43. On 25 February 2018, we were emailed by Robin Parker[40] who was elected as a Rochdale councillor for the Labour Party in 1987. Mr Parker says that he became a more prominent member of the Labour Group over the next five years, which involved him participating in meetings with senior members of the group including Mr Farnell. Mr Parker states that he can say “without a shadow of a doubt” that issues about Knowl View were never mentioned or came to light in any of the meetings he attended. He adds that Mary Moffat ran Education as her “personal fiefdom”, and it is quite likely she would have wanted to deal with Knowl View in house, which might explain why it was only once Labour lost the Council in 1992 that the new Liberal Democrat regime became aware of a report.

44. While we are grateful for the information from Mr Moore and Mr Williams, Mr Moore’s opinion is of no weight evidentially because it does no more than state his personal belief about the credibility of a witness who gave evidence directly to the Inquiry. For that reason, we could not have taken evidence from him in the course of the hearing. It is ultimately for us to judge the credibility of witnesses from what we make of them and the other evidence before us. 

45. As for Mr Williams, the fact that he was aware of the meeting beforehand and saw the note afterwards cannot confirm what happened at the meeting and the reasons for it. His account that Mr Farnell had told him he was aware that Council departments were working on a report about Knowl View School, by itself, does not help us determine whether in fact Mr Farnell saw any draft report, and Mr Williams’ views about Councillor Moffat add little to what the Inquiry has already learned about her.

46. We have carefully considered the letters received from Mr Emmott, Mr Bramah and Mr Earnshaw. The fact that Mary Moffat did not raise the issue of Knowl View with Mr Emmott does not mean that she did not raise it with Mr Farnell, who, after all, was the Council Leader at the time. All Mr Bramah can say is that the issue of Knowl View School was never raised at any meeting or informal briefing at which he was present. It is this that has informed his view. What he cannot do is vouch for the times he was not present or in Mr Farnell’s company. His certainty that no report was ever received by Mr Farnell is inconsistent with the evidence we have heard. Mr Bramah cannot realistically vouch for Mr Farnell’s every action while he was policy officer. Mr Parker’s information suffers from identical difficulties. Mr Earnshaw’s letter takes the matter no further.

47. We have considered with care Mr Moffat’s letter to the Inquiry. However, we heard evidence that Mrs Moffat, who was Chair of the Education Committee, was informed in September 1990 about the Hilton incident, even before Mrs Cavanagh herself. The Inquiry also heard evidence that Mrs Moffat attended the meeting of 13 March 1992 at which the Mellor report was presented to local politicians, the Head Teacher and others in the Education Department, and she chaired a meeting of 27 March 1992 at which the Mellor report was presented to Knowl View staff. Also, in May 1992, Mrs Moffat was informed by Mrs Cavanagh of her proposal that the Local Education Authority (LEA) conduct an enquiry as part of its response to the Mellor report. So, quite clearly, Mrs Moffat was fully informed of the extent and seriousness of events at Knowl View, despite the fact that she did not share the information with her husband.

48. We should add that we have been sent two other letters of relevance to the dispute between them: the first is an open letter dated 30 January 2018 from Burton Copeland solicitors on behalf of Mr Joinson who has instructed them.[41] The second is a letter dated 8 February 2018 from Mr Farnell himself.[42] 

49. The Burton Copeland letter sets out in great detail why, in effect, we should favour Mr Joinson’s account over Mr Farnell’s. The letter refers to evidence received by us during the course of the hearing. We have considered the letter. It does not provide any new evidence. Much of the evidence referred to was relied on by Ms Hoyano in her Closing Statement. We have carefully considered all the evidence referred to within the letter in reaching our conclusion on this issue.

50. Mr Farnell’s letter seeks to bring to our attention several matters: first, that Mrs Mellor was commissioned to report to the Council due to a dispute between the Social Services and Education Departments as to who was responsible for tackling the issues facing Knowl View, which, says Mr Farnell, is one reason he was not informed about them. He says not only was it their responsibility to inform him about the situation, but also to set out how they were to deal with it, which they were unable to do because of the “destructive stand-off” between them. It was, he says, only following Mrs Mellor’s findings that her report was presented to senior Education members, adding that, by the time the June 1992 Council report (by which we think he means the Cavanagh report) was prepared, he was no longer a member of the Council. He says also there was a rule, which he calls the ‘Chief Executive’s Rule’, that officers were not permitted openly to disagree in front of the members of the Council, hence one reason for his claimed state of ignorance. Second, he says that Council officers sought to exclude elected members until such time as a matter had been dealt with and resolved, or a clear set of actions agreed upon. He claims it is clear from the evidence to the Inquiry that the only member who was kept informed about the issues at Knowl View was Mary Moffat. Finally, he raises the conflict between him and Mr Joinson, saying it would be useful for the Inquiry to be aware of the extreme political divisions within the local Labour Group at the time of his conversation with Councillor Joinson in June 2014.

51. We have read Mr Farnell’s letter with great care. However, the fact remains that we have had the considerable advantage of seeing both Mr Farnell and Mr Joinson give evidence to us. We have no hesitation in preferring the evidence of Mr Joinson over that of Mr Farnell. Mr Joinson came across as mild-mannered and meek, whereas Mr Farnell, who has been described as a person who “bullied and browbeat people[43][44] (denied by Mr Farnell himself),[45] came across to us as bullish, self-opinionated and unyielding.

52. In our view, the minutes of the annual meeting is the only extent to which the evidence might be said to be unsatisfactory but, as Ms Hoyano argued and we accept, they are peripheral and do not prevent us from arriving at a firm conclusion. Likewise, nothing Mr Farnell has raised with us in his 8 February 2018 letter undermines what Mr Joinson says Mr Farnell told him in June 2014.

53. That a meeting took place on 11 June 2014 is not disputed. The reasons for it and what took place are very much disputed. There is documentary evidence that Mr Joinson typed notes of the meeting. It is difficult to see why Mr Joinson should have invented an account and produced notes of that account, according to Mr Farnell to damage him politically, only for Mr Joinson not actually to use them for that purpose. We must also bear in mind that Mr Joinson did not keep the account to himself but contacted the Deputy Leader, the regional and then the London offices of the Labour Party for guidance, by which time Operation Clifton had commenced. He also brought his concerns to the attention of the police, which, in our view, substantially undermines the charge that he invented the account about Mr Farnell. As Counsel to the Inquiry suggested to Mr Farnell, there is no grey area. One of them was lying.[46]

54. In our view, Mr Farnell lied to the Inquiry in the course of his evidence. We do prefer the evidence of Mr Joinson whose demeanour and caution impressed us. We simply did not believe Mr Farnell. We find that Mr Farnell said the words Mr Joinson attributed to him at the meeting of 11 June 2014.

55. Even though there is no documentary evidence to show Mr Farnell’s state of knowledge, Mr Joinson’s evidence supports other evidence suggesting that Mr Farnell must have known at least about the generality, if not the detail, of the issues of child sexual abuse at Knowl View, including the outcome of the strategy meeting of 11 April 1991, as well as the subsequent commissioning of Mrs Mellor’s report and the reasons for it. Mr Joinson’s evidence suggests that Mr Farnell had seen a report (probably the Shepherd report), knew about the Mellor report and knew about the existence of serious allegations of sexual abuse.

56. Our concluded view in light of everything we have heard and seen is that the idea Mr Farnell was not only unaware of the events involving Knowl View School, but also was left exposed by his political colleagues to another public scandal at the very time when Rochdale Council was beset by scandal and besieged by the press in the spring of 1991 because of the Middleton cases, is literally incredible; it defies belief.

57. While Mr Farnell washed his hands of Knowl View, some of Rochdale Council’s beleaguered officers were left to sort out its many problems. We agree with Ms Hoyano that Mr Farnell was at the very least wilfully blind to Knowl View School during his time in office, and has a motive of deniability.

58. As his final question, Counsel to the Inquiry asked Mr Farnell whether he accepted responsibility for the lives blighted by what happened at Knowl View while he was Leader. It was in our view shameful and a dereliction of his responsibility as Leader at the time that Mr Farnell not only refused to accept any personal responsibility, but also was perfectly prepared to lay the blame on the Directors of Education and Social Services as well as the Chief Executive Officer for his claimed state of ignorance.[47] In so doing, Mr Farnell sought to shirk his responsibility and render himself totally unaccountable for the ills of Knowl View and the children who suffered. This is the opposite of honest, dutiful and responsible leadership.

59. Before leaving Mr Farnell, we note that, on 8 December 2017, several news agencies reported that he had resigned as Rochdale Council Leader owing to the political fallout from his evidence to the Inquiry.[48][49] We add that in correspondence with the Inquiry of 19 March 2018, Mr Farnell told us: “As Council Leader during the period of 1986-92 I unreservedly accept political responsibility for the actions of the Council and its staff and in this case its lack of care and failure to act to protect children, which occurred under my leadership.”

References

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