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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Knowl View School

13. Knowl View School was originally set up in 1969 to provide residential education and care for up to 50 boys aged from 7 to 16, with a wide range of needs and adverse experiences, usually grouped under the umbrella of ‘maladjustment’. Such schools were not unusual at the time, but it was later recognised that the combination of ages and complexity of need rarely led to positive outcomes for the pupils, and also exposed younger children to risk of harm, both physical and sexual.

14. We concluded that there was little evidence that Knowl View School provided physical conditions that bore any resemblance to a homely environment for the children. Over time, the school’s living areas for the children deteriorated, and no one in the school or the Education Department seemed to bear any responsibility for getting repairs done and securing improvements to make the school more comfortable and less institutional in appearance. Nor was the school safe, secure, caring or therapeutic. It was supposed to offer education and care but in reality it offered neither. The institution failed in its basic function to keep its children safe from harm, and, in particular, safe from sexual harm both within and outwith the school. It was only when Mr Bradshaw arrived as headmaster that these issues began to be tackled.

15. Child sexual abuse involving children from the school occurred from its early years onwards. Within the school, there was sexual abuse of boys by members of staff, and of younger boys by older ones. Sexual exploitation of some boys was also taking place in Rochdale town centre by men paying for sex. Some boys were also trafficked to other towns for that purpose. This was allowed to continue over a period of 20 years and was all well known by staff members, some of whom worked at the school for much of the period. Although some concerns were raised from time to time, members of staff were at best complacent, and in some instances arguably complicit in the abuse that they knew to be taking place. They must take their share of the responsibility for what was allowed to occur.

16. We concluded that Knowl View staff simply treated the sexual abuse among the boys as ‘normal’ without differentiating between what was experimentation and what was coercive and intimidating. There was little to indicate that the school appreciated the profound damage that sexual abuse by a peer could cause in later life.

17. School numbers began to fall in the mid-1980s, and we heard a suggestion in evidence that Rochdale Council’s Education Placement Officer, a psychologist, had stopped placing children at Knowl View, preferring to send them elsewhere despite incurring additional cost. If any knowledge of the school being below standard was held in the Education Department at that time, as we suspect it was, it should have been acted on decisively.

18. Sexual exploitation of Knowl View children at Smith Street toilets was known about from at least 1989. The records of individual children convey a total lack of urgency on the part of the relevant authorities to address the problem and treat the matters involved for what they were – serious sexual assaults. This remained the case even in the face of clear evidence of the risks to children’s health. The file of one young boy at Knowl View recorded that he had contracted hepatitis through ‘rent boy’ activities. We concluded that no one in authority viewed child sexual exploitation as an urgent child protection issue. Rather, boys as young as 11 were not seen as victims, but as authors of their own abuse.

19. Within the hearing, little was heard of the role of the Board of Governors and how they pursued their governance responsibilities. We heard of tensions between the Board and the Education Department, from which it did not seem as though the two acted cooperatively in the best interests of the children. It does not appear that the Board took an active, independent role in scrutinising the school’s protection of its pupils.

20. Roderick Hilton is a convicted sex offender. An indecent assault by Hilton (who was then aged 18) of a Knowl View boy in 1984 was an early example of the school’s failure to grapple with a very serious incident of child sexual abuse. The incident was a warning sign to treat Roderick Hilton as an obvious danger to children. In September 1990, Hilton gained access to the school and indecently assaulted at least one boy. We agree with the evidence Mr Bradshaw gave that the 1990 Hilton incident represented the most serious sort of incident that any residential school could face, yet, apart from interviewing staff, there is little evidence that it provoked the anxious concern or decisive action it so plainly called for, or provoked wider consideration about the other sexual abuse issues that were affecting the school.

21. We concluded that there was no deliberate cover-up by the authorities involved, but rather a careless and wholly inadequate response to the serious sexual abuse of children at Knowl View School. Despite press releases by Rochdale Council in 1992, we saw no transparent public reporting through Council committees of any of the troubles of the school until 1994. It is accepted that victims’ anonymity must be protected, but the public had a right to know what was being done in their name by their elected representatives on the Council. The absence of such reporting may have given rise to a perception of collusion and cover-up.

22. We found it inexplicable, professionally indefensible and extremely poor judgment on the part of a senior officer that Ian Davey did not choose to pursue the child protection issues involving Knowl View in 1991 through the formal child protection procedures. It was his decision alone.

23. Diana Cavanagh disagreed with Mr Davey and attempted to bring about an independent review of child sexual abuse at Knowl View by commissioning the Mellor report, then later the Hodge/Dobie report and finally producing her own report on staff behaviour at Knowl View in 1992. While some of this was useful, each of the reports was flawed in some respects, including factual accuracy. Worse, there appeared to be no urgency on the part of senior education officials to address the problems of sexual abuse at the school. Matters at Knowl View were allowed to drift. All of this occurred on Mrs Cavanagh’s watch. While there was a Board of Governors, the school remained the responsibility of Rochdale Council as provider and external manager, which the Director and senior officials failed fully to discharge.

24. Residential settings for children or adults will be most effective when there is a strong culture of appropriate beliefs, values and attitudes, led by well-trained and empathetic people who set the tone for how things are to be done. In Knowl View School, we heard of rivalries between teaching and care staff, and widely varying attitudes as to how to approach their common purpose of improving the children’s lives. Some of their views were punitive and seemed to blame the children for their challenging behaviour, rather than understanding and working with it. In the midst of all this, there was an absence of skilled leadership, which should have nurtured a positive culture of care. This persisted over many years. Only when Mr Bradshaw arrived was there evidence of a leader who had the necessary experience, skill, and empathy to address properly the needs of the children.

25. One of the fundamentals of effective child protection is good communication and cooperation between public agencies. This was clearly enshrined in the 1988 ‘Working Together’ guidance issued by the then Minister for Health. We heard nothing to confirm that there was effective liaison between the departments of Education and Social Services in Rochdale Council concerning Knowl View School. Indeed, some three years on from ‘Working Together’, the guidance had still not been implemented by the Council. There were no regular liaison meetings between the departments of Education and Social Services on matters of child protection or other matters of mutual concern. This reflects badly on the directors of Education and Social Services at the time, and exemplifies some of their failures of leadership.

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