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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

The background to the investigation

1. The local authority area of Rochdale[1] has been prominent in the media in the past few years for two principal reasons concerning the care of children. The first is Rochdale’s association with child sexual exploitation as reflected in the Report of the Independent Reviewing Officer in relation to Child Sexual Exploitation Issues in Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council during the Period 2006 to 2013 [2] , and in Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Board’s The Overview Report of the Serious Case Review in respect of Young People 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6.[3] The second is Rochdale’s association with Sir Cyril Smith (who for the sake of simplicity will be referred to in the rest of this report as ‘Cyril Smith’ or ‘Smith’) and allegations that he sexually abused vulnerable boys in the Rochdale area, particularly at the hostel known as Cambridge House.

2. In December 2013, the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Board published its report The Overview Report of the Serious Case Review in respect of Young People 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 concerning the treatment of sexually exploited children by a range of agencies. The report “... catalogued a widespread pattern of weaknesses and failures both in relation to agencies and to individual practice. These together acted to undermine the system’s ability to protect and safeguard the young people over a period of years.[4]

3. Separately to this, 2012 saw publication of Simon Danczuk’s book on Cyril Smith, Smile for the Camera, which generated further public debate about Smith and allegations that he had been involved in the sexual abuse of children in Rochdale and elsewhere.

4. In early 2014, the situation was regarded by Rochdale Borough Council as sufficiently grave, as regards its role in Knowl View School, to warrant the institution of its own formal investigation into its decision making in relation to it.

5. In light of the serious allegations which were then made in the media, Rochdale Borough Council decided, in April 2014, to widen the scope of its independent review beyond the Council’s decision making in respect of Knowl View School. It appointed Neil Garnham QC (now Mr Justice Garnham) to conduct a review. This was to be:

“....an independent review of all information available to the Council, which suggests that, during the period 1961-1995, sexual or physical abuse of children took place: a. at premises owned, managed or operated by the Council; and/or b. which involved pupils (or residents under the age of 18) attending establishments funded by the Council; and/or c. for which council officers or employees were responsible; and/or d. for which councillors were responsible; and/or e. for which school governors, appointed by the Council, were responsible.”

6. The Garnham Review was also asked to identify whether there was a pattern to such abuse, whether the abuse of children was tolerated, facilitated or promoted by the Council or its officers or staff, and whether there was a culture at the Council that inhibited the proper investigation, exposure and prevention of such abuse.

7. The Garnham Review’s work ceased on 3 July 2014 at the request of the Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police (GMP). This was related to an overlap between the ongoing police investigation and allegations that Garnham was considering. On 1 August 2014, the Garnham Review submitted a draft interim report to Rochdale that recorded the Review’s non-contentious analysis of the evidence as at that date. As far as the Garnham Review was concerned, it could not make any findings of fact, make criticisms, come to conclusions or make recommendations unless and until it could resume evidence gathering under the Review. The Garnham Review made clear, in its interim report, the importance it attached to the resumption of the Review and to the completion of the work it had started.

8. The Garnham Review was a Rochdale Borough Council-commissioned inquiry into its own decision making and its treatment of children between 1961 and 1995. The evidence initially considered by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (the Inquiry) demonstrated that a broader range of institutions played a role in the lives of children who lived in residential establishments in Rochdale.

9. As part of its initial scoping exercise, the Inquiry considered the allegations against Cyril Smith, which, in turn, led to a consideration of Knowl View School and the sexual abuse of children at that school by other individuals (which appeared wholly distinct from the allegations related to Cyril Smith). While it was the allegations linked to Cyril Smith that first drew attention to Knowl View School, it was sexual abuse of children at the school by others that became the focus of the developing investigation. This was particularly so given the apparent vulnerabilities of the children who resided at the school. It raised a number of immediate questions, principally whether it was simply a coincidence that a prominent local politician was linked to a school where children appeared to have been the victim of other abusers. Knowl View School was still the subject of media speculation because of Cyril Smith, not because of the other sexual abuse of children who resided there. This gave rise to the question whether what happened to children there might have been unexceptional, or indicative of the type of risks that vulnerable children were exposed to in other residential schools and care homes.

10. It appeared to the Inquiry that the sexual abuse of children at Knowl View afforded an opportunity to consider complex issues that were of potential relevance to all public authorities. The evidence demonstrated that the children who attended the school had a range of needs and vulnerabilities that put them at particular risk of sexual abuse. The issue that arose with acuity was whether, far from taking additional steps to protect those children, local institutions had come to regard their sexual abuse as almost inevitable, or as something that could not be prevented.

References

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