Skip to main content

0800 917 1000   Open weekdays 9am-5pm

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Background and Cyril Smith’s involvement

1. Cambridge House was a ‘hostel for working boys’ that operated between 1962 and 1965 at 12 Castlemere Street, Rochdale.[1] Its main function was to provide accommodation for boys and young men aged 15 to 21 who had no home or were in the care of the local authority.

2. Cyril Smith was the Honorary Secretary of the Rochdale Hostel for Boys Association, the voluntary organisation that ran Cambridge House. The Association was founded in 1960 by Smith, Bill Harding (a Senior Probation Officer) and Albert Potter (the manager of the Trustee Savings Bank). There were other members of the Association’s governing committee – Harry Halstead, Harry Howarth (leader of the local Liberal Party) and Reverend John Potter – but they appear to have played a much smaller role in the running of the hostel.[2]

3. The building that housed the hostel was owned by Rochdale Council, and the Council leased it to the Association with an option to purchase it outright at a later date (although the Association never did so). The Children’s Committee of Rochdale Council made a grant of £150 to the Association in 1962, shortly before the hostel opened its doors in February of that year, and on 19 November 1962 the Welfare Committee extended the lease.[3] Smith was a councillor at the time, but the Council was not involved in the day-to-day management of the hostel, nor did it have any role in the appointment of staff.[4]

4. The boys who stayed at Cambridge House came from various different backgrounds. One group of between six and eleven boys arrived from Glasgow to work in factories in Rochdale, after they were unable to complete their apprenticeships in Scotland. Several others worked for Cyril Smith’s company, Smith Springs.[5] Others ended up at Cambridge House because of problems at home, through a process that remains unclear. RO-A1 told us, for instance, how he was living with a foster family in Lancashire and started rebelling after the death of his foster father in 1965. After one row with his foster mother, an officer from Lancashire Council, Mr Evans, came to the garage where he had an apprenticeship, told RO-A1 that his family no longer wanted him and took him straight to Cambridge House.[6] RO-A1 expressed how disorientating this was for him: “I didn’t know where I was going. I was upset. It was – everything was happening so fast. One minute, I’ve got a family, I’ve got a job. The next minute, I’m plucked and just taken away to another authority.”[7] He was aged just 16 when this happened.

5. RO-A4 initially had a less traumatic experience of Cambridge House. His parents had separated when he was 14 and he went to live with his mother. He was unhappy and not doing well at school. When he was almost 16, Cyril Smith turned up at his home and offered him the chance to stay at Cambridge House. RO-A4 did not know what contact Smith had previously had with his parents, or how Smith knew about him, but Smith made Cambridge House sound “great” and he “jumped at the chance” for some independence.[8] At first, RO-A4 did indeed have a good time and described the original houseparents, Mr and Mrs Wilson, as ‘brilliant people’. It was only later, when they were replaced by Mr and Mrs Saille, that the regime became more authoritarian.[9]

6. RO-A2 found himself at Cambridge House as a consequence of stealing a bicycle from school. He was given a two-year probation order. His probation officer suggested it would be better for him to be away from home, and found him a place at Cambridge House, which, he was told, would fulfil his probation requirements. Like RO-A4, he initially enjoyed his time at the hostel and thought the circumstances were far better than at home.[10]

7. It is likely that five of the boys at Cambridge House were in the care of Rochdale Council, and the Inquiry has seen records relating to three of them: RO-A69, RO-A79 and RO-A49.[11] The process for placing them there was simple. A child care officer wrote to Cyril Smith providing brief details about the boy in question and asked if a place could be made available. If Smith responded positively, then the placement was made. We have seen no evidence of any of the other members of the Association being involved in the decision.[12] [13] With hindsight, it may appear unusual that Smith was the sole decision-maker, especially since he held no relevant child care qualification. He was the Secretary of the Association and at the time there was nothing to suggest that there was anything substantially wrong with this system.

8. However, Cyril Smith was also able to influence which boys were put forward by the Council for Cambridge House. The Cases Subcommittee of the Children’s Committee made decisions about where children in care were placed. Although a councillor of several years’ standing, Smith was not a member of that subcommittee in the early 1960s, but he nevertheless attended meetings and made suggestions about what should happen to certain children.[14] Moreover, he exercised influence over the timeframe within which boys were placed at Cambridge House.[15] In relation to RO-A79, for instance, the Child Care Officer suggested a potential admission to Cambridge House in several weeks’ time, to give him the opportunity to settle in his foster home instead, but Smith asked him to be admitted almost immediately because of the imminent summer holidays and this request was granted. Cyril Smith had, therefore, considerable control over which boys were admitted to Cambridge House, and when, including boys in care. This level of involvement does appear to have been beyond what would normally be expected or considered appropriate for a councillor.

9. Indeed, it seems that Cyril Smith continued to show a considerable, and perhaps unduly detailed, interest in decisions about children in care as his political career developed. Allan Buckley, who worked in Rochdale Social Services from 1971 to 1999, eventually becoming Assistant Director, told us that when he was an area manager in the late 1970s to early 1980s there were occasions when Smith’s involvement in individual cases went beyond an appropriate level for an MP.[16] Even into the 1990s, we saw evidence of Smith having significant influence on residential placement decisions.[17]

10. There does not appear to have been any inspection of Cambridge House by the Council before the first child in care was placed there. It is right to acknowledge, as was pointed out by the Council in its Closing Statement,[18] that there was no specific statutory obligation on local authorities at the time to carry out such inspections, but as a matter of common sense and concern for children’s welfare it was a basic and fundamental requirement and it should have happened.

11. Some monitoring of Cambridge House once boys were placed there does appear to have been done. Lyndon Price, who was the Council’s Children’s Officer in 1965, explained that children in care should have been visited every three months by their Child Care Officer and we have seen records showing that visits did take place approximately this regularly.[19] However, Mr Price recalled that when he arrived in Rochdale there were no proper records kept of who was in care and where children were placed. The Council accepted in its Closing Statement that this meant the monitoring requirements were not fully met.[20]

12. From the evidence, it is clear that until 1965 there were no reports of anyone at the Council being aware of any allegations about Cyril Smith’s abusive behaviour towards certain of the boys at Cambridge House,[21] despite the likelihood that this had been going on for some time. We heard direct testimony about Smith’s conduct at this time from three of the Complainant Core Participants.

13. RO-A1 described for us how on his second day at the hostel he was told by Mr and Mrs Saille, the houseparents, to have a bath and put on some clean clothes, then come to the ‘quiet room’ (which was the best room in the house, with armchairs and books).[22] When he got there he was introduced to Cyril Smith, who told RO-A1 he needed to be checked for nits. Smith instructed RO-A1 to take all his clothes off and face the wall with his arms outstretched. Smith started running his hands through RO-A1’s hair, stroking the back of his head and along his arms, and then the side of his body. Then he asked RO-A1 to open his legs and bend over. When he did so, Smith ran his hands up and down RO-A1’s legs in a sensual manner, took hold of his genitals and squeezed them. It was obvious RO-A1 was getting both aroused and upset, so Smith told him to get changed and said he would speak to him in a day or two. Even telling this story again to us was upsetting for RO-A1.

14. RO-A1 explained how he ran away the following day, but the police were called and someone from Cambridge House came to pick him up. When he was brought back to Cambridge House he was again taken to see Cyril Smith, who shouted at him and asked him  to take his clothes off once more. This time RO-A1 said, “You’re not touching me” and Smith left him alone.[23] It was not the end of Smith’s involvement in RO-A1’s life, however, as when Cambridge House closed RO-A1 went to stay with a new foster family who were friends of Smith. From there he settled down, found work and got married, only to be shocked and angry when Smith turned up at his wedding (having been invited without his knowledge by his parents-in-law).[24]

15. RO-A2 was given a similar ‘medical examination’ by Smith on two or three occasions when he told Mr Saille that he was too ill to go to work. Each time this happened, Smith would appear at Cambridge House; indeed RO-A2 told us that, looking back, he believed Mr and Mrs Saille may have had a standing instruction to tell Smith when any resident of Cambridge House claimed to be ill. He would be taken into a room with Smith, who told him to drop his trousers and underpants and then fondled his bare buttocks and possibly his genitals (RO-A2 could not remember for sure).[25]

16. RO-A4 described how Cyril Smith assaulted him on three occasions at Cambridge House.[26] The first was a purported ‘medical examination’ when he was only 15 years old, which was similar to the experiences of RO-A1 and RO-A2 . The second occasion was after RO-A1 had missed work to ‘goof around’ in Manchester with a friend. When he got back to Cambridge House, Cyril Smith was waiting for him. Smith took RO-A4 into the quiet room, made him pull down his trousers and then spanked him. The third occasion was after RO-A4 ran away from Cambridge House; when he returned, Smith carried out another ‘medical examination’.

17. It does not seem to have been Cyril Smith’s behaviour towards the boys that led to the closure of Cambridge House. By early 1965, the organisation appeared to be in financial difficulties. On 4 February 1965, the Rochdale Council Children’s Committee was asked by Smith to increase its annual donation to the Association. On 18 March 1965, the Committee met with Smith, Harding and Potter and agreed to increase the grant to £300 as well as to pay for boys in the care of the Council placed at Cambridge House at the same rate as that charged to other councils.[27] [28] However, by 12 November 1965, the Association asked the Committee for further assistance to keep the hostel open, in light of unspecified ‘staffing problems’. This request was refused and Cambridge House closed shortly thereafter on 30 November 1965. It is not clear from the Council minutes why there was a sudden change of heart about supporting the Association.[29] [30] It is possible that Lyndon Price’s concerns by that stage about the regime at Cambridge House (see further below) played a role, or it may have been solely a reluctance on the Council’s part to take on financial responsibility for the hostel. There is not enough information available to make a finding either way.[31] In any event, a further request by Smith for funding by the Association on 17 March 1966 also appears to have gone nowhere,[32] and by 19 September 1966 Cambridge House had been reopened under the auspices of the Manchester Boys and Girls Welfare Society, with the lease being transferred to them.[33]

Back to top