Skip to main content

IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Smith Street toilets

55. Smith Street toilets were public conveniences in the centre of Rochdale. They were situated near the bus station and overlooked by the town’s municipal offices (known locally as ‘The Black Box’). They were also, according to a record made at the time, where paying men (seemingly from all over the North West of England) went to sexually abuse Rochdale children.[1]

56. This was no secret. In her evidence to the Inquiry, the Child Protection Manager (Janet Weeks, also known as Bowyer) described how her office on the tenth floor (part of the Social Services Department) had a view of the toilets, from where she would regularly see boys sitting on the walls of the ornamental flower beds and following men inside the toilets. It was obvious to her and other staff who witnessed it that sexual activity was going on. She regarded it as a “worrying pattern”. Staff who were aware of these activities included the administrative staff, two male officers who worked with Ms Weeks and her manager (whose name she could not recall). The police were contacted and they came to the office to conduct informal surveillance of the street. Ms Weeks learned that some of the boys were from Knowl View School.[2]

57. Ian Davey was Assistant Director of Rochdale Council’s Social Services Department from 1989, became Acting Director at about the end of March 1991 and, finally, the Director of Social Services in December 1991. When he gave evidence, he told the Inquiry that while he was Assistant Director, in other words before the end of March 1991, he was personally unaware of boys being sexually exploited at Smith Street toilets, even though his office was also on the tenth floor of the municipal offices.[3] Later in the course of his evidence, he said it was not until the Shepherd report that he learned about the exploitation at the toilets.[4] He said for six months prior to the Shepherd report his attention was “virtually entirely focused” on the Middleton issues.[5]

58. The children who were being exploited were known to the authorities. In March 1989 there was a meeting of representatives from police, social services and education to discuss a group of children aged between 10 and 14 who gathered daily at ‘Tasty Bite’, a local food outlet, when they should have been at school. Twelve children were identified, five of whom were in the care of Rochdale. In due course, a number of these children came to be identified as being exploited by men who would pay them.[6]

59. The Inquiry considered in some detail the social care records of three particular children who were part of this original group and who were exploited in Smith Street toilets. They were also resident at Knowl View School. In order to protect the identity of these individuals, this report will not refer to information that might reveal who they are. These were children who, between them, experienced considerable hardship, family breakdown, insecurity and trauma at an early stage in each of their lives.

60. One of these children was RO-A9. By the time that he was 11 years old (in February 1989), there was already concern that he was part of a network of boys involved in criminal activities as well as sexual activity. It was decided to place him in a residential school. He started at Knowl View a short time later, on 14 April 1989.[7] On 22 August 1989, he was remanded into care. On 28 August 1989 (when he was only 12) concern was raised that he was involved in ‘prostitution’ and was being called a ‘rent boy’ by other children.[8]

61. The information about RO-A10 points to him having profound and complex difficulties; he too was taken into care. In 1989, RO-A10 was 11 years old. A note of 6 April 1989 in RO-A10’s social care file recorded the fact that there was reliable information from Police Constable Dunning that he was involved in “inappropriate sexual activities” at Smith Street toilets.[9] A file note of 7 April 1989 by RO-A10’s social worker throws further light on this and demonstrates how serious his situation already was. The information from PC Dunning was that RO-A10 had approached a man, asking the man for 50p and if he wanted to play with him. RO-A10 had approached the same man in the bus station and had asked him the same question, saying that it was alright as he got £5 the week before and could get £5 or £10 any time that he wanted.[10] That RO-A10 was involved with adult men was also a matter of concern to his family who reported that he had been seen around town with a man.[11]

62. Like RO-A9, RO-A10 was admitted to Knowl View out of concern for his welfare and as a direct response to the concern that he was involved with adult men in Smith Street toilets.[12] A meeting was arranged with the Acting Head Teacher of Knowl View (then Mr Ashton) to discuss RO-A10’s admission and the admission of another family member (RO-A24) to Knowl View School. This is of relevance later in this report when considering what staff at Knowl View School knew about these children at an early stage. RO-A10 was to start at the school on 11 May 1989. A record of the same day by RO-A10’s social worker noted his self-abusive behaviour as possibly being linked to his sexual activities at Smith Street toilets. [13]

63. At a meeting of 5 May 1989 between RO-A10’s social worker and Knowl View staff, the social worker informed school staff about RO-A10’s ‘rent boy’ activities around the bus station, putting beyond doubt the fact that staff at Knowl View were well aware of RO-A10’s vulnerabilities and the risks he faced just days before he was admitted.[14]There is reference to RO-A10 cutting his arms and legs with glass.[15] Not only did his exploitation continue after RO-A10 was placed at Knowl View, he was also being exploited out of the area. A social care record of 8 September 1989 documents an account by RO-A24 of going to Salford with other children (including RO-A9) to watch pornography. RO-A10 went into a bedroom with a man and got £5. Another incident was documented whereby RO-A10 went into a shed with a man and masturbated him while RO-A24 watched.[16] The consequences of this exploitation remained a year later, because in September 1990 RO-A10’s social worker had to write to the police in Manchester asking that RO-A10, who was subject to an Attendance Centre Order in Salford, be allowed to attend an alternative centre to carry out the order owing to his past sexual involvement with men from Salford.[17]

64. Of even more concern is that RO-A9 and RO-A10 were both children who, during this period, were living at Knowl View School during the week and in children’s homes at the weekend or in the holidays.[18] Gail Hopper confirmed that this was poor practice even in 1990, and would have been considered to be “confusing and inappropriate”.[19] That this was bad practice was also accepted by Ian Davey in his evidence to the Inquiry. He denied that he knew this practice was taking place. However, he accepted that it was a failure overall by Rochdale Council’s Social Services Department not to inform him of the practice.[20]

65. RO-A10 also provided information about what was happening to him. On 14 August 1989, he saw his social worker with Dave Carter (from his children’s home) and told them about a man he was involved with at the bus station. This man was in his thirties and RO-A10 got money from him for doing “naughty things”. He had gone to a hut with him. There was information that other boys were involved. Mr Carter and the social worker emphasised to RO-A10 that he was not to blame for what had happened to him.[21] While we are sure their intentions were good, we find it hard to understand why this appears to have been the limit of anyone’s intervention with this boy. Indeed, on 24 August 1989, RO-A10 and his social worker spoke to a police officer, and RO-A10 confirmed that he had been involved in sexual activities at the toilets.[22]

66. At a review of RO-A10’s case, which took place at some point prior to 3 March 1990 (at which staff from Knowl View and representatives from Social Services were present), it was recorded that the “department”, which is assumed to be a reference to Social Services, was “tackling the set up at Rochdale Bus Station”. The bus station was next to Smith Street toilets. Gail Hopper assisted us with the locations of the toilets and the bus station in the course of her evidence.[23][24] The reference to “tackling the set up” appears to be a reference to tackling child exploitation,[25] but there is no evidence as to what steps were taken. It is clear that the exploitation of children in Rochdale town centre continued, regardless of whatever action, if any, was taken.

67. Information was also provided to Knowl View School not just from Social Services but also from the police. A record of 9 March 1990 demonstrates that PC Bottomley was in direct communication with Knowl View School about organised ‘rent boy’ activities going on in Smith Street toilets involving RO-A9 and RO-A10. This involved 14 children from various children’s homes who had been organised into a ring and were “extracting money in return for sexual favours”. This was organised by an older boy (although he was just 13 years old). It is important that we record here part of the note made by a Knowl View staff member: “PC Bottomley reported that vast numbers of men from all over the North-West had been attracted to the toilets, indeed they had interviewed people from as far away as Blackpool! Clearly, both boys are at risk and are in a highly vulnerable situation, which will require close monitoring”. [26]

68. A Knowl View record of 21 May 1990 documents the fact that four boys from the school, including RO-A10, were involved. RO-A10 and the others were known to have masturbated one man in Smith Street toilets and another boy masturbated another man. They were also alleged to have stolen items such as toy cars, chocolates and biscuits. When they returned to school, two boys admitted that they had masturbated a local man.[27]

69. These records suggest a lack of anxiety on the part of those who had responsibility for these children. There is no suggestion that their being exploited for money raised an urgent child protection issue or that there was any appreciation that these children were being exposed to much greater risk. On 15 June 1990, the head of care at Knowl View School (Steven Cohen, since deceased) reported to one boy’s social worker that he had hepatitis, which was thought to have been contracted through ‘rent boy’ activities.[28] We are struck by just how casually and matter of factly the belief that the boy had sexually transmitted hepatitis was alluded to. It appears to have had no bearing upon the approach by Knowl View School staff to the boy or to any other exploited child.

70. A record, which was made of a meeting that took place on 4 March 1991, suggests that, in July 1990, DC Goggins was aware that RO-A10 was “offering services” at Smith Street toilets and going off in cars with men. Staff at Knowl View were very concerned but felt there was little they could do as it was not a “lock up school”.[29]

71. In July 1990, RO-A10’s social worker recorded a meeting that took place with Paul Davies of Knowl View School. He noted RO-A10’s attitude towards his exploitation: “He does not want to be involved in it again and is angry at the men who were involved...”[30] While the tone of the note was sympathetic to RO-A10’s plight, it nonetheless gives the appearance that ending his exploitation was a matter for RO-A10 (and was contingent upon his will to end it).

72. On 15 November 1990, Mr Andrews, the then Acting Head of Knowl View, wrote to 280 the Director of Social Services describing RO-A10 as being in grave moral danger. The only way the school could guarantee his safety was to remove his shoes and outdoor clothing. First, the Acting Head was clearly alive to the risks that RO-A10 was exposed to. Second, the letter indicates a familiarity on the part of the Director of Social Services with RO-A10’s circumstances.[31]

73. Knowl View staff prepared a report for Brian Williams, who was the Assistant Education Officer and Special Needs Advisor in the Education Department. The report, which is dated 27 November 1990, said that RO-A10 absconded regularly from Knowl View and his care home, and when he went missing his whereabouts were largely unknown. He had been picked up in Smith Street toilets and when he returned voluntarily he always had money. The report put forward the view that RO-A10 should not return to Knowl View. The report added that all the boys on his house unit knew of his activities and that RO-A10 had had “a draining and demoralizing effect” on all of them that term. We mention this because it is important to point out that this was a particularly sensitive time for Knowl View. In September 1990, Roderick Hilton had been able to spend two nights in the school and sexually assaulted at least one boy. The Education Department had conducted an investigation into what had happened, and Brian Williams was obviously aware at about the very same time that RO-A10 was being exploited at Smith Street toilets. Although not directly referring to these matters, the report also appears to indicate knowledge on Mr Williams’ part about these issues.[32]

74. We note that a social worker later recorded that Mr Bradshaw (the Head Teacher who took over after RO-A10 had left Knowl View School in December 1990) told the social worker that the boy had been scapegoated by Knowl View staff.[33] This fits with the tone of the Knowl View School staff report to Mr Williams.

75. RO-A10’s social worker’s optimism that he would (or could) stop being exploited proved unrealistic. According to a further report of December 1990, his progress was “extremely backward” and he had “no sense of physical or moral danger”.[34]

76. RO-A10 left Knowl View in December 1990. He was only 12 years old. The position as regards RO-A9 is less clear. It appears from the records that he ran away from Knowl View School for long periods of time. However, he remained a Knowl View pupil well into 1991. On 6 February 1991, RO-A10’s social worker spoke to DC Goggins in an attempt to clarify the details of RO-A10’s involvement in sexual activity at Smith Street toilets; there was confusion between Knowl View School and the social worker about it. According to the note, it was clear that RO-A10 had been approaching men and getting 50p for masturbating them. DC Goggins felt there had been incidents in March 1989 and a number of them between January and May 1990.[35]

77. Much later, on 25 October 1991, information about RO-A9 being involved in organised abuse was passed from the police to Social Services. According to RO-A9’s social care records, the police provided the names and addresses of three men with whom it was suspected RO-A9 (and other boys) were involved.[36] As regards RO-A9, an internal Social Services memorandum dated 31 October 1991 notes that his attendance at the school had been poor since the start of the autumn term and that he had been missing from home for approximately one month. During this time he had been seen at three addresses in Manchester, which appeared to be part of a network where boys were being harboured, and where abuse was occurring. Rochdale was also referred to as a “picking up point” for boys to go to Manchester. This report expressly refers to Knowl View School seeking a meeting to review RO-A9’s place on account of his attendance.[37]

78. RO-A9 was the subject of a letter dated 11 February 1991 (sic) from Chief Inspector Berry (now deceased) of GMP to Roger Graham, an Area Manager for Rochdale Council Social Services.[38] The letter explained that there had been police enquiries about RO-A9’s brother in the Greater Manchester area and that RO-A9 had been found at an address that had been entered by warrant. The Chief Inspector refers to the “strange suspicion” that RO-A9 had been involved in regular clandestine meetings with adult men over a prolonged period of time. It is also clear from this letter that Chief Inspector Berry had hoped that there would be closer links between Social Services and the police so as to assist in this “sordid matter” but that “... for the record it seems that very little progress had been made”. The Chief Inspector went on to say, “I see a clear distinction between family sexual issues and those which seem to be on an organised scale involving several young men. It is therefore in relation to the latter category that I would welcome your views as to how the police and social services can develop a joint strategy.”

79. The records make clear that from 1989 onwards the police, Rochdale Council’s Social Services Department, its Education Department and staff from Knowl View School were all aware that children from Rochdale (including pupils from Knowl View) were being subjected to sexual exploitation for money in public toilets in Rochdale. There is clear evidence that the police and social services knew that a group of children were in the clutches of organised abuse in Manchester.

80. We conclude that no individual, nor any institution with responsibility for them, took decisive action to address what was happening to these exploited children. Individual social work entries often convey sympathy, but little sense of real action to address the abuse suffered by them. The police were well aware of the issues around the toilets but seemed inert, and unable or unwilling to tackle it. Overall, the records convey lassitude and a lack of focus and direction; the issue simply drifted.

81. RO-A9 who gave evidence before us was not entirely sure when he was sent to Knowl View School, but he thought it was between the ages of 12 and 14. To begin with, he thought that the school was alright but this changed when he was sexually assaulted by a member of staff late one evening. He ran away in his pyjamas from the school to his home, which was some 2 to 3 miles away, but his mother called the police and they took him back to Knowl View. There was a further incident involving the same member of staff.[39] RO-A9 was exploited by one particular man, Anthony Whitehead, for about two years. In 2017, RO-A9 gave evidence at trial regarding a series of serious sexual offences committed by Whitehead against him, of which Whitehead was convicted. RO-A9 also ran away from Knowl View as he was homesick.[40] RO-A9 was also exploited by other adult men.

82. We are entirely satisfied that the exploitation of children in Rochdale was widely known about. Such efforts as were made by the authorities to address the problems were scant and ineffective.

Back to top