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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

The involvement of Dr Alison Fraser

33. Dr Alison Fraser was a consultant psychiatrist who led the Child and Adolescent Unit at Birch Hill Hospital. She took up this role in November 1986. In or around 1987, she began to visit Knowl View School once every fortnight. The purpose of these visits was to offer support and advice to staff, but she stopped going to the school because staff simply did not use the service; she felt there to be little value in her visits continuing.[1] This contrasted with the attitude at a day school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties that she visited (Brownhill School).

34. Dr Fraser appears to have become involved in the school once more after the Hilton incident as a number of boys from Knowl View were referred to her for therapy.[2] Her recollection was that the referrals concerned boys hanging around Smith Street toilets, sexualised behaviour by the boys and someone breaking into the school. What she heard led her to call Mrs Cavanagh directly in December 1990.[3] The purpose of Dr Fraser’s call was to inform Mrs Cavanagh about the boys from Knowl View who had been referred to her and who had very serious problems. What is unclear is how much further the conversation went and specifically whether the exploitation of pupils at Smith Street toilets was discussed. With the passage of time, Dr Fraser could not remember what was discussed. Mrs Cavanagh said in evidence that the call was about referrals to her from the school, they did not discuss the Hilton incident and they did not go into any detail about Smith Street toilets or peer-on-peer abuse.[4] 

35. Christine Scarborough, who was the senior social worker at the Child and Adolescent Unit and worked with Dr Fraser, provided us with some of the context to the phone call. She explained that the exploitation of pupils from Knowl View School had been mentioned in referral letters that had been sent about the boys a few months after the September incident.[5]

36. Mrs Scarborough explained that she was concerned why young boys were allowed to go down to Smith Street toilets in the evening and why they were not being protected. She wanted to know how it was that someone had broken into Knowl View School and had been there for two nights. She wanted to know how that had been allowed to happen and where the staff had been. Making a referral to provide treatment to the boys was “totally inappropriate” before the abuse was stopped; the children had to be protected first.[6] Mrs Scarborough explained that she and Dr Fraser were concerned about the referrals and attempted to raise their concerns towards the end of 1990. She described trying to find out what Social Services involvement was with the boys was but that “...nobody was seeing it as any kind of serious incident.[7]

37. She confirmed to us that it was obvious that the feeling from Social Services was that it was not their problem and that it should be addressed by the Education Department.[8] According to her, this is what prompted Dr Fraser and her to write to Mrs Cavanagh. She described this course in her evidence as the “nuclear option” as it was not usual to go directly to a director of another service.[9] She also remembered having been told by someone in the Education Department that there had been a review of Knowl View School and that it was not seen as a problem.[10] Mrs Scarborough’s recollection was that the letter was probably sent between Christmas 1990 and 4 March 1991 (the date of a meeting that was eventually to take place among staff at the school, Dr Fraser, Mrs Scarborough and representatives of Rochdale Council).[11]

38. Dr Fraser could not recall the call to Mrs Cavanagh but confirmed the existence of the letter. She also confirmed that there had been concerns about peer-on-peer sexual activity at the school but that there had been a view among certain social workers that it was what boys did. Her team thought it could be coercive behaviour, but were regarded as “prissy and middle-class”.[12] When asked what in her view distinguished what was going on in Knowl View School from the ‘norm’, she pointed out that a large number of boys were in a residential setting for whom the authorities were responsible, her concern about the level of supervision, and the fact that this behaviour was going on inside and outside the school.

39. Dr Fraser evidently regarded having direct contact with the Director of Education as a highly significant step for them to have taken. We have no doubt that Dr Fraser and Mrs Scarborough had real concerns about the boys who had been referred to the unit and saw, at once, the obvious issues that those referrals raised. Dr Fraser and Mrs Scarborough have the distinction in this investigation of having recognised the urgent need to address what was happening to the boys, and they sought the involvement of the other agencies. However, despite Dr Fraser’s and Mrs Scarborough’s clear concerns and their contact with Mrs Cavanagh in December 1990 and afterwards, there was no meeting about Knowl View School until 4 March 1991. It would appear that others did not share their sense of urgency.

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