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

Further investigations

40. If it was hoped that the Mellor report would be definitive about what had happened at Knowl View School and provide a basis for moving forward, that hope was misplaced. The report would have done little to assuage concern that the problems that led to the sexual abuse of children in the first place had been addressed, that such abuse had stopped or that culpable staff had been held accountable for the evident failings in the management of the school. Mr Bradshaw was certainly disappointed that the responsible staff had not been named.[1] While he spoke highly of Mrs Mellor, the report did not tell him anything that he did not already know and his feeling was that it did not go far enough. It was of use by virtue of the fact that it was an external document that contained recommendations that could be followed.[2] Mrs Cavanagh also considered that Mrs Mellor’s criticisms, although clear, were general in nature and not a sufficiently precise basis on which to take action.[3]

41. Mr Bradshaw undoubtedly took steps to reduce the risks children were exposed to, and appears to have been the first to do so. Among other measures, he addressed the physical risk factors around the school premises, set up proper systems of recording, formulated statements of policy around child protection and took a holistic approach to the protection of boys in the school.[4]

42. By focusing on matters internal to the school, the approach of the Education and the Social Services Departments was too narrow. The impact of these limitations must have been obvious. Mr Bradshaw confirmed that he was unaware of information held by the Social Services Department in May 1991 that, while boys had ceased ‘cottaging’ during the week, it had continued at weekends and holidays.[5] He also confirmed that he was unaware of information in October 1991 that one pupil was thought to be the victim of network abuse in Manchester. Mr Bradshaw had begun tracking when pupils were missing from school.[6] He should have been given this information.

43. In a report dated 26 March 1992 (which had been written for the purpose of a Governors’ meeting) Mr Bradshaw further detailed his views as to the culture of the school prior to his arrival.[7] It is worth reflecting on his observations as in some respects they go further than the observations set out in the Mellor report. It was in this document that he noted that there had been incidents of a sexual nature dating back to 1981 that had been logged but rarely ever resolved. This included incidents of sexual bullying. The regime had been repressive and male orientated, and coercion had been the main form of control. Mr Bradshaw explained that restraint had been the first form of control of children at Knowl View, not the last as it ought to have been.[8]

44. He also pointed to the inward-looking perspective of the school; appointments were kept to Rochdale-based friends or partners. The staff group was factionalised, “The curriculum as a whole did not exist”. He pointed to the unwillingness of staff to adapt. Importantly, this report also confirmed that staff had been letting children from the younger units into Rochdale unsupervised, despite staff knowing that they were involved in Smith Street toilets. He also observed that, despite Roderick Hilton having been charged with sexual offences against pupils, he was known to stay around the school grounds and that children were allowed to smoke in an area that Hilton was known to visit regularly.

45. In another document, also prepared for the purposes of a Governors’ meeting, Mr Bradshaw referred to staff not being on site when they should have been sleeping in.[9] He confirmed in evidence that children were spending the nights in units completely alone before he came to the school.[10]

46. This document went further, referring to Hilton as “encouraged, or at least not discouraged from visiting Knowl View” and noting that he had on a number of occasions been allowed to sleep in the minibus, in the school and in the club room with the knowledge of staff. Mr Bradshaw said in evidence that it was not that staff were inviting Hilton in, rather that they knew this was happening and did not stop it.[11] As regards the actual incident in September 1990, Mr Bradshaw was able to obtain a clearer account of what had happened. On the first night, Hilton and the pupils went to the club room where there were “sexual games”. On the second night, Hilton slept under RO-A14’s bed, sexually abused RO-A14 and “anyone else that was available”. In the course of his evidence, Mr Bradshaw was asked the direct question whether there was information that other children had been sexually assaulted by Hilton. He confirmed that this information had been provided anecdotally by staff but that there had been no investigation into it nor any accounts taken from the other children.[12] Mr Bradshaw went on in his report to explain that, after the Hilton incident, children in the Norden unit had a “routine” of mutual masturbation and oral sex. Children in Ashworth had a “routine” of sexual games in toilets as a way of earning extra cash. Mr Bradshaw thought that the Hilton incident had “upped the ante” of the types of behaviours within the school towards the more extreme end.[13]

47. Councillor Hawton was not content to let the matter rest. She informed Ms Cavanagh that she still had very considerable anxiety that the situation was ever able to reach the point that it did.[14] She wrote Mrs Cavanagh a letter (dated 16 March 1992) informing her that she still retained a strong feeling of concern about the whole matter. The fact that all the incidents described took place and the atmosphere of the school existed as described raised a question for Mrs Hawton as to why far more action to get Knowl View on an even keel had not taken place before the Mellor investigation. She considered that far more work was needed.[15]

48. Shortly after this, in a letter of 7 April 1992, a staff group wrote to Mrs Cavanagh stating that they felt that the matters arising from the various incidents that had taken place within the last two years had been left unresolved. The staff wrote of more information having come to light that left them with “total unease” and a “lack of confidence”. They felt very strongly that there was a need for a full and immediate inquiry initiated by the staff and not forced on them by the press coverage they considered they were to likely to face at some point.[16] 

49. According to Martin Digan, the information that had come to light was that staff had not known of the involvement of the caretaker and the suggestion that he had possibly let Hilton into the school.[17] The language of the letter would suggest that it was more than this, but what else it could have been is not clear from the evidence we have heard.

50. Mrs Cavanagh received a third letter of 8 April 1992 from the Chair of the Board of Governors. He had considered matters further and felt strongly that a further enquiry should be undertaken into the role staff played. He considered that this investigation should take into account any dereliction of duty by staff and consider disciplinary action.[18] It is not clear why the Board of Governors did not seek such accountability from the outset. The Mellor report, far from being determinative, simply begged more questions from a number of sources.

51. Mr Pierce, the Chief Executive of Rochdale Council, continued to be updated as to progress. On 1 May 1992, he asked Diana Cavanagh for a statement as to what action had been taken as regards Knowl View so that he could be in a position to advise the Leader on these matters as soon as possible.[19]

52. On 8 May 1992, Mrs Cavanagh provided Mr Pierce with a detailed memorandum as to all the actions that had taken place since the receipt of the Mellor report. The focus of the memo in the main seems to be on actions after “the September 1990 incident”, in other words the Hilton incident, and not so much the wider problems.[20] 

53. By 5 May 1992, it is clear that a decision had been made to conduct a further investigation. In a letter of this date, Mrs Cavanagh wrote to Mr Bradshaw that there was to be an enquiry into the role played by staff in events at Knowl View School in 1990.[21] She referred to having consulted the union representatives, the Chair of the Education Committee and Mr Bradshaw about the nature and purpose of this enquiry. Mrs Cavanagh recommended to Mrs Moffat that the enquiry should be conducted by the Local Education Authority (LEA) as part of its response to Mrs Mellor’s report. The purpose of the enquiry was to clarify any residual areas of concern about the level of care or management exercised by teaching and non-teaching staff in the months leading up to the incident in September 1990.

54. It was put to Mrs Cavanagh in the course of her evidence that this enquiry was entirely geared towards the Hilton incident. She initially agreed that this was how her letter reads.[22] She later explained this, saying that it was her understanding that the September 1990 incident was “the culmination of a number of things”.[23]

55. As part of this new investigation, staff were to be interviewed by Dr Selwyn Hodge, then the Chief Adviser, and Liz Dobie of the Education Department. This would be the third investigation into events at Knowl View and Mrs Cavanagh considered that it was important that any residual anxieties were addressed so that the school could move on.[24] 

56. The interviews took place in May 1992 and the manuscript notes of the interviews were retained. Some points that had been made by staff two years before were reiterated.[25] Despite the fact that staff had been interviewed on a number of occasions by this point, what emerged much more clearly was the extent to which sexual activity on the part of staff either impacted on their duties or informed their responses to children. We will not set out the detail of these interviews, but rather highlight some further information that may not have emerged clearly before. The purpose of these interviews was to focus on the position prior to the Hilton incident in September 1990.

57. One manuscript note of 8 May 1992 reads “Ashworth (junior) block involved in Smith Street toilets – ‘keep quiet.’”[26] Another manuscript note of an interview with a female member of staff has a section crossed out about staff sexual activity being out of the norm. The member of staff said she had heard the words “orgy” and “bed-hopping” while staff were supposed to be on duty but the note goes on to record the interviewee saying that this behaviour had “definitely changed”.[27]

58. In his interview, Duncan Eaton reported that two boys had said the school keeper allowed Roderick Hilton to sleep under the canopy of the craftwork area.[28] The note records Mr Eaton “has had it put to him that RH had access to the school on weekends when the school was closed”; also there is mention of fire doors at the back of the club room being left open one morning.[29] According to Mr Eaton, the hold that Hilton had over the school keeper was evident.[30] He referred to staff being “disgusted” that the Acting Head slept in his own house rather than in the school.[31] A different member of staff said that teachers were aware of the Smith Street toilet issue and were kept informed about it; this information came out at staff meetings and was discussed on numerous occasions over a protracted period.[32] Martin Digan raised the question of whether children should be tested for HIV, and expressed his uncertainty whether any testing had actually taken place.[33]

59. Mr Poulton (the Acting Head Teacher who was seconded to Knowl View in December 1990 in response to the Hilton incident) confirmed that there was an acceptance that some boys had been involved in ‘cottaging’. He was not convinced that the Hilton incident was general knowledge or that everyone understood its implications.[34] He thought that the former Acting Head may have occasionally spent nights as far away from the school as Sheffield.[35] 

60. In his account, another staff member, Paul Davies, said that Roderick Hilton had for years been inveigling pupils and that this amounted to sexual abuse.[36] However, “nothing had been done to stop” Hilton.[37] He described the school as the most “institutionalised and stultifying” place he had ever seen.[38] There was a brief reference in his interview note to Hilton having been in the building before and that “it had certainly happened before”. [39]Kids he said were “incidental”.[40]

61. The then Head of Care, Steven Cohen, said of Hilton that “staff privately feared the amount of incidents”, and that staff had been reporting concerns to line managers and were surprised nothing had been done.[41] He described one male member of staff as “brutal”, saying that children were frightened of him and that one child said that he had been hit by him across the legs with a cricket bat.[42] 

62. In June 1992, following the interviews with staff, a report was produced by Dr Hodge and Ms Dobie.[43] The report concentrated on three main areas: the culture of the school, the style of leadership and management within the school, and relationships within the school.[44]

63. According to the report, it was intended to be a final scrutiny of past events and to terminate speculation once and for all. The report provided information to support the conclusion that the incident with Hilton in September 1990 was not spontaneous and that boys knew to let him in.[45] It found that the LEA bore responsibility for making inappropriate appointments at the school.[46] In our view, this was only a very small part of the responsibility that the Education Department bore for the circumstances that came to exist over a period of many years at Knowl View.

64. Most significant, for the purpose of this report, was Dr Hodge and Ms Dobie’s findings that sexual relationships between staff bore upon the moral tone of the school and bore a relationship with events of September 1990. It is worth quoting the key finding:[47]

“Set against all of this was evidence of relationships of a sexual nature in homo, hetero and bisexual liaisons which appeared to have had little regard for any moral tone that was being set within the school or for the model that was being given to the pupils, some of whom were well aware of what was going between staff. The long term involvement of a peripheral nature by “the intruder” with the school, combined with pupils’ ability to read whether the incident in September 1990 was merely the culmination of a series of events leading up to it. The combination of both pupils’ encouragement of the intruder and vice versa, given an apparent lack of supervision, the physical situation of Nordern Unit in relation to the rest of the school and the wooded area were disastrous in their total contributory effect.”

Back to top