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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Harry Wild and Cyril Smith

90. As already discussed, Mr Bradshaw had real concerns when he took up his post that other men besides Hilton might have been targeting the school. There had been the May 1991 incident when a prowler had attempted to gain access to the school. Mr Bradshaw noted that the police had been alerted but took a long time to respond.[9] In a further letter to the police, Mr Bradshaw pointed to the sensitivities, given that a child had previously been sexually abused at the school by an intruder.[10] He confirmed in evidence to us that this further intruder was not Hilton.[11] While the security of the school was undoubtedly much strengthened, other incidents were later recorded. A record of 6 July 1994 stated that an alarm had gone off and a child (found in the dining area having tried to enter the staff room) reported that a man had walked past his bed.[12] On 19 July 1994, a staff member disturbed a man inside the foyer of the school at 9.30 at night.[13] On 10 October 1994, an adult male was spotted at the front door at midnight.[14]

91. We mention these incidents because a further question that arises in this investigation is whether Cyril Smith or his long-term associate, Harry Wild, may have entered Knowl View School at night for the purpose of sexually abusing children.

92. Harry Wild is undoubtedly an individual of concern in this investigation. He was a longstanding associate of Cyril Smith who featured in the Lancashire Police investigation into Smith’s abuse of boys at Cambridge House. As we mentioned earlier in this report, Wild and Smith were governors of Knowl View at the same points in time.

93. Harry Wild was later to be the subject of an investigation by GMP called Operation European.[15][16] On 9 July 1999, he wrote to the Chief Constable of GMP seeking support for his Rochdale and District Youth Fitness Foundation. Discreet inquiries were carried out to ascertain whether Wild was a fit and proper person to be involved with young people. The outcome of these inquiries was described as “somewhat disturbing”. It transpired that Wild had been investigated in 1997 in respect of his conduct towards young male prisoners detained in HMP Buckley Hall (a local prison). Allegations had been made against Wild in his capacity as a member of the Board of Visitors. The 1999 report was to consider this further.

94. This report points to Wild’s self-aggrandising behaviour. It appears that he added ‘St John’ to his surname as a form of self-promotion. A number of individuals had the impression he had been a ranking officer in the Household Cavalry and a former director of ICI prior to his retirement. Neither of these claims was true. He had always been a close friend of Cyril Smith. He received an MBE in 1997 for services to the community and it was believed that Smith had been his sponsor.

95. Wild was on the Board of Visitors of HMP Buckley Hall from 1995 until 1997. He resigned following an allegation that he indecently assaulted a prisoner by slapping him on the backside. Important insight into Wild was provided by a prison governor at HMP Buckley Hall. He described Wild as an overbearing bully and predatory. He was very concerned about Wild’s excessive visits. Other staff members expressed concern about his conduct towards prisoners, his inappropriateness, his excessive visits and his support for applications by prisoners that was abnormal for a Board of Visitors member. Another member of staff was so concerned about meeting Wild at a railway station with a young man he falsely claimed to be his son that he submitted an intelligence report about it.

96. A matter of note is that Councillor Pamela Hawton was spoken to in the course of Operation European. She told police that she had become aware that Smith and Wild had become involved with Knowl View School in the early 1990s and had advised the then Director of Social Services, Lyndon Price, to close it down. Lyndon Price was also spoken to by the GMP investigation team and confirmed that Wild had been the Chair of the Social Services Committee, which meant that he could visit children’s homes. Lyndon Price was uneasy about this but had no evidence that Wild had acted in an improper manner towards children.

97. Operation European post-dated Wild’s involvement in Knowl View School but it raises very real questions as to whether Wild had a predilection for grooming young boys.

98. There is evidence to suggest that Wild may have used his role at Knowl View to facilitate inappropriate contact with pupils. A compelling example of this is evidence that was provided by Helen Woodward who had been a residential care worker at Knowl View in 1994. She came across a man she believed to be Wild in a boy’s bedroom at Knowl View. She stated that she found it strange and wanted to get the boy out of the bedroom so she asked him to help her do the laundry.[17]

99. Martin Digan gave an account in a witness statement that on 6 September (sic) 1994, while he was on duty, he found a boy screaming at night and how other pupils described a man at the scene who matched the description of Wild. In his evidence to us about it, he said it was something he would never forget. Although Mr Digan had thought the incident had been in the September of that year, it appears to be the incident logged on 6 July 1994, which did not refer to Wild nor to any description of any man but noted only that the police had been informed.[18][19]A different person gave a witness statement account apparently about the same incident, which suggested that it was Cyril Smith who was involved. Michael Tuck was a residential care worker at Knowl View School in 1993 and 1994. He stated that he was on duty at night and he found a boy standing outside the door to his room screaming uncontrollably.[20] Mr Tuck said that as he approached he could see a large figure in the distance. Mr Tuck saw a car outside that he recognised to be Cyril Smith’s Mercedes. He put two and two together that the man he had seen was Smith.[21] However, when asked about this episode, in a witness statement Mr Bradshaw said he was not told of this happening and said that it would be unusual for him not to be aware of such an incident.[22] 

100. Wild was obviously a bully and capable of manipulation. According to Mr Bradshaw, Wild threatened him that if he did not support Wild to become the Chair of Governors of Knowl View, he would become an enemy of Wild’s and would not last long. Mr Bradshaw took this threat seriously.[23] He also had a gut instinct, but no hard evidence, that Wild had an interest in children that was not entirely professional, and so he was careful to ensure that Wild was escorted when he visited the school.[24] Donagh McKillop, who had been a deputy house manager at Knowl View from 1991 to 1994, also said that he felt uncomfortable in Wild’s presence when he visited.[25] 

101. Cyril Smith was a Member of Parliament until 1992 and he became involved in Knowl View again in early 1993. He wrote to Mrs Cavanagh informing her that “his good friend” Harry Wild had spoken to him three or four times during December 1992 about his deep concern and worry for the school. He conveyed Wild’s view that the best course would be to close the school and sell the land.[26] Smith on the other hand voiced his own view that an enquiry was called for, he having read the confidential papers about the school from the previous two years.

102. We note that this was an example in 1993 of Smith having access to information that touched on deeply private matters relating to children that he had no right to see. He had no role as regards the school and he was no longer the local MP, yet it is clear that it was simply accepted that he was allowed access to such information. A letter from Mrs Cavanagh to Smith, dated 27 January 1993, thanked him for having spent time with the Education Department on 20 January 1993 to discuss Knowl View School.[27]

103. Smith subsequently rejoined the Board of Governors in July 1994 prior to the temporary closure of the school in December 1994. Knowl View did not admit pupils again. Mr Bradshaw had left the school in the summer of 1994 and the Head of Care left around the same time, as did the Deputy Head. According to Mrs Cavanagh, the school became “completely vulnerable” and the situation was uncomfortably close to the circumstances that had existed in September 1990. Out of fear of history repeating itself, she recommended its emergency closure.[28] 

104. As detailed above, RO-A7 gave evidence that he had been forced to sit on Cyril Smith’s knee and made to put his hand onto Smith’s crotch in the early days of Knowl View School. Other witnesses gave accounts of having been sexually assaulted by Smith at Knowl View at a later point in time.

105. RO-A5 provided a statement to the Inquiry that described an incident when he woke up to find a fat man sitting on his bed. He said this man had his finger in his anus and that was what had woken him up. He told the man to “get off”. The man asked where RO-A5’s friend was and looked across at his bed, then got up and left. RO-A5 states that he was scared to death after this happened and slept under another pupil’s bed. He did not tell Martin Digan why he was there because he was too scared. Some time later he was with another pupil on Spotland Road and saw the same man. The other pupil told him it was Cyril Smith.[29]

106. RO-A5 described a second incident when a staff member (whom he cannot identify) woke him from his sleep and took him to a room. He told us that Cyril Smith was in the room and he sexually assaulted and raped him.[30] He also said that there was a further similar incident with Cyril Smith some time later. RO-A5 then described a third incident in which he recalled a man raping him while Smith looked on and laughed.[31]

107. RO-A6 started at Knowl View School in 1982.[32] He provided evidence to the investigation that he had been assaulted on seven occasions while at Knowl View. He alleged that one of these was a sexual assault by Cyril Smith. RO-A6 said that he was woken from his sleep by a member of staff (whom he was unable to identify). He was taken to a room in one of the flats in the school. Another pupil was in the room along with three adults. One of these was a fat man whom RO-A6 later said was Smith, whom he said had sexually assaulted him.

108. RO-A6 also said that a female member of staff would come into his room and stroke and tease him in a way that he regarded to be wrong. On another occasion, RO-A6 describes a fellow pupil attempting to sexually assault him. RO-A6 also stated that the school keeper was letting Roderick Hilton into the school; RO-A6 said there were many occasions when Hilton was in the TV room at the bottom of the Ashworth and Bamford dormitories, sometimes watching films with boys.

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