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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Investigation Report

Knowl View School

19. As set out above, initial consideration of Smith’s relationship with Knowl View School soon gave way to broader consideration of the sexual abuse by other men of children who resided at the School . Knowl View School was a residential school for boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties that opened in 1969 and, after a period of temporary closure, closed permanently in 1996. It was built and run by Rochdale Borough Council and had a Board of Governors. The school catered for boys across an age range of 7 to 16 years old. Cyril Smith was said to have been part of a local campaign to see it established and was present at its opening.

20. Early research identified that a report (only publicly available in redacted form) was written in 1991 by Phil Shepherd, an employee of the Rochdale AIDS Unit, who identified the fact that boys at the school were at risk of AIDS. The report (which became known to the Inquiry as the ‘Shepherd report’) detailed concerns about sexual activity at the school, including ‘cottaging’ in and around public toilets as well as boys being forced into sex with others. The report was sent to Rochdale’s Director of Education, Mrs Diana Cavanagh. These events attracted press reporting in 1995.[1]

21. In 1995, the press reported that Mrs Cavanagh had asked Mr Shepherd not to circulate his report further. Press reporting also suggested that concerns about the children living at Knowl View had first been raised by a Dr Alison Fraser, a child psychiatrist at Rochdale’s Birch Hill Hospital. There was also speculation in the press about a report (which did not appear to have been publicly available) by Valerie Mellor, a consultant clinical psychologist, which dated back to February 1992. It was reported that Mrs Mellor had said there was no doubt that up to a quarter of the pupils at the 48-place school had been involved in serious sexual incidents, the activity had continued over a very long period of time and it was difficult to believe that this behaviour had not come to the attention of at least some members of staff.

22. Again, according to The Independent newspaper, five months after this report was written, a pupil and a former pupil, both 14, were cautioned by police for soliciting in the town’s Smith Street lavatories. The redacted Shepherd report and the press reports also referred to an intruder having entered the school and abused children. Press reports in the 1990s suggested that the person involved was a known sex offender. A 2014 press report suggested that the description of the intruder fitted the description of the Chairman of Governors, Harry Wild.[2]

23. In 2012, Knowl View School was once more the subject of media attention because of allegations about Smith’s involvement in the sexual abuse of residents. Specifically, in November 2012, a former pupil at Knowl View stated publicly that he was sexually abused by Smith at the home when he was seven or eight years old (having been summoned from his bed during the night). In a report of 2 December 2012, the Manchester Evening News reported that the former head of care at Knowl View, Martin Digan, had said that he feared that Cyril Smith was among those abusing boys at the home, and that he had verbally reported his suspicions to the police and the Council.[3] Mr Digan had reported that, on his arrival at the school, he was given access to a dossier of abuse suffered by boys at the school. He referred to the files revealing that boys were being transported to Manchester to meet men who would pay to have sex with them. Mr Digan is reported to have handed the dossier to police and the Council’s head of education (Mrs Cavanagh).

24. An allegation that MI5 were aware of Smith’s activities at the school was later taken up by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme. In a broadcast of 12 September 2013, it reported that former Special Branch detective Tony Robinson was contacted by MI5 requesting that he send them a file which was held about Smith, by special courier. The implication was that Lancashire police, Special Branch and MI5 knew about the allegations and that all connived to protect Smith.

25. The Manchester Evening News reported that an investigation into Knowl View (known as ‘Operation Cleopatra’) did not result in any convictions.[4] It reported that Operation Cleopatra was an investigation into abuse at Council-run care homes in south Manchester and that the investigation uncovered eight former residents of Knowl View in the late 1990s who said they had been abused by Smith. According to reports, witness statements had been taken but a decision was made to “shelve” only the Knowl View part of the investigation (thus focusing on Rose Hill and Broome House).[5]

26. On 10 October 2014, it was reported by the Manchester Evening News that an aide (named Deborah Doyle) to the Rochdale MP Liz Lynne was told by Ms Lynne to destroy a dossier containing evidence about Knowl View. This story appears to have originated in The Observer newspaper on 8 October 2014, and the document said to have been destroyed was three or four pages of notes that Doyle had made of a conversation with Martin Digan in 1996. It was reported that Mr Digan had contacted Ms Lynne’s office in Rochdale as claims of abuse had begun to emerge about Knowl View.

27. Initial investigations demonstrated that many of the children who attended the school were already known to Social Services; some were already in the care of a local authority; some were believed to have been the victims of prior sexual abuse. A striking feature of the evidence initially disclosed was the extent to which the records appeared to emanate from the Education Department of Rochdale Borough Council as opposed to its Social Services Department. In other words, the sexual abuse of children in the school was regarded as a problem for the Education Department, as the overall manager of the school, rather than as a matter for both the Education Department and the Social Services Department to address. The reasons for this (and any consequences of that delineation in responsibilities) are considered as part of this investigation.

28. Three main issues emerged from the disclosure of documents to the Inquiry by Rochdale Borough Council covering the period 1989 to 1994.

29. The first is the exploitation of boys who attended Knowl View (and possibly children who resided in children’s homes in Rochdale) in public toilets and other places outside the school. Some of these children may have been very young indeed. The investigation considered it imperative to understand whether the exploitation of these children was tolerated over time or even regarded as inevitable and, if it were, to understand how children most in need of protection were subjected to this pernicious form of sexual abuse. In addition, the evidence raised issues as to how the police treated these children and whether they were treated as a nuisance, or even as deviant or criminal, as opposed to the victims of adult abusers.

30. The second issue that came to the fore was that the evidence confirmed that a known sex offender had gained entry to Knowl View School over the course of two evenings in September 1990 and sexually assaulted one child (and may have sexually assaulted others). While this incident was to precipitate changes at the school, the records suggested that it was not an isolated instance and that this individual had been targeting the school and its children for many years before. Again, whether this state of affairs and the risks this individual posed to children were simply accepted as a routine aspect of school life (and what conclusions might be drawn from that about the treatment of children at Knowl View by local institutions) was a matter that warranted further investigation.

31. The third issue that arose was the extent to which Knowl View School failed to protect children from other children who posed a risk to them. Again, the materials provided suggested that, in the early 1990s, the school’s population was a complex mixture of children with a wide range of needs, some of whom could pose a risk to other children. The issue that arose was whether there had been failures to assess the risk these children posed and to take action to reduce any identified risk, and whether this was compounded by failures to supervise children at night or in the grounds of the school.

32. Additionally, inquiries uncovered the fact that children may have been sexually abused at other institutions in the Rochdale area or by staff employed at them.

33. On 16 September 2017, Stephen Rumbelow, Chief Executive of Rochdale Borough Council, made a public statement of apology on behalf of the Council for the “significant failings” in the way Knowl View was managed and in the Council’s response to concerns about sexual abuse within and outside the school. Steven Ford QC read that statement again on the first day of the hearing in the course of his Opening Statement and clarified that its scope extended to Cambridge House and other institutions as well.[6] Mr Ford QC also provided some further clarification of Rochdale Council’s apology in his Closing Statement to the Inquiry.[7]


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