Authorities in Rochdale failed in their response to evidence of child abuse, at the council-run Knowl View Residential School, a new report has found.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report into historic abuse at the notorious school concluded that there had been a “total lack of urgency on the part of authorities to address the problem” and that they had failed to treat the instances of abuse as serious sexual assaults, in spite of the evidence.
The report claims staff at the school were “at best complacent but arguably complicit in the abuse they knew to be taking place” and they share some of the blame for what occurred to the children in their care. The authors also found that Social Services staff were “deeply suspicious” of what was going on, but no follow-up action was taken.
While the report accepts that local police “did not turn a blind eye”, it states that they “knew children were being exploited” but did not obtain enough evidence to prosecute and surviving records do not explain why nobody was ever charged in relation to the abuse.
The Department of Education was also criticised for failing to liaise effectively with Rochdale social services (as required under the 1988 ‘Working Together’ guidance), meaning opportunities for the issue to be raised and action taken were potentially missed.
The report’s authors were especially damning of Richard Farnell, who was Leader of Rochdale Council from 1986-1992. Giving evidence to the inquiry, Farnell denied having any knowledge that the abuse was taking place when he was in office. However, the report states that the authors “did not believe him” and that it “defies belief that Mr Farnell was unaware of the events involving Knowl School”.
Particular attention was given in the report to the former Liberal MP Cyril Smith (who died in 2010) and the allegations that he was involved in sexual abuse of boys at Knowl View. The inquiry found that opportunities to prosecute Smith while he was still alive were missed in 1998 and 1999, meaning his alleged victims lost the opportunity to seek justice.
Then findings of the Inquiry show just how widespread the failings in Rochdale were, and suggest the abuse could have been stopped much sooner if the right actions had been taken at the appropriate time. While this knowledge must be devastating for those affected, it will hopefully lead to improved practices in the future, helping to protect children from similar abuse in the future.
The Inquiry is also looking into historic abuse involving children in the care of Nottinghamshire Councils and Lambeth Council and reports are expected on those investigations in due course.
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