The report by the Independent Inquiry Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse into Rochdale is a detailed devastating document of the failure of its senior local authority officials , councillors, the CPS and even the Honours Committee to tackle the issue of long standing abuse.
The only organisation that seems to come out well over this is Lancashire Police which tried to prosecute Sir Cyril Smith – the paedophile Liberal Democrat MP – but was frustrated by a wrong and questionable legal decision by the Crown Prosecution Service. And it might be said the brave and diligent journalists on the Rochdale Alternative Press who did expose the scandal only to be let down by a feeble mainstream media who were too frightened to taken on the popular Sir Cyril.
The damning findings go well beyond the behaviour of Sir Cyril Smith – a VIP paedophile I doubt even Daniel Janner or Times columnist David Aaronvitch could defend – they show for three decades young children were sexually abused while very senior officials, council leaders and staff in the school and hostel did nothing or deliberately turned a blind eye.
There were two main sexual abuse centres in the town – Cambridge Health, a hostel for young workers – and Knowl View School, a residential place for maladjusted kids which was supposed to be a refuge from pretty appalling homes.
Let’s be clear who we are talking about. The inquiry quotes Diana Cavanagh (then Rochdale’s Director of Education), writing in 1994, children who were attending Knowl View School “… have been unable to cope with mainstream and (often) their family circumstances. Many have a poor self-image, have been abused and are on the Child Protection Register, have not found it possible to make good relationships with other children. Some are extremely withdrawn, avoiding contact or relationships with others and running away if pressurised. Some are aggressive and violent towards their family, other pupils and staff, both posing a physical risk to others and disrupting other pupils’ education. Some manipulate or bully other children and constantly use inappropriate language or inappropriate sexual behaviour. They may be out of control and attention-seeking at home and school …”
These were the kids whom the authorities failed to protect from a predatory convicted paedophile,Roderick Hilton, from camping outside the school gates and entering the premises. They were the people who allowed Sir Cyril Smith to conduct bogus medical examinations so he could cane the bare buttocks of young kids.
They were the people once it was known that kids from the school – one possibly as young as eight – were cottaging with sexual predators in public toilets in plain sight of the social services directorate’s office tried to lambast the staff at the school for talking to an official from the local health authority who raised the alarm.
There is also a damning finding from the inquiry about the role of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee in their deliberations in recommending a knighthood for Cyril Smith.
Child abuser Sir Cyril Smith Pic Credit: dreamcatchersforabusedchildren.com
The inquiry found far from there being a cover up about his appalling behaviour – they knew all about it but didn’t believe it. The report says:
“It is also clear from the correspondence that what was of most concern to the PHSC was fairness towards Smith and concern for the reputational risk to the honours system caused by adverse media coverage.
“Concern for those who may have been abused by Smith did not feature.
“Moreover, the documents show a marked tendency to take Cyril Smith’s progress in local and national politics, along with his previous honour (an MBE in 1966), as evidence that the allegations were unlikely to be true.
“This demonstrates a significant deference to power and an unwillingness to consider that someone in a position of public prominence might be capable of perpetrating abuse. This matters because the conferring of a knighthood on Smith was to make him even more powerful. ( my emphasis in bold).”
An interesting comment given recent events.
Then there are the two Rochdale council leaders – one Labour and one Liberal Democrat. The former Labour leader is branded a liar by the inquiry.
“It was in our view shameful and a dereliction of his responsibility as Leader at the time that Farnell not only refused to accept any personal responsibility, but also was perfectly prepared to lay the blame on the Directors of Education and Social Services as well as the Chief Executive Officer for his claimed state of ignorance.697 In so doing, Mr Farnell soughtto shirk his responsibility and render himself totally unaccountable for the ills of Knowl View and the children who suffered. This is the opposite of honest, dutiful and responsible leadership.”
They are equally dismissive of Paul Rowen, the Lib Dem leader and later MP:
“We felt, just like Richard Farnell, that he was prepared to blame others for their faults without acknowledging his own failures of leadership. At best, he was insufficiently inquisitive about Knowl View School when the evidence that he knew about was that serious problems persisted there, which would not be resolved quickly; at worst, he turned a blind eye to the very serious problems that were in his judgment low down on the priority list.
“Although he boasted that the style of his administration was to be a departure from the past, his misplaced reliance on Council officers allowed him to sidestep his own responsibility, and blame others when he never made any or any sufficient enquiry either about the really serious problems that affected the school and its children or the efforts to deal with those problems while he was Leader. This demonstrated a lack of judgment and a failure of leadership.”
And two leading officials, were also criticised:
“Ian Davey, the Acting Director of Social Services, chose not to pursue child protection measures, a decision that was professionally indefensible and extremely poor judgment on his part.
“Diana Cavanagh, the Director of Education, commissioned reports and producedher own report. While some of this was useful, each of the reports was flawed in some respects, including factual accuracy. There was no urgency on the part of these senior officials to address the problems of sexual abuse at the school, and matters were left to drift.”
This is a catalogue of horrors. More will no doubt come out when the inquiry examine Lambeth and Nottingham. But I suspect it is the tip of a very large iceberg that even this huge inquiry will not be able to investigate. What about Richmond in south London, what will come out in Telford. What about Oxford, Staffordshire, Islington,Rotherham,Leicestershire. What about other big cities and has it been solved now. I doubt it.