William Eichler 13 April 2018

Former council leader ‘lied’ about child sexual abuse, inquiry finds

The inquiry into child sexual abuse in Rochdale has accused the former leader of the council of lying and said his refusal to accept responsibility was ‘shameful’.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse yesterday published its report into abuse carried out in institutions where children were placed by Rochdale Council between the early 1960s and the mid 1990s.

The final report highlighted, in particular, the council-run Knowl View School where it said the local authority had ‘failed to keep pupils safe from harm for 25 years’.

It found staff at the school had been ‘complacent and arguably complicit.’

The inquiry also discovered sexual exploitation of boys - some as young as 11 - was also happening in the town centre, the bus station and the Smith Street public toilets which were across the road from the council’s offices.

There was also sexual abuse at Cambridge House Boys’ Hostel, the inquiry’s report said.

It regretted the lost opportunities to prosecute former Rochdale MP Cyril Smith - the hostel’s honorary secretary - in relation to allegations of child sexual abuse.

The inquiry’s report, which has been published following three weeks of public hearings last October, also stated the inquiry ‘did not believe’ the evidence of former council leader Richard Farnell.

His refusal to accept responsibility for events was ‘shameful’, the report said.

‘After listening to the evidence presented by a number of victims and survivors in Rochdale at the time, I am deeply disturbed at the evidence of extensive abuse and the institutional responses to that abuse,’ said Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry.

‘Many of those who testified to their abuse have never had the opportunity to seek justice through the courts. I hope that the public hearings and this report has offered them some measure of acknowledgement for their suffering.’

Responding to the report, Steve Rumbelow, chief executive of Rochdale Borough Council, said: ‘We acknowledge that, certainly in the case of Knowl View School, there were significant failures of leadership and management and a failure to investigate concerns in order to protect children.

‘While the inquiry found no evidence of cover-ups or political pacts, it is clear from its report that council officers and school staff failed in their most basic duty of care towards children.

‘Although the failure to understand the risks at the time was not unique to Rochdale, the consequences of the failures for the children involved were exceptionally serious.

‘The council has apologised and acknowledged that children were failed. I repeat that apology today and say again that we are truly sorry.’

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