By Nick Fielding | 11 September 2013
Council chiefs in Rochdale were warned two decades ago that “sexual activity” at Knowl View special school “will become a public scandal”.
The warning came in a report on the school that Cyril Smith, former Liberal MP, helped to establish. Written in 1991 by an AIDS specialist from Rochdale health authority, the report said that most people, including parents of boys at the school, “would be horrified were these facts to be made known.”
The report went to the then directors of education and social services at Rochdale metropolitan borough council.
It is one of a confidential cache of official documents that detail widespread sexual and physical abuse of boys at Knowl View school since it opened in 1969. Smith was a governor there for all but two years.
Phil Shepherd wrote the shocking report after he and a colleague were sent to Knowl View in March 1991 to train eight social workers on “sexuality”. He was HIV prevention co-ordinator at Rochdale health authority AIDS unit.
However, he soon realised that there were big problems at the residential school for 36 boys aged 8 to 16.
“Most of the day was spent with the staff voicing very strong feelings about problems at the school, in particular concerns about the safety and behaviour of some of the 36 boys,” he wrote.
“Present difficulties came to a head in September 1990 when an intruder entered the school, two nights running and had some sexual contact with one or more of the boys. This matter is apparently in police hands.
“One suspects that sexual problems of one sort or another have been a feature of the school for some time.”
Shepherd recorded what staff told him: “One boy who is homosexual has contact with an adult outside the school.
“Several of the senior boys indulge in oral sex with one another.
“Reputedly, five of the junior boys have been, or are involved in, ‘cottaging’ in and around public toilets.
“Men as far away as Sheffield are believed to be aware of this activity, and travel to Rochdale to take part.
“One eight-year-old boy is thought to have been involved. The police are aware of the problem. What action has been taken is not known.”
He continued: “Some boys have been ‘forced’ to have sex with others.
“This degree of sexual activity, if it is factual, points to fundamental problems within the school. Most people, not least parents of children at the school, would be horrified were these facts to be made known. Unless some incisive action is taken soon, it is more than likely that this activity will become a public scandal.”
There were “possibly years of sexual problems within the school”.
“Amazingly, it would appear that anyone can be left to supervise the children.”
He warned: “Although a lot of people know bits of information about children in this school, there is no one pulling this information together.”
“We were asked to train care staff in sexuality as part of a piecemeal approach to problem solving. Having identified deeper issues, we cannot sit by and see them continuing to simmer.”
The planned day-long training session “was largely abandoned for obvious reasons.”
Diana Cavanagh, Rochdale council’s director of education, wrote to Shepherd to thank him for his report. She said: “I would like to assure you that although there are serious issues to be faced at Knowl View, these are now being addressed through concerted professional action.”
She asked him to limit circulation of his report, “given the sensitivity of this situation, and the fact that appropriate action is being discussed and implemented.” She also asked him “not to undertake any independent action.”
Ian Davey, acting director of social services, told Pam Hawton, chairwoman of Rochdale health authority – in a letter marked “strictly confidential” – that the council and police would take a “concerted approach to the problem”.
He added: “I hope that you will feel reassured that there is concerted professional action being taken to address the serious issues at Knowl View.”
The council commissioned a report from a consultant clinical psychologist, who found that up to a quarter of boys living at Knowl View had taken part in “serious sexual incidents”.