Rochdale council discovers unknown archive of 33 boxes of paperwork on Knowl View

By Nick Fielding | 7 April 2014

Boxes of archived documents have turned up that could provide crucial clues about child sex abuse linked to former Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith.

Detectives have been given access to 33 boxes of previously unknown paperwork as part of their investigation into historical claims that boys were sexually abused at a special school where Smith was a governor.

The archived documents include minutes of governors’ meetings, case notes and other sensitive material that relates to Knowl View special school in Rochdale.

Exaro identified the archive at Rochdale borough council after making a request to the local authority under the freedom of information act for material related to the school.

The council’s deputy chief executive, Linda Fisher, replied by saying that she was refusing to supply the material partly because disclosure “is likely to prejudice the law enforcement or other regulatory activity carried out by the council.”

She continued: “The police have specifically stated that we should not disclose any documentation at this stage as they are concerned that the disclosure would have the potential to prejudice their inquiries.”

Police confirmed to Exaro that they have asked officials at Rochdale council to examine all the files that it holds on Knowl View.

Last September, Exaro revealed another confidential cache of official documents that detailed a shocking catalogue of child abuse at Knowl View special school in Rochdale. The evidence is that Smith, the former MP for Rochdale who died in 2010, was among the perpetrators.

One report warned the then directors of education and social services at Rochdale council that “sexual activity” at the residential school “will become a public scandal.”

An AIDS specialist from Rochdale health authority, Phil Shepherd, wrote the report, which warned that most people “would be horrified were these facts to be made known.”

Following the Exaro report, detectives are trying to trace Shepherd, as well as former members of staff at the school, and others who had connections to it.

Smith was part of a group that planned to take control of the school instead of Rochdale council. The plan failed, and the school closed in 1994.

Smith made a robust denial in 1970 to detectives that he sexually abused boys.

But Martin Digan, a former care worker at Knowl View who tried to blow the whistle at the time, was especially alarmed about the plan to take the school out of the local authority’s control. “It would have become nothing short of a sweetshop for paedophile,” he said.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) promised to investigate Smith posthumously after the Crown Prosecution Service admitted in November 2012 that past decisions against prosecuting him would not be made today on the same evidence.

Exaro revealed in May last year that GMP was dropping the investigation into Cyril Smith.

That disclosure prompted GMP to announce an investigation into three complaints of sexual abuse at Knowl View, although none was against Smith specifically.

Police investigated the school previously. In 2002, one former teacher, David Higgins, was convicted of abusing two boys at the school in 1971. Police said at the time that there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone else.

Since the publicity about the school, the number of former pupils who have come forward to police with allegations of sexual or physical abuse has risen to 10.

GMP’s Detective Inspector Caroline Ward said: “The allegations that we have received are building up a picture of the regime that was in place at Knowl View at that time. We have also been working very closely with Rochdale council, and we are examining boxes of files held about Knowl View as part of investigation.

“I would encourage anyone who was a victim of either sexual or physical abuse to come forward and speak to police.”

“I want to give you complete confidence that your complaints will be treated seriously and thoroughly investigated.”

Meanwhile, Rochdale council has instructed a barrister, Andrew Warnock, to conduct an independent review of all council decisions that relate to Knowl View from the late 1980’s. It is due to report next month.

Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread


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