28 Apr 2014

Cyril Smith: police identify new suspects in sex abuse probe

Police identify 11 new potential suspects connected to historic claims of child sex abuse at a children’s care home in Rochdale linked to the late Sir Cyril Smith.

Greater Manchester Police said nine alleged victims had come forward to say they were abused by adults at Knowl View from the 1970s onwards.

On Monday Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy said: “There are a significant number of people we are trying to trace, obviously made more difficult by the passage of time.

“I would just like to point out that investigations into abuse are extremely difficult. They do take a long time because of, often, the damaged effects on the particular victims and the need for corroboration.

“But we are determined to do a very thorough investigation and obviously when we are carrying out investigations into abuse at institutions, clearly we look at the liability of those who may have been running those institutions.”

‘Used by men’

Speaking out for the first time, Lee – a former Knowl View resident who was identified as a victim of abuse in internal council documents – told Channel 4 News how he and other boys were abused: “There were a group of us – basically used by men. They’d take us back to wherever, we could be on Blackstone Edge or we could be in Manchester at a flat, being shown pornogrpahy, and plying us with drink and drugs and then being used.

“It could happen every day of the week, it could happen twice a week – it’s just when men needed us, we were there.”

Lee, who began working as a rent boy while still a child, he says he is still seeking justice: “they’ve messed me head up – they’ve done a lot to me really.”

Cover-up claims

Police said they were also investigating claims of a cover-up over child abuse allegations against the town’s former MP. A QC-led review will examine whether Rochdale officials may have blocked attempts by police to prosecute Smith.

Rochdale Council said it was also widening the scope of its own inquiry into the now-closed residential school in light of a book by Rochdale Labour MP Simon Danczuk, Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith.

Not one single person from the council, from the health authority – nobody has spoken to me Phil Shepherd Knowl View whistleblower

Speaking at a press conference at Rochdale Town Hall, Sir Peter said: “As a result of the publicity and the discussion around the book recently published about child abuse in Rochdale, we are carrying out a review into those allegations and into other matters of public debate around that book to see whether that justifies a criminal investigation into allegations of (a) cover-up.”

Referring to the cover-up allegations, Sir Peter said: “Given the degree of public speculation around this particular book and the allegations made in it, we think it would clearly be strange if we did not look at that and carry out a review as to whether that justified a wider criminal investigation.”

According to Mr Danczuk’s book, police, spies and politicians covered up the child abuse carried out by Smith. The politician was left free to abuse children as young as eight despite 144 complaints by victims, the author claimed.

Smith had links to several schools in the town, including at Knowl View, where he was said to hold a set of keys to the establishment.

Independent review

In January, Rochdale Council announced an independent review into the council’s decision making in relation to the school would be carried out by Andrew Warnock QC.

Council leader Colin Lambert said “considerable progress” had been made in gathering information and identifying potential witnesses but added the review now needed to be extended.

He said: “In light of the serious allegations made in the last few weeks, we have decided in consultation with Mr Warnock that we now need to widen the scope of the review beyond the council’s decision making.

Phil Shepherd visited Knowl View as a health worker, and in 1991 filed a report warning that an abuser had entered the school and stayed overnight and calling the level of sexual activity at the school “horrific.”

Describing the 23-year delay between his report and the current investigations as “ludicrous”, Mr Shepherd told Channel 4 News “not one person has spoken to me or asked me a question about what I found .. and what was in the report at the time. Not one single person from the council, from the health authority – nobody has spoken to me.”

“It is clear that to ensure there is public confidence in the thoroughness of the review we must widen its scope to include a review of all information available to the council.

“We will therefore need to allocate substantially more resources and more time to enable a thorough review to be conducted. Of course any evidence obtained which is relevant to allegations of criminal activity will be forwarded to Greater Manchester Police.”

‘Culture of abuse’

Neil Garnham QC will now take over the widened review into allegations that sexual or physical abuse of children took place at premises owned, managed or operated by the council from 1961 to 1995.

He will be tasked to identify whether there was a pattern to such abuse, whether it was tolerated, facilitated or promoted by the council or its officers and staff, and whether there was a culture at the council which “inhibited the proper investigation, exposure and prevention of such abuse”.

The council said it would have no role in the conduct of the review beyond the supply of documents. It is hoped the report by Mr Garnham will be provided by the end of July.

In 2000, Greater Manchester Police carried out a “comprehensive investigation” into abuse claims at the school which led to the conviction of one man for indecent assault and gross indecency.

It was ruled there was insufficient evidence to charge any other individuals and no specific allegations were made at the time against Sir Cyril.