Knowl View School
Secret files expose Cyril Smith’s ‘special school for child abuse’ Exaro, 11/09/13
Cyril Smith: former pupils allege abuse by “fat man”
Cyril Smith, the late Liberal Democrat MP, is at the centre of new abuse allegations at a special school for children after a former pupil described how he was forced to perform sexual acts on the “fat man”.Sir Cyril Smith Photo: PAUL ARMIGER
By Steven Swinford
10:00PM GMT 28 Nov 2012Chris Marshall, now 40, said he was seven or eight when he was sexually abused by Smith at Knowl View school in Rochdale, which has previously been described as a “sweet shop for paedophiles”.It was shut down in 1995 after police were given a dossier of evidence detailing systematic physical and sexual abuse by staff. Although Smith was a governor at the school, he has never previously been implicated.The new allegations emerged after Greater Manchester Police admitted that Smith, who died two years ago, sexually abused young boys.The Director of Public Prosecutions failed to charge him in the 1970s because he claimed the victims where of suspect character and that the claims were “somewhat stale”.Marshall, who has waived his right to anonymity, said he and another pupil were “summoned” from their dormitory shortly after he moved into the Rochdale school in 1979. They were taken to another teacher’s private accommodation where Smith was lying on a bed, and made to perform sexual acts.He said: “He was a massive guy. I remember going to the room and him lying on the bed. We called him the fat man, we didn’t know who he was. It happened to another kid later, he said ‘the fat man’s been’.”
Mr Marshall, a father-of-one who works as a machine driver, said he was too ashamed at the time to go to the police. He spoke to detectives for the first time about the alleged abuse last week.
He added: “I realised it was him when I was 16 or 17 and stuff was coming out in the papers about the school at the time. It was more of an embarrassment at the time. I did try to get help and went to a psychologist.
“It is unbelievable that he could go on doing that [abusing children]. I have not had the best of lives but I have got through it.”
Knowl View school was closed in the mid-1990s after Martin Digan, the former head of care, handed police a dossier detailing sexual abuse.
One report said at least a quarter of the school’s pupils had been involved in “serious sexual abuse”. The dossier did not name Smith, but Digan says he told police of his concerns and no action was taken.
A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police confirmed they are investigating allegations against Cyril Smith at the school.
Mr Marshall alleged he was physically abused by three other members of staff.
Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, said: “This shows that because the CPS failed to prosecute Smith in 1970s he was emboldened to carry on abusing young boys for many years thinking he was untouchable.
“Young people’s lives were shattered and it could have been stopped if the CPS had prosecuted Smith, as police had recommended.”
Files reveal the full horror of sexual abuse at Knowl View school
2 Dec 2012 15:41Files reveal that at least a quarter of Knowl View special school’s 48 pupils had been victims of horrific sexual abuse – including boys as young as eight. The children were said to have been put at risk of Aids through prostitution and liaisons with well-known sex offenders.
Files reveal that at least a quarter of Knowl View special school’s 48 pupils had been victims of horrific sexual abuse – including boys as young as eight.
The children were said to have been put at risk of Aids through prostitution and liaisons with well-known sex offenders.
The files did not specifically name Sir Cyril Smith.
But whistleblower and former head of care at Knowl View, Martin Digan, said that he feared the political giant was among those abusing boys at the home and he verbally reported his suspicions to the police and council.
This week former pupil Chris Marshall told how he was sexually abused by Smith when he was just seven or eight years old after being summoned from his bed in the dead of night.
Mr Digan became head of care at Knowl View – where Cyril Smith was chairman of governors – in its final year.
On his arrival he was given access to a dossier of abuse suffered by vulnerable young boys at the school, which he told the Observer on November 17 was a ‘sweet shop for paedophiles’, and he immediately called for Knowl View to be closed down.
He said he was sickened to read files revealing that young boys were being transported into Manchester to meet men who would pay to have sex with them.
And he said a known paedophile had been allowed into the residential school at night to abuse the children.
Mr Digan handed the dossier to police and the council’s head of education Diana Cavanagh in 1994 and the school was earmarked for closure.
He told us: “There was only one reason for Cyril Smith to be on that governing body.
“He knew their vulnerability and saw an access to young boys.
“What I was successful in doing was making sure it didn’t go to LMSS (Local Management of Special Schools). And I sacrificed my career for this.”
Mr Digan says the unmasking of Cyril Smith as a predatory paedophile has come ’18 years too late.’
Shortly after the closure of the home, which had been widely believed to have been brought about by a fire, Mr Digan was made redundant by the council.
He decided to leave Rochdale because of intimidation from people angry about the closure of the special school.
He added: “When it closed I even had neighbours who would ridicule me – people who thought it was all just a pack of lies – and strangers would come up to me and make comments.
“It is sad that children who said they were sexually abused haven’t been believed. This is 18 years too late for these children. And there will be parents who don’t even know that their children have been abused.”
Mr Digan says he is aware of at least one former pupil who went on to take his own life because of the abuse he suffered at Knowl View, while others went on to commit violent crime. He said: “I raised the alarm as soon as I had time to digest what was in those files.
“When I was appointed head of care at Knowl View I was given access to the files and I acted on it.
“The place was in disarray and in the death throes and the writing was on the wall that it had to close.
“And it was thanks to the support of my doctor Dr Nick Dawes that I was strong enough to bring this forward.
“He signed me off sick immediately with stress because I couldn’t go back there. As soon as I digested what was in the files I went to the police.”
Mr Digan said he had also been alarmed to learn that Smith was pushing for the school to be placed under a policy called Local Management of Special Schools, which would pass him full control of Knowl View from the council.
Boys in special school were at risk of Aids
Alarm over sexual activities at a Rochdale council home has taken years to emerge. Louise Jury reports
Sunday 10 September 1995
THEY were boys aged eight to 16 with learning difficulties, and what they needed from Knowl View special school in Rochdale was care. What they got, according to Phil Shepherd, a council HIV-prevention officer, was the risk of Aids.
Mr Shepherd was horrified by the situation he discovered when he made a sex-education day visit to the residential school in March 1991. In a report he made within a week to the town’s director of education, Mrs Diana Cavanagh, he set out a picture grimmer than anything Dickens imagined for Dotheboys Hall.
He wrote: “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 is thought to have been involved. The police are aware of the problem. What action has been taken is not known.
“One rent boy has been removed from the school. The suggestion that he may return soon has angered the staff.
“Some boys have been ‘forced’ to have sex with others.”
Mr Shepherd was a member of the Rochdale Health Authority Aids unit. “We are committed to preventing the spread of HIV,” he wrote. “The boys in this school look to us to be increasingly at risk.”
He added: “Most people, not least parents of children at the school, would be horrified were these facts to be made known.”
They were not. Mrs Cavanagh assured him the problem was being addressed “through concerted professional action”. She asked him to circulate his report no further, and “not to undertake any independent action”.
The Aids team was not asked back in. Mr Shepherd’s report has remained unpublicised, and it is only now that parents of the boys in Knowl View are becoming aware of the risk their children ran and what they may have gone through.
The full story of Knowl View, which opened in 1969 and closed nine months ago, has never been made public, but is clearly visible in confidential council documents seen by the Independent on Sunday.
In essence, boys as young as eight were put at risk of Aids through prostitution and liaisons with known sex offenders, after a disintegration of control over several years.
Concerns about the sexual behaviour of the boys were first passed to the council as far back as 1988 by Dr Alison Frazer, a child psychiatrist at Rochdale’s Birch Hill Hospital, yet it was three years later that Mr Shepherd issued his dire warning about the Aids dangers facing them, and another year before the council received recommendations on restoring management control after its own inquiry.
That report, by Valerie Mellor, a consultant clinical psychologist, came in February 1992. In it, Mrs Mellor said there was no doubt up to a quarter of the pupils at the 48-place school had been involved in serious sexual incidents and the activity had continued “over a very long period of time …. It is very difficult to believe that this behaviour had not come to the attention of at least some members of staff.”
Although her report suggested that sexual activity was at an end, five months later a pupil and a former pupil, both 14, were cautioned by police for soliciting in the town’s Smith Street lavatories.
At the height of the affair, a known sex offender gained overnight access to the school and allegedly plied pupils with cider and cannabis cigarettes before sexually assaulting them. Official details are scant.
In her 1992 report Valerie Mellor said only: “In September 1990, an incident occurred involving an adult male intruder at the school. That intruder had sexual contact with one or more of the boys on school premises.”
But one boy (see case on right) says he was raped and that at least one other boy in his house was forced to have oral sex with the intruder. He claims their cries for help went unanswered because the member of staff on “sleeping-in” duty was not there. The offender returned the next night, but that time was beaten off.
The alleged rape victim says he was never interviewed by the police. The teenager was awarded a legal-aid certificate last week to sue for damages, and on Friday Mark Walker, of solicitors Molesworths, who are representing him, applied to the council for the release of files. Mr Walker said there were serious questions about the way Rochdale handled the incident. “We are concerned that not enough was done afterwards to help our client.”
John Pierce, Rochdale council’s chief executive, said police had reviewed the case again recently and found nothing requiring further action.
He added: “The police have also stated quite clearly that they do not believe there is any substance in allegations of a ‘cover-up’ relating to incidents at the school and that all the issues involved were discussed and investigated at the time by a number of agencies and the necessary action taken then.”
The authority was already taking action before Mr Shepherd’s report, Mr Pierce said.
“Both social services and the police had become involved in dealing with issues related to inappropriate sexual activities involving Knowl View pupils and adults unconnected with the school,” he said. “Arrangements appropriate to each boy’s circumstances were made in relation to counselling and health advice.”
Mr Pierce said that staff had received sex-education training and advice on how to warn pupils of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases.
But one care worker at the school said: “I would never work for this authority again. It is appalling that those people who were in charge still have jurisdiction over so many children’s lives.”
Martin Digan, 36, another former care worker, said: “I believe there has been a cover-up. Only a public inquiry can place responsibility where it should be placed.”
Parents are also dissatisfied. One 41-year-old mother believes the deterioration in her son’s behaviour was a direct result of the sexual activity he became involved in at the lavatories in Rochdale’s Smith Street – and of a vicious school environment in which, she says, on one occasion he was hit with a cricket bat.
Another mother, whose son is now in jail for causing grievous bodily harm, was informed of what happened at the school only six weeks ago by one of the other parents.
“I should have been told,” she said. “They’re pretty disgusting, aren’t they? All of the reviews I’ve sat at and none of this ever came out.”
Neither were staff and parents alone in their surprise. Bill Hopkins, who became a lay member of the governing body in late 1990, looked shocked when told last week about the prostitution. “I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know if any of the other governors did. As far as I understood it, the problem was [the known sex offender],” he said.
“It seems to me that everybody at the time was contemplating their navel,” one adviser said.
“All the reports were on how the system failed and there was only a one- line reference in all the documents to the fact that the children might need some help. Rochdale let those kids down.”
CHRIS (not his real name) can only now bring himself to admit what happened to him at Knowl View School. The memory leaves him furious.
He claims that when he was 14 he was raped by a known sex offender who gained access to the school one night and plied him with alcohol and cannabis.
He says: “I was hysterical. I couldn’t do anything. It was physical force. He threw me against the wall, threw me around the room.
“I was shocked and scared. He threatened to kill me if I told anybody.” Afterwards, he says, he lay in his bed terrified, hearing other pupils screaming.
Nobody came to help. He says the duty member of staff was not in his room.
Though Chris was later questioned by the school, he says he was never interviewed by the police.
Eventually he decided that nothing was being done – and began lashing out. He threw another pupil through a window. Once he was locked up in his bedroom for a week.
“I got to the stage where I was going to run off and find help elsewhere,” he said.
Then he decided that he had to learn to live with the experience. But that is difficult.
“If I saw [the intruder] now I’d kill him. I’ve been close to suicide and I’m extremely lucky I haven’t gone to prison.
“There were six in my dorm and two are in prison. One is serving ten- and-a half years for rape. The other shot a boy in the eye and blinded him.”
Chris was sent to Knowl View at the age of 12 because he had been disruptive at his previous school, but he believes he was too bright for the special school. He describes the lessons there as “a joke”.
He has no job and feels Knowl View deprived him of a chance in life.
“Before I went there I had a life. I don’t have one now. Sometimes I want to go to the Black Box [council offices] and just blow the whole lot of them,” he says.
“I was in care. That place was supposed to be full of qualified people to look after me and I don’t think they did. So they deserve to pay, don’t they?”