Grooming: Buckley Hall prison in Rochdale
By Mark Watts
Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith’s councillor boyfriend preyed on young male inmates of a jail in Rochdale, a previously confidential police report reveals.
Harry Wild, who was a Conservative councillor in Rochdale and chairman of the council’s social services committee, is suspected to have shared with Smith a sexual interest in under-age boys.
Greater Manchester Police investigated Wild in 2000 over allegations that he, while a member of the board of visitors at Buckley Hall prison in Rochdale, attempted to groom young male inmates and indecently assaulted at least one of them.
A confidential 17-page report on the investigation, codenamed ‘Operation European’, described its findings as “somewhat disturbing”.
Prison staff told detectives that Wild used his position on the board of visitors, which acted as a watchdog for the prison, “to further his own sexual gratification”.
The report says: “The prison staff who have been interviewed at Buckley Hall have expressed concern about Wild and his unhealthy interest in young males and what they describe as ‘grooming’ of certain individual inmates.”
The national inquiry into child sexual abuse heard last month that Wild was also suspected of indecently assaulting a pupil at Knowl View special school in Rochdale. The inquiry’s “Rochdale” investigation was also told at hearings in October that Wild was Smith’s boyfriend.
Smith, who was Rochdale’s MP, and Wild were both governors of Knowl View, where child sexual abuse was rife.
A barrister to the inquiry referred to the Operation European report, but it was not made public. I asked for the report, and the inquiry has released the document.
It comes amid growing concerns about the scale of sexual and physical abuse of inmates at youth offender institutions and prisons.
On Tuesday, Durham Police announced that seven former members of staff at Medomsley detention centre near Consett have been charged in relation to allegations of abuse of young men there. More than 1,480 men have come forward to the police investigation, ‘Operation Seabrook’, with allegations of sexual or physical assaults at Medomsley.
GMP launched Operation European in 2000 because Wild had become a trustee of the Rochdale and District Youth Fitness Foundation, which claimed to promote physical education for people in the town aged 11 to 23.
Wild was then aged 66 and living in Rochdale with his mother. The police became aware of his role in the group because Wild wrote to the chief constable three months after it was founded to seek active support for it from the police.
Detectives wanted to establish whether he was a “fit and proper person to be involved with young people”.
Wild was 6’5 tall, an imposing figure who liked to dress in a Crombie coat down to his ankles and to wear black polished boots. He pretended to have been an army officer in the Household Cavalry, and inmates called him “the colonel”.
However, detectives found that he was never an officer, but joined the army under national service in 1951 and transferred to the Household Cavalry.
The report is marked, “IN STRICTEST CONFIDENCE”. It records the fact that he had long been a “big friend” of Smith. It adds that Smith was believed to have sponsored Wild for an MBE, which he was awarded for “services to the community”.
An official from the secretariat for the Home Office boards of visitors was to interview Wild about the allegations in 1997. But the interview did not go ahead after Wild resigned from the board of visitors.
Operation European investigated Wild’s activities at the prison as well as his background.
The report on the operation was sent to the GMP’s then chief constable, but said that there was insufficient evidence to charge him. Wild died the following year in 2001.
The report describes how Wild is alleged to have groomed young male inmates, for example, buying tobacco and chocolate for them, giving money to them, helping them secure parole, and picking them up on their release and taking them for meals.
It referred to one prisoner who was at Buckley Hall from 1996, saying:
“WILD took a personal interest in him. He brought in to him tobacco and chocolate and sent in, anonymously, presents of money, clothing and an electronic spell checker. [Name redacted] realised that WILD was homosexual and was attempting to groom him, but he decided to take advantage of the situation.”
After the prisoner was released in 1998, says the report:
“WILD picked him up on his release and took him for a meal. When WILD dropped him off in Burnley later the same day [name redacted] made it clear that there would be no relationship and he has not seen or heard of WILD since.”
The report then turns to the case of another prisoner, saying:
“WILD took an unhealthy interest in him and on one occasion grabbed his backside, an incident which was investigated by the prison authorities. [Name redacted] did not then, nor does he wish to now, make any formal complaint, although he has provided a statement for information purposes. On one occasion WILD asked him if he could take him for a meal on his release. [Name redacted] realised that WILD was homosexual and did his best to avoid him. There has been no contact since his release.”
The prison governor, Walter MacGowan, told officers that Wild was full of his own self-importance and a predatory homosexual:
“He described WILD as an overbearing bully who was arrogant and full of self important [sic] and through his dealings with him formed the opinion that he was a ‘predatory’ homosexual. He was extremely concerned about WILD’S excessive visits and as soon as the [name redacted] incident became known he ordered a full enquiry.”
Other staff described Wild as pompous, saying that he would boast of being well connected in political and social circles. He claimed to be a good friend of the then home secretary, Michael (later Lord) Howard.
The report sets out what several other staff told officers:
“Mary LOWERY was the Residential Manager for Alpha and Bravo units at Buckley Hall Prison. She too was concerned at WILD’s over familiarity with prisoners and recalls him telling her that he was making arrangements for a third party to give items of clothing to a prisoner upon release. She told him that this was totally inappropriate. WILD also asked her to watch over the previously mentioned prisoner, [name redacted] because he was concerned that older prisoners found him ‘attractive’. She describes WILD as having a tendency to be pompous with a ‘large’ presence and one who liked to make it known that he was well connected in political and social circles.”
“John McLAUGHLIN is a prison officer who was Visits and Segregation Supervisor at Buckley Hall Prison. He recalls WILD as a man who presented himself as a powerful figure both in and out of prison. The prisoners began to refer to WILD as the Colonel which he played upon. McLAUGHLIN was also concerned about the amount of attention WILD gave to the younger, fresh-faced prisoners, not appearing to take any interest in the older prisoners. McLAUGHLIN was aware of the [name redacted] incident and also knew of a letter which WILD had written to the Parole Board in support of an application made by [name redacted]. This was most unusual and not within the remit of a Board of Visitors Member.
“McLAUGHLIN recalls the previously mentioned [name redacted] and another prisoner by the name of [name redacted] as being two inmates in whom WILD has a particular interest. McLAUGHLIN described [name redacted] as different from the majority of prisoners, being of good family background and very sensitive. He recalls one occasion when [name redacted]’s parents came to visit and how WILD had hovered round [name redacted] for the whole two hours.
“He also recalls another prisoner, [name redacted (1)]… who also took a strong interest in [name redacted (2)]. [Name redacted (1)] was well versed in prison life and was serving a long sentence for violence. McLAUGHLIN believed that [name redacted (1)] was using [name redacted (2)] for his own personal gratification. Interestingly, WILD requested that [name redacted (1)] be moved from Buckley Hall, albeit that the transfer and movement of prisoners was not the concern of a Board of Visitors member. McLAUGHLIN felt that WILD saw [name redacted (1)] as direct opposition and an obstacle between himself and [name redacted (2)]. He too described WILD as a predatory homosexual who used the position as a Board of Visitors member to further his own sexual gratification.”
“Gary WALSH is a Security Manager at Buckley Hall and was informed by [name redacted] that WILD had put a letter in his parole file supporting his application. WALSH found this to be most unusual as never before had he heard of a Board of Visitors member doing so.”
“Thomas FOLEY, a prison officer… was involved with his colleague, WALSH, in interviewing [name redacted] with regards to the incident when WILD grabbed his backside. [Name redacted] also told FOLEY on the day of his release that WILD had asked him for his telephone number so that he could contact him later and take him for a drink or a meal.”
“Irene Veronica BIRD, was a Prison Controller at the Prison and now works as a Governor at a prison in Gloucestershire. She too had grave concerns with regards to WILD’s excessive visits and improper conduct towards prisoners. WILD told her that he was a computer expert and often travelled abroad. Interestingly WILD used her as a reference, and without her knowledge, when he reapplied to become a Board of Visitors member at six other prisons in the North West in 1998, an application which was immediately withdrawn when he was reminded of the allegations at Buckley Hall.”
“Trevor KAY is employed as a Probation Officer at Buckley Hall and had concerns regarding WILD when WILD submitted a letter supporting the parole application made by [name redacted]. It was unheard of for a Board of Visitors member to write such a letter and he had further concerns when WILD offered to make housing arrangements for a prisoner on his release. KAY was also involved in interviewing [name redacted] regarding allegations. [Name redacted] told him that WILD had made comments about him looking nice in shorts and had also asked him for his phone number so that he could take him for a meal and a drink upon his release.”
“Sandra KNIGHT, a Parole Clerk at the Prison, told WILD that his submission of a letter supporting the parole of a prisoner was inappropriate and irrelevant.”
“Janice WALTON was a Prison Officer at Buckley Hall and had met WILD previously whilst working as a store detective at Tesco’s, Rochdale. Although she didn’t know him by name at that time she remembers him always seeking the assistance of young trolley boys to help him with his shopping. One in particular, who she knew to be called [name redacted] had told her that WILD had said he would help him out when needed. WALTON was aware of the allegations made against WILD at Buckley Hall and on one occasion had put his arm around a prisoner called [name redacted] and had apparently spoken to him in a suggestive manner.”
“John Henry CLEMENTS was Chairman of the Board of Visitors at Buckley Hall at the time. He was concerned about the excessive number of visits WILD was making and that he was too familiar with prisoners with some of them calling him ‘Harry’. On another occasion he referred to an unknown prisoner as ‘a dear boy’. CLEMENTS was responsible for initially telling WILD about the allegations being made against him and showing him a letter outlining matters. WILD, having read the letter, replied ‘TOTAL AND UTTER RUBBISH AND UTTER NONSENSE.’ WILD then further stated, ‘IF THAT’S THE CASE, I AM RESIGNING’.
“Alan CROSSLAND is the Residential Manager at Buckley Hall Prison and he was aware of the allegations against WILD. He recalls bumping into WILD on Leeds Railway Station in 1997 and seeing him talking intensely to a young man who was introduced as WILD’s son (false). CROSSLAND was so concerned about matters that he submitted an internal intelligence memorandum regarding this event. The young man on the railway station has never been traced.”
“John LYNCH was Deputy Controller of Buckley Hall at the time and describes WILD as a pompous man who liked to name drop. He even stated that he was a good friend of Michael HOWARD, the then Home Secretary.
“Ian LOCKWOOD is HMP Area Manager for the North West Area, Prison Governors Manager and directly answerable to the Minister for Prisons and the Home Secretary. WILD told him that he was an agent for the Home Secretary. It was LOCKWOOD who instructed Walter MacGOWAN to carry out an investigation into the allegations against WILD.”
Detectives also asked Lyndon Price, then Rochdale’s director of social services, about Wild. The report says:
“PRICE describes WILD as ‘pompous’ and ‘overbearing’, he was bright and well connected to Cyril SMITH. He showed great interest in youth work with particular regards to young boys. WILD in his position had free access to, and would visit, children’s homes. Though PRICE had no evidence that he had acted in an improper manner towards children, he felt uneasy with regards to his interest and motives for involvement with children’s services. PRICE would follow up any visits by WILD. Around 1971 WILD told PRICE that he was being posted to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by ICI to set up a fertiliser company. He disappeared, returning around the early 1980’s… In 1991, WILD became a member of Knowl View Governors having been co-opted by Cyril SMITH. Around 1995 WILD was elected to the Committee of Age Concern, Rochdale, and the following year became Chairman. In 1995 Cyril SMITH wrote to PRICE asking him to provide a written reference to support WILD’s nomination for the MBE. PRICE confirmed his previous work, and the following year WILD received his MBE. PRICE stated that WILD always sought positions that gave his [sic] respectability and that Cyril SMITH always promoted WILD’s rapid rise within any committee he sought to join.”
On Sylvia Kelly, who then ran Age Concern in Rochdale, the report says:
“Sylvia KELLY, when Chief Executive of Age Concern, Rochdale, was approached by Cyril SMITH with a request that she find suitable voluntary work for WILD within the organisation. She initially found WILD charming and was told by him that he had been proposed to be a Prison Visitor by Michael HOWARD, the then Home Secretary. He also told her that SMITH had told him to get a ‘gong’ by getting involved in a charitable organisation such as ‘Age Concern’. Once WILD became a committee member his attitude changed and he made it clear that he wanted people out of the organisation. WILD quickly introduced an associate of his… to the organisation… WILD made life very, very difficult for KELLY and she resigned about the same time as WILD got his MBE. WILD himself resigned shortly after getting the award.
“When being interviewed, Mrs KELLY intimated that she suspected that WILD had used Age Concern money to pay for a legal bill which she thought he had incurred and that an invoice had been sent to his home address by a firm of solicitors in Manchester, and that this somehow had been put through Age Concern’s accounts. This prompted further enquiries into the affairs of Age Concern in order to establish if a fraud had been committed.”
“No documentation or evidence was found to suggest that WILD had committed fraud whilst at Age Concern, Rochdale.”
The inquiry plans to publish a report on its “Rochdale” investigation by next April.
Last week, I revealed notes recorded by the coroner for the inquest of Carole Kasir, who ran the notorious paedophile brothel, Elm Guest House, which showed that he was blocked from asking “incriminating” questions of her former boyfriend.
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