Knowl View: Report into abuse at Rochdale school ‘suppressed’
A health professional who reported widespread child abuse at a school for vulnerable boys has told the BBC he believes his report was “suppressed”.
Phil Shepherd visited the Knowl View School in Rochdale in 1991 and is to give evidence to an independent inquiry set up by the council.
He says he was told boys as young as eight were working as prostitutes while others had been “forced” to have sex.
Rochdale Council says it cannot comment ahead of the inquiry.
In April, police began a fresh investigation into allegations of abuse and a possible cover-up at Knowl View. The separate independent inquiry is investigating whether Rochdale Council could have done more.
Mr Shepherd, who attended Knowl View to offer sex education training for staff, told the BBC what he was told by the teachers was a “bombshell”.
“I wrote a report. I imagined it blowing up anytime soon. The fact that it didn’t has always amazed me,” he said.
The BBC has obtained a copy of Mr Shepherd’s original report from 1991.
In it, he wrote: “…parents of children at the school would be horrified were the facts to be known.
“Unless some incisive action is taken soon it is more than likely that this activity will become a public scandal”.
Knowl View School opened in 1969 and closed in the mid-1990s.
It was a residential school for vulnerable boys. At various points Cyril Smith, the late MP for Rochdale who has been accused of abusing boys, was a governor.
Mr Shepherd says he will use the opportunity of giving evidence to the council inquiry to say his report was ignored, and believes a cover-up is the only explanation.
“To be honest with you, I can’t see any other reason that it hasn’t come out and it wasn’t dealt with effectively at the time,” he said.
The BBC has seen documents that seem to show his report was passed onto other departments within the council, and to the police.
A council investigation was requested a month after Mr Shepherd’s report. Despite it detailing abuse and prostitution, an investigation was ruled out six weeks later.
Mr Shepherd believes not enough was done to help the children.
“I still find it hard to believe. I’m looking for an alternative to cover-up. It could’ve been repressed, it could’ve been hidden, it could have been locked away. I just don’t understand.”
It is 23 years since Mr Shepherd visited the school.
Asked whether he thought he should have done more at the time, he said: “I’ve looked back and thought about it often – certainly more recently – and thought I possibly should’ve done more. I’m not sure what it would’ve been.”
‘Complete cover-up’ Two other reports were written about Knowl View in the early 1990s. They were commissioned by Rochdale Council and, like Mr Shepherd’s report, detailed the abuse of boys.
Other documents suggest changes were being planned but some at the school say not enough was done.
Martin Digan was a teacher at Knowl View.
He believes all three reports were ignored; that parents were never told what had happened to their boys.
“It’s a complete cover-up by Rochdale Council. Not one parent has seen a report; not one of the children has seen a report.”
He too will give evidence to the independent council inquiry. He says he hopes the children will get the justice they have been denied.
‘I feel very strongly. By no means have they had any justice yet.’
A number of boys who were at Knowl View are taking legal action.
Solicitor Alan Collins, from Slater & Gordon, is representing two of them. He says Mr Shepherd’s belief his report was covered up is important.
“It is very significant if Mr Shepherd is of the opinion that his report was covered up. There he was, at the heart of an investigation and here we are in 2014 with him saying he believes that there was a cover-up.”
Mr Collins added: “All the evidence so far points to that report remaining under the radar, and with it, the legitimate question can be asked: Was there a cover-up?”
Detectives investigating the allegations of abuse at Knowl View said last month that they had identified 21 suspects, including Smith. Ten people have said they were abused.
The independent inquiry into the role of Rochdale Council is due to report at the end of July.