Manchester

Knowl View: Rochdale council leader 'not aware' of abuse

Richard Farnell
Image caption Mr Farnell said the report "was not brought to the attention of elected officials"

Rochdale Council's leader has denied being made aware of sexual abuse at a school for vulnerable boys in the town.

On Tuesday, health professional Phil Shepherd, who alerted authorities about suspected abuse at Knowl View School in the early 1990s, said he was shocked his report had not been acted on.

Richard Farnell, who was also leader at the time, said it "was not brought to the attention of elected officials".

Council and police investigations into the abuse allegations are continuing.

Mr Farnell, who led the council in the late 80s and early 90s, was reinstalled as leader at a Labour group meeting on Monday evening.

Responding to the claims made by Mr Shepherd that his report from the 1990s had been "suppressed", the council leader said: "I can categorically say, that at no time when I was leader , was I given sight of any documents, letters or reports concerning these allegations."

"As far as I can ascertain, it was a professional standards issue that was dealt with by council officers and was not brought to the attention of elected officials."

Mr Shepherd visited the Knowl View School in Rochdale in 1991 and is to give evidence to the independent inquiry set up by the council.

He said he was told boys as young as eight were working as prostitutes while others had been "forced" to have sex.

'Hillsborough-type inquiry'

The independent inquiry is investigating whether Rochdale Council could have done more and is being run separately to a police investigation, which began in April, into allegations of abuse and a possible cover-up at the school.

Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk said he "had concerns" about the council inquiry.

He added that he and other MPs, including Tom Watson and Zac Goldsmith, had written to Home Secretary Theresa May on Tuesday asking for a "larger overarching inquiry similar to what went on in relation to Hillsborough".

Image caption Mr Danczuk said council officers "clearly knew about" abuse at the school

"We know that people knew about these crimes and as far as we can tell, did nothing about it," he said.

"Council officers clearly knew about it, Greater Manchester Police were made aware of this report, there were politicians that were made aware of what had been going on [but] did nothing."

Asked about documents seen by the BBC detailing abuse allegations at the school, Ch Supt Russ Jackson of Greater Manchester Police said they would now "be treated very differently and prompt a very different response".

Solicitor Alan Collins, who represents two Knowl View victims, said he hoped "the full story emerges and the truth is fully understood".

"One way or the other, this report fell under the radar and we need to know whether this was deliberate, inadvertent or is there some other explanation?"

He added that the victims "want those who were in positions of authority to say they accept that this has happened, this is why it happened and this is where the system let you down".

The independent inquiry into the role of Rochdale Council is due to report at the end of July.

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