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Knowl View files: staff, governors and authorities failed boys

Rochdale’s education chief compiled damning report on ‘dereliction of duty’ at school

By Nick Fielding | 11 September 2013

Members of the teaching staff at Knowl View were accused of a “dereliction of duty” in a report by Rochdale’s education chief.

Diana Cavanagh, director of education at Rochdale metropolitan borough council, wrote the paper, which is part of a confidential cache of official documents that detail abuse of boys at Knowl View school.

It came in response to members of school staff who wrote a joint letter in April 1992 demanding a “full and immediate inquiry” into Knowl View. Cyril Smith, former Liberal MP, was a governor there for 34 of the 36 years that it was open.

The letter made clear, in light of a damning report on Knowl View in February 1992 by a consultant clinical psychologist, Valerie Mellor, staff members’ “total unease” about “various incidents” that had been “left unresolved”.

“Boys were also conscious of a considerable level of sexual activity among some staff on the Knowl View premises”
– Diana Cavanagh, director of education, Rochdale council, writing in a report

Cavanagh wrote: “The responsibilities of teaching staff in a residential special school cannot begin and end with the teaching day.”

“Statements from staff reflect a lack of commitment to a whole-school approach,” adding, “This response approaches dereliction of duty.”

“The culture of many lessons and activities has been described as ‘macho’. Sometimes this spilled over into violence and aggression, including a physical assault by one teacher on a pupil.

“It can be assumed that this culture reinforced and supported the bullying tactics of some pupils towards other pupils. Coercion and bullying were a feature of some of the sexual activities in [one] unit.”

The report also strongly criticised care staff. It said that boys aged 11 to 13 at one unit of the school “were involved in homosexual activities at the Smith Street toilets”, adding, “Those supervising the boys in the evenings appeared either not to notice that they were missing, or not to communicate their observations.”

The report made similar comments about care staff who were responsible for boys aged 15 to 17 at another unit, where a nearby resident, Rodney Hilton, was let into the school building by boys and carried out sexual abuse. Hilton was convicted in 1991.

“Information about homosexual activity at the Smith Street toilets between boys (some from Knowl View) and adult males was known to police and social services.”

“There is no record of this information being passed on to the education service – either the education psychological service, the school or the department.”

There were several factors that led to the failure of staff to report on disturbing incidents, she wrote. For example, she said: “Staff on duty were engaged in activities that made it unlikely that they would be alert to what was happening in the dormitories. It has been stated that some of these on-site activities were sexual.”

She added: “Boys were also conscious of a considerable level of sexual activity among some staff on the Knowl View premises, and this may have inhibited proper discussions between staff and boys.”

“The governors did not monitor the situation, or were fobbed off with little real information.”

She concluded: “There was a catastrophic failure of leadership at the school, which allowed poor practice and irresponsible behaviour to flourish under the guise of different philosophies.”

“There was a general refusal by staff to take ownership for the well-being of the whole institution, and to develop whole-school policies for curriculum and care.”

However, she wrote: “There is insufficient evidence to prove culpable neglect, fraud or incompetence by any single member of staff.”

She condemned her own department and other agencies for their failings over Knowl View, saying: “There was a calamitous failure by outside agencies and the [local education authority] to communicate all appropriate information to the head.”

Since May 1991, she said, “determined efforts” were being made to turn the school round.

But, by 1995, within three years of Cavanagh’s report, the school was closed.

Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, Smith’s former constituency, told Exaro: “The full story about Knowl View has to be told. This is a shocking chapter in Rochdale’s history, which saw a generation of young boys’ lives destroyed.

“As upsetting as it is, it is important that their stories are heard, and doubly important that the public is given assurances that none of the staff that oversaw this terrible abuse is still caring for children.”

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Exaro News investigates matters of public interest and seeks to uncover the truth.