Cumbria detectives examine allegations of physical and sexual abuse at Underley Hall
By Tim Wood and Nick Fielding | 12 August 2014
Police in Cumbria are known to be investigating physical and sexual abuse of boys at Underley Hall special school, dating back to the 1970’s. But Exaro can reveal that Smith opened the residential school in Kirby Lonsdale in the Lake District in 1976, and it is understood that the politician regularly stayed the night there.
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has been looking into allegations of child sex abuse at Knowl View special school in Rochdale, triggered after Exaro’s disclosure that it was dropping an investigation into Smith specifically. Smith was a governor at Knowl View.
Cumbria Constabulary is investigating what took place at Underley Hall under ‘Operation Tweed’, which is looking into abuse allegations at residential schools in the area.
Underley Hall had strong links with Knowl View, well-informed sources revealed.
Although 80 miles apart, they had a common bond as residential schools for boys with behavioural problems.
At least two members of Knowl View went to work at Underley Hall. The schools regularly competed against each other at sports, and conducted outdoor pursuits together.
Martin Digan, who tried to blow the whistle at Knowl View while working there as a care worker, told Exaro: “I am aware that Cyril Smith stayed over at Underley Hall School on many, many occasions. You have to ask yourself, why?
“He also opened the school, and I believe that he was photographed standing outside the school gates during the opening ceremony. He went there dozens of times.”
“The schools would regularly compete against each other at football and athletics. We would also conduct outdoor pursuits together, such as camping, canoeing and cross-country running.”
“Some teachers worked at both schools.”
Joseph Ryan, a pupil at Underley Hall between 1980 and 1986, has given a witness statement to Cumbria police. He told Exaro: “The regime at the school was brutal. I was regularly physically abused.
“I know of at least 20 pupils during my time there who were either physically or sexually abused at the school.”
“Punishment often involved being stripped of all our clothes – even in winter. It was distressing and weird. I was once forced to wear only a towel for six weeks.
“I have been left emotionally scarred by what happened to me there. I was just 11 when I first attended the school. We often used to play Knowl View at sports, and I remember going camping with pupils and teachers from that school.”
“I do welcome the police investigation because questions need answering.”
In 1997, John Wadlow, an outdoor-pursuits teacher, gassed himself in his car after appearing in court accused of several sex charges against pupils at Underley Hall. He “totally denied” the charges in his suicide note, his inquest heard.
A few months later, another inquest heard that a pupil who returned to the school to work as a gardener committed suicide by setting his car on fire. His inquest heard that police had interviewed him as both a victim and alleged perpetrator.
Another ex-pupil, Martin Dye, who was due to give evidence in court against Wadlow, told Exaro: “I was seriously sexually abused by that man. This inquiry is something that is well overdue.”
“The teachers were extremely pleased when they found out that Wadlow had committed suicide. I was told that one actually punched the air in joy.
“They knew then that it would all be swept under the carpet. There would be no big day in court, and the school would keep its clean name.”
Teachers moved between Knowl View and Underley Hall, he added. A pupil from the former also transferred to the latter when it opened.
Underley Hall school was situated in a large country house, and the picture of the building dates from 1879. The school closed in 2012 after inspectors found it to be “inadequate”.
It has no links to Underley Garden school, also in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria.
Last month, Exaro reported on winning a year-long battle to force the Crown Prosecution Service to disclose a damning police report on Smith from when he was a candidate to become Rochdale’s MP in 1970.
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