Exaro News Archive

Revealed: Cyril Smith hoped to help take direct control of school

Official papers outline plan to take troubled Knowl View out of local council’s oversight

By Nick Fielding | 7 November 2013

“Over the last four years at least, there has been a catalogue of incidents at Knowl View” – Diana Cavanagh, director of education, Rochdale council, writing in a report

Former Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith was part of a group that planned to take control of a special school instead of the local authority.

A confidential cache of official documents detailed a shocking catalogue of child abuse at Knowl View special school in Rochdale in the years leading up to the bid for direct control.

And the evidence is that Smith, the late MP for Rochdale, was among the perpetrators.

Martin Digan, a care worker at Knowl View, tried to blow the whistle about the abuse. He had just become acting head of care at the residential school for boys with learning difficulties and behavioural problems.

He told Exaro: “It was Smith who was pushing for the school to be controlled by its governors – outside of the local council’s control.”

“It would have become nothing short of a sweetshop for paedophiles.”

Digan often complained, he said, that Smith kept using his own set of keys to access the school.

Diana Cavanagh, Rochdale metropolitan borough council’s then director of education, said in a confidential report that the governors were incapable of taking direct control of the school. She suggested that Knowl View be closed temporarily.

Two years earlier, she had written a report that accused teaching staff of a “dereliction of duty”, with boys aware of “a considerable level of sexual activity” among those supposedly looking after them.

It was among confidential documents dating from 1991 and 1992 – unearthed by Exaro last month – that detail widespread sexual and physical abuse of boys at Knowl View special school since it opened in 1969.

For many years, Smith was a governor there. As a councillor and chairman of Rochdale’s education committee, he also helped to found the school. He was a governor until a bout of ill health led to his resignation in 1992.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP), which has covered Rochdale since a reorganisation in 1974, acknowledged last November that the MP was a paedophile. He died in 2010.

Smith returned as a governor at Knowl View in 1994. The appointment is recorded in the minutes of a governors’ meeting in July of that year.

The same meeting “resolved”, according to the minutes, “that governors request Local Management of Special Schools with effect from April 1, 1995.”

Rochdale’s director of education was worried about the proposal. Cavanagh wrote in a report: “The governors hope to take on delegated powers from April 1995.” However, she warned, the school lacked “management expertise”.

Cavanagh continued: “The governing body has had a number of vacancies, which means that most of the decisions have fallen to a very small number of governors. If this continues, it will not provide sufficient support for the management challenges of LMSS.”

The school’s head teacher had resigned, she said, and an attempt to find a replacement had failed. Knowl View would not have a head teacher in time for the autumn term. The deputy head teacher had also resigned, and there was no permanent replacement.

The school had “re-established itself as a caring environment” since the problems identified two years before, she wrote.

“The improvements made by the school senior management team are not yet so secure, however, that I would have confidence in this situation not recurring.

“Over the last four years at least, there has been a catalogue of incidents at Knowl View.”

“If such incidents were to occur during the autumn or spring terms, there would be nobody at the school empowered or qualified to deal with them in the appropriate fashion.”

She concluded by recommending “temporary closure”.

Knowl View closed that Christmas, shortly after Digan went to police with his concerns. Soon after, much of the school was destroyed by fire.

GMP promised to investigate Smith posthumously after the Crown Prosecution Service admitted in November 2012 that past decisions against prosecuting the MP would not be made today on the same evidence.

Exaro revealed in May that GMP was dropping the investigation into Cyril Smith. That disclosure prompted GMP to announce an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at Knowl View, although none is against Smith specifically.

In July, Exaro revealed a document that showed how Smith made a robust denial in 1970 to detectives that he sexually abused boys.

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By Exaro News

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