Over a month ago, in early September when the issue of child abuse at Knowl View home in Rochdale started to hit the news again because of its inclusion in the public inquiry into child sexual abuse, whistleblowers contacted the SKWAWKBOX with a number of allegations.
The first was that Greater Manchester Police (GMP) had stated that it would be making a ‘full disclosure’ of all evidence it had gathered in its investigation of events at Knowl View.
The second was that part of that disclosure would be that the leader of Rochdale Council had information about the abuse – and had kept it quiet. The person – a councillor – who knew he had received this information had, allegedly, subsequently been removed from all positions of responsibility by the council leader.
The SKWAWKBOX contacted Rochdale Council’s leader’s office and asked whether these claims were true. We were told – via a press officer – that the council leader absolutely denied them and would not be discussing them further.
The councillor said to have direct knowledge of events declined to take our calls. GMP was asked whether the information would be included in its disclosure – but its reply was essentially non-responsive:
Op Clifton report will be heard in full at the IICSA hearing in London in mid-October. You would need to ask IICSA as it is their inquiry.
IICSA had not yet heard the evidence, so this was a dead end. In the absence of options to corroborate the claims, there was no option but to shelve them and wait for developments.
Those developments have now begun.
Last week, evidence was given to the inquiry that matched the reports given to the SKWAWKBOX more than a month earlier. The comments began on the first day that evidence was taken, as the transcript of the session shows:
Despite its closure over two decades ago, Knowl View has continued to resurface, provoking concerns that investigations into what happened were deliberately concealed. It has been suggested that the local politicians were party to this and to suppressing allegations about Smith, regardless of their political allegiances. There has been rumour and speculation about some form of deal/pact between local political parties not to make allegations about Cyril Smith. We will call some of those politicians in the final week of the hearings so they can be asked more about that.
ITV news correspondent Matt O’Donoghue tweeted about it three days later, as claims were detailed:
He then asked council leader Richard Farnell:
A day later, the inquiry spoke to the then-head (in 1992) of social services about events at the time. That witness alleged not merely silence but interference:
Q: You made a distinction in your statement about inappropriate interference in departmental matters between Smith, on the one hand, and the then-leader of the council, Richard Farnell.
Q. The distinction you made was that Cyril Smith interfered on a sort of granular level, in the cases of individuals, whereas Farnell was perhaps more to the sort of generalised approach to his interference.
Yesterday, the Manchester Evening News carried a story claiming that the disgraced, deceased Liberal MP Cyril blackmailed an unnamed council leader into covering up Smith’s actions by threatening to reveal an incident of abuse by the council leader against a child in a public toilet.
The SKWAWKBOX contacted Rochdale Council’s press office again today with the following:
In early September I called you about allegations that Richard Farnell knew about abuse at Knowl View and did not act. You told me he had absolutely denied it.
In view of the evidence coming out at the public inquiry about a council leader covering up information and indeed being involved in at least one act of abuse, do you wish to revise that position?
The response this time was different:
The Head of Communications subsquently emailed to add:
And just to reiterate.. the leader maintains his denial
Labour’s HQ did not cover itself in glory in its handling of this blog’s enquiry, either. We wrote to the party at the same time as to the council and the police, detailing the information received, including the name of a councillor who alleged that Mr Farnell had told him privately that he had ignored a report on the abuse at Knowl View when the institution was still open.
The same councillor also claimed that he had informed Labour’s North-West regional office about that conversation – but that the report had been ‘buried’.
We asked Labour HQ the following questions:
- Did ________ make such a report?
- If so, what if any action did Labour take?
- _________ used to be Rochdale Labour Group Whip, but says that Richard Farnell has since removed him from all positions. Why?
Labour HQ failed to respond until the SKWAWKBOX sent a follow-up email advising that we were about to publish an article on the matter and telling the party to provide any comments quickly if they wished to have the information included in the article.
We received a statement in reply that contained answers to none of the questions asked over a month ago:
The Labour Party is fully co-operating with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
The allegations against Richard Farnell were put into the public domain by the IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) session transcripts and subsequently by the mainstream media.
They remain allegations only and the SKWAWKBOX does not claim that they are accurate, but their existence is indisputably of overwhelming public interest. There is no evidence so far to indicate that Mr Farnell is the unnamed council leader in the Manchester Evening News article and his continuing denial of cover-up allegations should of course be recognised by all, unless and until the allegations are proven in a court of law, should a case ensue.
However, should the police decide they merit investigation, officers should also be talking to people who worked in Labour’s north-west office at the time, because any cover-up is alleged to have extended there as well.
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