Leaked letter from former Rochdale MP to IICSA states “I found attempts to cover-up abuse very strange”
Date published: 21 April 2018
“I found these attempts to cover-up abuse very strange” – these are just some of the words former Rochdale-MP Simon Danczuk wrote in October 2017 to the Chairwoman of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) regarding child sexual abuse in Rochdale.
In the letter, seen by Rochdale Online, the disgraced former MP wrote to the chairwoman of the inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay OBE, as he had not been called to give evidence.
He wrote: “I believe it to be inconceivable that Councillor Richard Farnell was not aware of what went on at Knowl View. There are a number of reasons for reaching this conclusion.
“First, I arrived in Rochdale in 2006 and the issue was commonly spoken about amongst the general public and particularly within the Labour party, and had been, well before I arrived. The point here is that Councillor Richard Farnell has spent a considerable amount of his life in Rochdale and been deeply involved in Rochdale Labour Party for many years, it would have been impossible for him not to have heard the rumours and accusations about Knowl View.
“Having thoroughly examined what went on at Knowl View as part of my research for the book, being a councillor myself for eight years, having served on the House of Commons’ Communities and Local Government Select Committee and now having listened to Councillor Farnell’s evidence, I believe it impossible for him not to have been told of the incidents at Knowl View.
“My knowledge and understanding of local government and local politics stretches over 30 years and his chair of education and other councillors would have made him well aware of the abuse. Indeed, senior council officers would have informed him, not least, for the very reason they would not wish to carry the burden of that knowledge alone.”
Mr Danczuk continued: “Also, Councillor Farnell is a very ‘hands on’ leader and any of his colleagues would know that he would expect to be told if there was a problem, or there would have been adverse consequences for them for not having told him.
“Importantly, I have known Richard since 2006 and met with him on dozens upon dozens of occasions and discussed this abuse and the abuse of girls at the hands of predominantly Pakistani taxi drivers many, many times.
“In detailed and intimate conversations between us, regarding abuse at Knowl View School, Richard broke down in tears because he was worried about the inquiries that were being made around the issue. However, he always denied any detailed knowledge and I gave him the benefit of the doubt, though now, having listened to the evidence given to your enquiry, I no longer give him that benefit.”
A damning report publishing the findings of the inquiry concluded that Councillor Farnell lied when giving evidence, accusing him of lying under oath about his knowledge of child abuse at Knowl View residential school. Other evidence presented suggested Mr Farnell must have known, at least in general, about child sexual abuse at the now-closed school.
Mr Farnell, who has been suspended from the Labour Party over the damning findings, still maintains he told the truth during the inquiry. He resigned as leader of Rochdale Council following the inquiry.
Mr Danczuk added: “Related to the broad issue of child abuse is that Councillor Farnell would continually state during our conversations – and this would be verified by my staff at the time – that I should stop taking about child sexual abuse. He was very unhappy with me raising the issues publicly.
“You should also be aware that Jim Dobbin MP (former member for Heywood and Middleton) warned me on more than one occasion not to mention publicly that Cyril Smith had abused boys – he said it was in the past and nothing would come of it if I did. Jim had been a Rochdale councillor, alongside Councillor Farnell, during the 1980s and 1990s.
“Relatively new to this town, I found these attempts to cover-up abuse very strange. I was puzzled as to why local politicians like Jim, but also others, had not raised concerns when they had the power to do so. At an appropriate time, I did put on record the abuse that Cyril and others committed.”
In November 2012, Mr Danczuk, the then-MP, outed Smith in the House of Commons as a serial child abuser. He later co-authored a book about Smith, ‘Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith’, with Matthew Baker.
Mr Danczuk concluded: “Finally, I would like to point out that both local and national Liberal Democrat activists/representatives would have been even more aware of many of the issues regarding Cyril Smith though your inquiry appears, so far, to have been quite limited in regard to investigating such matters. I was wholly convinced that key Liberal figures were well aware of Cyril Smith’s abuse but chose to do nothing. Perhaps this is something that deserves more attention.
“You will know from the exchanges that you and I had when I questioned you at the House of Commons’ Communities and Local Government Select Committee enquiry into the Rotherham abuse scandal and from my campaigning to get the national Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse established that I take these issues very seriously.”
It is not known if Mr Danczuk’s letter played any part in IICSA’s findings, which also concluded there was no ‘deliberate cover-up’ by the authorities at the school.
Following the publication of the findings, solicitor Richard Scorer, who represented victims during the investigation, called for Rochdale Council’s “toxic” political leadership to be overhauled so that the town can move on from its child abuse scandal.
Mr Scorer claimed Labour had allowed Rochdale’s political leaders to act in a “dysfunctional bubble” and any improvements are being undermined by the council’s political leadership.
Since Mr Scorer’s comments, the current council leader, Allen Brett, was recorded threatening to deprive an area of Rochdale of council money if Labour does not retain the seat at the forthcoming local election. He later flatly denied making such comments, before he knew the threats had been recorded.
When asked if he wanted to change his position in light of the recording, Councillor Brett did not respond.
His comments were labelled “a serious threat to democracy” by Conservative leader Ashley Dearnley, who has since written to the Chief Executive, and “disgusting and appalling” by leader of the Liberal Democrats, Andy Kelly, who has submitted a formal complaint about to the Chief Executive.
Local residents were also outraged by the comments, saying they were ‘immoral and wrong’, ‘blackmail’ and ‘toxic’. One said they would “think long and hard about voting Labour at the local election” because “I am ashamed of the local party leadership”.
Councillor Farnell responded: "Mr Danczuk’s letter is all supposition and guesswork and that’s the reason he was not called to give evidence as he has no knowledge of the events which happened 26 years ago. He is, however, right on one thing when he says I told him I had no knowledge of Knowl View.
"I told the truth to the Inquiry and this is supported by the facts. The three most senior officers of the council responsible for informing and advising the Leader of the Council – the Chief Executive, the Director of Education and the Director of Social Services - all said in evidence they did not tell me about Knowl View.
"Mary Moffat, the chair of education at the time, did not inform me or any other senior member of the council. She never told her husband, let alone me.
"The Inquiry has examined 140,000 pages of documents relating to Knowl View. There is not one single letter, memo, report, council minute or briefing note addressed to me informing me about the events at Knowl View.
"A two-year police investigation found no evidence whatsoever that I was involved in a cover-up of events at Knowl View.
"All I would ask is that people read the Inquiry report and judge for themselves. They will find no credible evidence that supports the Inquiry’s findings in relation to myself."
Councillor Allen Brett was invited to comment - as Mr Danczuk's former agent and leader of the local Labour Party - but did not respond.