Rochdale inquiry: Cyril Smith constructed a ‘deal’ between political parties to keep Knowl View abuse quiet

Date published: 17 October 2017

Cyril Smith constructed a ‘deal’ between Labour and the Liberal Democrats to keep Knowl View abuse quiet, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) heard.

Former Knowl View residential social worker, Martin Digan, told the inquiry that Smith had threatened to expose an un-named Rochdale council leader’s ‘serious offence against a child in a public toilet’ if ‘anything to do with him was exposed’.

Mr Digan, a whistleblower who gave up his career because he wanted justice for the boys, has spent over 20 years fighting for those in authority to hold the abusers to account.

He told the inquiry how he gave copies of his ‘dossier’ – based on documents from child psychologist Val Mellor’s 1992 report into abuse at the school – to Colin Lambert, then-leader of Rochdale Council and late MP for Heywood and Middleton, Jim Dobbin.

He told the inquiry he ‘helped himself’ to the documents after discovering the headmaster’s office unlocked when he was on duty one night because he ‘wouldn’t assist in the cover-up of abuse’.

He explained he presented the dossier to the council, the police and the Rochdale Observer, who published several articles from the contents.

He copied the dossier after being ‘threatened’ by Smith: “I had already been threatened, sir, or, as it happened, I was threatened later - and I am glad I did copy it - by Sir Cyril Smith to a journalist called Louis Jury from the Sunday Independent at a meeting at Rochdale Council. She was present when Cyril Smith insisted that the police who were present at that meeting raid my premises in order to recover what he considered to be his documentation.”

Mr Digan told the inquiry how he attempted to speak to sitting MP at the time, Liz Lynne, who later cancelled the appointment. He continued, saying her PA Debbie Doyle admitted she was instructed by Ms Lynne – at Smith’s orders – to ‘destroy any evidence of communication’. 

He said he “never got the opportunity” to hand a copy of his dossier to the MP. He later gave a ‘full-copy’ to the 1997 MP Lorna Fitzsimmons, and “never heard back”.

Mr Digan added ‘a senior detective; who had been investigating allegations against Smith later informed him he had been taken off the case because ‘all roads lead to Westminster’.

He also told of how boys at Knowl View found both Smith and his friend, school governor Harry Wild both ‘bullying and sexually intimidating.’

It “appalled” him, Mr Digan said, to see Smith “bouncing seven-year-old children on his knee, whenever he got the chance.”

Brian Altman QC asked: “Did anyone, while you were at Knowl View, make any serious sexual allegations to you about Cyril Smith?

Mr Digan responded: “I feel he was very much protected. [By] Other politicians and to some extent, sadly, I think the police were also forced into a corner in relation to what they could and could not do about Cyril Smith's activities.”

He also told the inquiry how he was “persuaded to go off ill in November 1994” before the school closed. The school closed for good on 31 August 1996.

Mr Digan also told how he found things out as a new member of staff, which he did not quite believe.

He said: “As a new member of staff, I began to find things out that were a little disturbing, that I did not believe at first, to be quite honest.

“It was only some months before I had started at the school where quite a number of the boys were taking women's clothes off clothes lines and were actually wearing them inside the school and walking around in them, and apparently with the permission of senior staff. I continue to find that bizarre. I never saw that, but I was told about it.”

He revealed how the school was “pretty much male-dominated and it was a case of ‘you will do as you are told'.” However, he outlined how Terry Hopwood, then headteacher, was the “one person” to provide “a caring environment for the boys”, "which took some time".

Mr Digan added: “It was when he went off ill in 1988, sir, that things started to fall to pieces.”

He went on to say how Mr Hopwood was ‘forced into an appointment of a deputy head, Brett Andrews’, with Ian Ashton placed as head.

He continued: “Ian Ashton was placed head. Brett Andrews was taken on as deputy. Then Brett Andrews took over the role of head. So you can imagine the conflict between your two senior people in the building. It was not good.”

For decades throughout his career, Smith was the subject of repeated sex abuse claims. He was knighted in 1988, and died in 2010 aged 82, having never faced prosecution.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) opened an inquiry into alleged abuse which took place in Rochdale at Cambridge House Hostel and Knowl View residential school, when Smith was a governor:

The inquiry continues.

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