Police to take no further action against former council leader over perjury allegations
Date published: 08 May 2019
Councilor Richard Farnell
Police investigating allegations former Rochdale council leader Richard Farnell committed perjury when he appeared at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) say there is ‘insufficient evidence’ to take any criminal action against him.
The first report from the inquiry found Councillor Farnell had ‘lied under oath’ when giving evidence about the town’s notorious Knowl View school, where children were abused over a period spanning more than 25 years.
The document branded Councillor Farnell – who has always strongly denied he misled the inquiry – as ‘shameful’ for refusing to take responsibility for the abuse that happened under his watch when he was leader of the council between 1986 and 1992.
And it added that it ‘defies belief’ he was unaware of the events involving the school.
The findings prompted Richard Scorer – the lawyer who represented Knowl View abuse victims – to call for perjury charges to be considered against Councillor Farnell.
In May 2018 the Metropolitan Police received a referral from Greater Manchester Police requesting the force reviewed an allegation of perjury by a witness to the IICSA.
But following a lengthy investigation the Metropolitan Police have written to Councillor Farnell to inform him they will not be taking matters any further following a ‘full review’ of the evidence.
The letter, signed by Acting Detective Chief Inspector Gail Granville states: “Having carefully considered all the material gathered that was subject to review, I have concluded there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate to the criminal standard that you wilfully, that is to say deliberately and not inadvertently or by mistake, made a statement that you know to be false or did not believe to be true.
“As a result, no further action will be taken by the Metropolitan Police in relation to the allegation.”
Councillor Farnell, who stood down as council leader just weeks after giving his evidence to the inquiry, has welcomed the decision.
He said: “I am really pleased that following a thorough 12 month investigation by the Metropolitan Police they have decided not to prosecute me for perjury.
“I have always maintained I told the truth to the inquiry and the Metropolitan Police’s decision vindicates this.
“There is not one scrap of evidence that I knew about the failings at Knowl View almost 30 years ago. The council’s most senior officers at the time – the chief executive and directors of education and social services – all told the inquiry they did not inform me.
“The inquiry examined over 100,000 pages of letters, reports and documents and not a single one was addressed to me or informed me about Knowl View.
“Several leading councillors at the time all told the inquiry that they too were kept in the dark by officers about Knowl View. “
Referring to Operation Clifton – an investigation into the alleged cover-up of child sexual abuse at Knowl View – Councillor Farnell added:
“ A previous two-year inquiry by Greater Manchester Police into allegations of a cover-up of Knowl View found there was absolutely no evidence to support this.
“The inquiry was handed a 16 page report of evidence proving beyond any doubt I was not informed about Knowl View which, bizarrely, they ignored.”
Councillor Farnell, who continues to represent the Balderstone and Kirkholt ward, said it has been ‘extremely stressful’ to have the allegation hanging over him for twelve months, but thanked the police for a ‘thorough investigation’.
He added: “I was always confident it would come to nothing because I told the truth to the inquiry and all the evidence supports this.
“However, we must never, never forget the victims in this tragedy. It was only under my leadership that the council apologised for its failings at Knowl View.”
When he stood down as council leader Councillor Farnell blamed a ‘small minority’ of Labour members for ‘undermining’ his leadership following the hearing.
He was later suspended by the Labour party and is yet to be reinstated.
But he has now been backed by his successor, current council leader Allen Brett.
Councillor Brett said: “I am delighted that, after examining all the evidence, the police have dropped the case.
“I have known Richard for over thirty years and he is a man of integrity and honesty. I am worried political opponents have been trying to make him a scapegoat in all of this.
“I know Richard has a lot of friends and supporters in the Labour Party who will be really pleased with the decision. I will be pressing for his suspension from the Labour Party to be immediately lifted.”
And he also received support from the leader of Rochdale Council’s Conservative group, Councillor Ashley Dearnley.
He said: “Councillor Farnell must be pleased that the Metropolitan Police has cleared his name against the very serious accusation of perjury. It must have been a very harrowing time for him.
“Although he is a political opponent and we disagree on many things, he has always been passionate about Rochdale and wanted the best for the borough.”
Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter
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