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Friday, 13 April 2018

Ex-Council leader said to have lied about knowledge of abuse could face police probe

Written by Kim Pilling

A Labour councillor said to have lied to an independent inquiry into child sexual abuse in Rochdale is facing a possible police investigation.

Richard Farnell told a panel last year he was unaware of issues of abuse involving a residential school in the town while he was leader of Rochdale Council between 1986 and 1992.

But on Thursday the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) concluded he must have known at least about the generality of the allegations surrounding council-run Knowl View School and he had lied in the course of his affirmed evidence.

Mr Farnell issued a statement in which he denied lying to the inquiry, adding he was "shocked at the findings".

IICSA concluded authorities showed a "total lack of urgency" to address the sexual exploitation of boys at council-run Knowl View School over a 20-year period from 1969 with victims regarded as "authors of their own abuse".

Addressing Mr Farnell's evidence last October, the panel said: "We concluded that Richard Farnell lied to the inquiry in the course of his evidence.

"It defies belief that Mr Farnell was unaware of the events involving Knowl View School."

The inquiry heard a paedophile had been admitted to Knowl View in September 1990, where he had sexually abused at least one boy, but Mr Farnell insisted the information was not passed on to him.

Mr Farnell said he was also unaware of a 1991 report submitted by a health authority worker which detailed claims that boys at Knowl View as young as eight were being sexually targeted by men from as far afield as Sheffield.

He told Brian Altman QC, lead counsel to the inquiry: "The council should accept responsibility for failings that happened in Knowl View, and individuals must take responsibilities for their own actions.

"I bitterly regret that the senior officers of the council never once approached me to brief me about these matters."

However, IICSA rejected his account and said: "Regarding Mr Farnell's final statements at the hearing, it was shameful that he refused to accept any personal responsibility for the young lives blighted by what happened at Knowl View while he was leader.

"Instead, he laid all blame for what occurred at the door of the senior officials in education and in social services."

In response, Mr Farnell issued a statement saying: "For the period in which I was leader of Rochdale Council from 1986 to 1992, I am deeply sorry and I apologise to all those who suffered as a result of the grave mistakes made and the unacceptable failings of the council in respect of the children being cared for at Knowl View.

"However, I am shocked at the findings of the inquiry. I told the truth.

"There is clear evidence that I was not informed about Knowl View during my time as leader.

"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."

Mr Farnell regained the position of council leader in 2004 but quit the position weeks after giving evidence to the panel.

He was suspended by the Labour Party following publication of the IICSA report.

He could now face a police probe into allegations that he committed perjury at the inquiry.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) assistant chief constable Debbie Ford said: "GMP welcomed this inquiry from the beginning as it publicly scrutinised these difficult and complex issues.

"We have fully co-operated throughout and, today, we acknowledge its findings.

"This is a comprehensive report and we will now take time to fully understand the outcomes and any potential learnings."

It is understood the force will liaise with the inquiry in relation to any possible offences.

Last year GMP found no evidence of a criminal cover-up of abuse.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA Wire.