Demo demands that council leader goes
DEMONSTRATORS gathered outside Rochdale’s council offices demanding town hall leader Richard Farnell either resign or be sacked, in the wake of his evidence this week to the national child abuse inquiry.
Around 20 people stood outside Number One Riverside shouting ‘Farnell Out’ and waving placards, before placing a wreath in memory of Knowl View victims in the river Roch.
Their protest came after Coun Farnell - who was also leader when allegations of child abuse at the council-run school surfaced in the early 1990s told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) that he knew nothing about the reports until the last few years.
He told Tuesday’s hear- ing that his senior officers had never informed him of the emerging scandal, which saw boys sexually and physically abused by staff, intruders and the late Liberal MP Cyril Smith.
Thursday’s protest by Parents Against Grooming, which campaigns on child abuse, also saw placards reading ‘Lloyd Out,’ a reference to new Rochdale MP Tony Lloyd - who was police commissioner up until May.
But protesters said their priority was forcing the council leader’s resignation.
Organiser Billy Howarth, 39, of Firgrove, whose dad went to Knowl View, said: “Today we want to see the back of Richard Farnell, our illustrious council leader.
“If he’s telling the truth, that he sat as leader all that time and nobody told him, isn’t that a failure? He needs to go.
“There have been three abuse scandals in Rochdale now and it’s all the same people still sat around the table saying they didn’t know.”
Ahead of the Rochdale leg of the IICSA opening this week, the council’s chief executive apologised on behalf of the town hall for failing Knowl View pupils 25 years ago.
Two separate internal reports were written into concerns about abuse at the residential school in 1991 and 1992, but the authority continued to place boys at it up until its closure in 1995.
One parent of a boy who was physically abused at Knowl View, who didn’t wish to be named, said she was now looking to gather other parents in a similar position through the group’s Facebook page.
“My child was placed there at nine years old, when it was happening,” she said.
“I didn’t know, obviously, otherwise he’d never have gone. I subsequently found out that at this time the reports were being written.
“So they knew about it and put him there. I’d like to get some of the parents together so we can maybe take a group action for safeguarding issues - they placed my child in danger.”
She added: “How can Farnell have been the chair of this, that and the other leader - and nobody have approached him with something so big? He should be sacked.”
The protesters also briefly entered Number One Riverside and sat down on the lobby floor, before Billy Howarth climbed down to the river and released a red and white wreath into the River Roch to a round of applause.
He said campaigners were hoping to now start looking forwards, including through the launch of the new Kidstop cafe at Champness Hall.
The cafe, for children and teenagers, opened on Friday and aims to give them a safe place to go in the evenings.
“We’ve set up Kidstop for the whole community,” he said. “Kids can go there between 5pm and 9pm. There’ll be counselling, internet awareness classes, self defence classes, classes about parental awareness.
“We want to look forward rather than just looking back at Knowl View.”
Andy Littlewood, 49, is chairman of the Tenants and Residents Association in Lower Falinge but spoke at the demonstration in a personal capacity.
Andy joined the calls for Coun Farnell’s resignation.
He said: “Accountability, that’s what we want. We can’t move on until the victims of child abuse are recognised.
“Rochdale can’t move on until this has happened. The main issue of today is Coun Farnell.
“We are demanding his resignation. If there was a vote tomorrow, he would be out.
“I think it’s a good thing that child abuse has a name now, that we’ve identified it.
“The fact it has a name now means it’s out in the open. It has to stop.”
Coun Farnell has been asked to comment.
A spokesman for Rochdale council said: “The council has given its full support to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) and we will continue to assist where we are able to.
“We have apologised for the historic failings that were made by the council and reiterated that we are committed to ensuring that children are protected now.
“Anyone with information about abuse should contact the council or the police immediately.”
The Observer has approached both the town’s MPs to ask them whether they still have confidence in the Labour council leader, after Richard Scorer, a lawyer representing some of the victims, also called on him to go.
Heywood and Middleton MP Liz McInnes said: “The independent inquiry into this extremely serious issue should be allowed to run its course free from any prejudicial comments and interference from outside sources.
“It is vital that the inquiry is fair, considers all the evidence, and is allowed to come to its own conclusions.”
Tony Lloyd had not responded at the time of writing, but had earlier told ITV that he would not be commenting because it would be ‘inappropriate.’
●●Protests outside council offices by lobby group Parents Against Grooming, calling for the council leader Richard Farnell to be sacked