Town hall chief: ‘Claims I knew of abuse are lies’
ROCHDALE town hall’s leader has accused a Labour colleague of ‘lying’ and ‘smearing’ him amid claims he knew about sexual abuse at Knowl View school 25 years ago.
In an extraordinary testimony to the national child abuse inquiry, Coun Richard Farnell blamed senior officers for the scandal, which he said had only come to his attention in 2014.
Coun Farnell had also been leader between 1986 and 1992, when boys in the council-run Knowl View school were being subjected to horrendous sexual abuse, including rape.
He told the inquiry – which is investigating institutionalised abuse across the country – repeatedly that he had never heard of any allegations relating to the school until recently, adding: “I am not prepared to accept personal responsibility for... failing to take action in this matter.”
Coun Farnell was repeatedly challenged by Brian Altman QC, who pointed out his director of education, director of social services, education chair and opposition members were all on record as having been aware of the allegations.
But he insisted he had never been briefed.
Asked when he first learned about ‘serious problems’ at the school, Coun Farnell said: “The very first time would be two to three years ago when Simon Danczuk, MP, raised these matters under privilege in the House of Commons and then went on to write a book detailing the failures at Knowl View.”
In the hearing it emerged that one of his own Labour councillors, Peter Joinson, had told police that he had in fact known of the abuse.
The former Labour chief whip – who is still councillor for South Middleton – testified that Coun Farnell had admitted to having been aware of allegations in the early 1990s, when an internal report was being prepared into abuse at the school.
Coun Farnell insisted that testimony was down to a ‘smear campaign’ that was part of an internal ‘civil war’ within his own party.
“It’s certainly my contention he’s lying about it,” he said.
Campaigners have been pushing for 25 years for a full investigation into abuse at Knowl View.
Greater Manchester Police looked at the allegations as part of Operation Cleopatra in the 1990s, but nobody was ever charged.
●●Rochdale council leader Richard Farnell
●●Coun Peter Joinson