Richard Farnell may face police investigation after inquiry says his evidence defied belief
Josh Halliday North of England correspondent
Thu 12 Apr 2018 13.48 BST First published on Thu 12 Apr 2018 12.02 BST
Rochdale’s recently resigned council leader is facing a possible police investigation after an official inquiry concluded that he lied under oath about child sexual abuse allegations.
The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA) said the evidence given by Richard Farnell about his knowledge of abuse in the town defied belief.
As Greater Manchester police said it was considering launching a perjury investigation, Farnell was suspended by the Labour party but claimed in a statement that he had told the truth.
The report, the inquiry’s first into abuse in the UK, follows three weeks of evidence about allegations dating from the early 1960s to the mid-1990s.
It concluded there was no deliberate cover-up by the authorities but there was “a careless and wholly inadequate response” to the serious sexual abuse of children at the council-run Knowl View school.
The report also criticised Margaret Thatcher’s “remarkable” decision to award a knighthood to the suspected child abuser Cyril Smith. It said the knighthood in 1988 showed the unwillingness of those at the highest level to believe the late politician’s alleged victims.
Prof Alexis Jay, the chair of the inquiry, said: “After listening to the evidence presented by a number of victims and survivors in Rochdale at the time, I am deeply disturbed at the evidence of extensive abuse and the institutional responses to that abuse.
“Many of those who testified to their abuse have never had the opportunity to seek justice through the courts. I hope that the public hearings and this report has offered them some measure of acknowledgement for their suffering.”
Farnell was the leader of Rochdale council between 1986 and 1992, and returned to the job in 2014 after a career in journalism. He resigned as council leader on 8 December after weeks of pressure over his testimony in October.
Farnell told the inquiry he first heard of sexual abuse claims in 2012 when the scandal erupted. However, the inquiry said it defied belief that Farnell did not know about them earlier.
It was shameful, the inquiry said, that Farnell “refused to accept any personal responsibility for the young lives blighted” while he was leader. “Instead, he blamed senior officials in education and social services council departments.”
In a statement, Farnell said he was shocked at the findings and added that there was clear evidence he was not informed about Knowl View during his time as leader. “I told the truth,” he said.
The156-page report concluded that Rochdale authorities showed a total lack of urgency in addressing the sexual exploitation of boys at Knowl View, who were regarded as “authors of their own abuse”. Pupils were sexually exploited in the town centre, the bus station and at public toilets across the road from the council’s offices over a 20-year period, it found.
The panel said the police did not turn a blind eye but they did not provide any satisfactory answer as to why no one appeared to have been charged with abuse despite disclosures from boys, and police knowing the names of some alleged abusers.
The inquiry also criticised Paul Rowen, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Rochdale who succeeded Farnell as council leader in 1992. It said Rowen was “prepared to blame others without acknowledging his own failures of leadership” when he installed Smith as a governor at Knowl View despite rumours that he was abusing boys.
The inquiry, established in 2014 by the then home secretary, Theresa May, was scathing about Thatcher’s decision to award Smith a knighthood. It found that government officials considered in some detail the allegations against Smith but chose to give him the benefit of the doubt.
There was a marked tendency to take Smith’s progress in local and national politics, as well as his previous MBE, as proof that the accusations were unlikely to be true, the report found, while concern for Smith’s alleged victims did not feature.
Richard Scorer, a solicitor at the law firm Slater & Gordon who represented victims at the inquiry, said the findings were a powerful indictment of decades of failure. “This report is very damning and a huge vindication of the men who have been making these complaints over many years. Some go back to the 1960s, and they’ve been doing so consistently.”