The former leader of Rochdale council lied to an inquiry about his knowledge of child sex abuse allegations, an inquiry has found.
Richard Farnell’s claim that he was unaware of the sexual exploitation of boys at Knowl View residential school in the town “defies belief” and his refusal to accept responsibility for the scandal is described as “shameful”.
He was immediately suspended by the Labour Party after it received the panel’s findings.
More than 40 men claim they were abused at various locations in Rochdale, including Knowl View, between the early 1960s and mid-1990s.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) panel described staff at the council-run school, which has now closed, as “complacent and arguably complicit” in the abuse of boys, which was treated as normal.
In a damning report published on Thursday, it said the authorities showed a “total lack of urgency” to address sexual exploitation and regarded the young victims as “authors of their own abuse.”
The inquiry also concluded that “valuable opportunities” to charge and prosecute Cyril Smith, Rochdale’s former Liberal MP who died in 2010, had been missed.
The panel, which heard evidence last October, concluded that from 1989 onwards the police, Rochdale Council’s social services and education departments, as well as Knowl View staff, knew youngsters were being subjected to sexual exploitation for money in public toilets across the road from the borough council’s offices over a 20-year period.
Pupils were also sexually exploited in the town centre and the bus station.
The report concluded: “The records of individual children convey a total lack of urgency on the part of the relevant authorities to address the problem and treat the matters involved for what they were – serious sexual assaults.
“This remained the case even in the face of clear evidence of the risks to children’s health.
“The file of one young boy at Knowl View recorded that he had contracted hepatitis through ‘rent boy’ activities.
“We concluded that no-one in authority viewed child sexual exploitation as an urgent child protection issue. Rather, boys as young as 11 were not seen as victims but as authors of their own abuse.”
It ruled there was no “deliberate cover-up” by the authorities involved but said instead there was a “careless and wholly inadequate response”.
When he appeared before the panel last year, Mr Farnell dismissed claims he knew about child abuse allegations in the early Nineties, insisting his colleague was “lying”.
He told the inquiry he was not informed of the scandal in his first term between 1986 and 1992.
A Labour Party spokesman said: “The Labour Party condemns the abuse of children and any attempts to cover up these heinous acts.
“Any allegations and information the party received in relation to what the council may have known were passed straight to the police to be fully investigated.
“We have fully cooperated with the police and the Inquiry to support their work in investigating historic sexual abuse.”
The inquiry’s report said: “We concluded that Richard Farnell who was leader of Rochdale Council from 1986 until 1992, lied to the inquiry in the course of his evidence.”