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Former Rochdale leader accused of perjury after child sex abuse inquiry

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The inquiry into child sex abuse in Rochdale has accused the former council leader of “disgraceful” behaviour for lying and refusing to accept responsibility for his role in an alleged cover-up.

The inquiry reported that Richard Farnell, who was leader of Rochdale MBC for the first time from 1986 until 1992, had lied in his testimony by denying knowledge of the abuse allegations at two facilities for young people in Rochdale.

The inquiry said in its final report: “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 the school while he was leader. Instead, he laid all blame for what occurred at the door of the senior officials in education and social services.”

“In our view, Mr Farnell lied to the inquiry in the course of his evidence… We simply did not believe Mr Farnell,” the report said.

Mr Farnell, who stood down from his second stint as leader last autumn but remained a councillor, was suspended from the Labour party after the report was published yesterday.

The lawyer acting for Knowl View abuse victims has called for perjury charges against the former council leader.

Richard Scorer said: “It’s a statutory inquiry and given they have said in terms that he’s lied, it’s right that perjury charges are considered.”

On Thursday the inquiry published its report into “the institutional responses of Rochdale Borough Council, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service” to long-term child sexual abuse at Cambridge House and Knowl View School from the 1960s to the mid-1990s. 

Professor Alexis Jay, inquiry chair, 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.”

In a statement issued after the report’s publication Rochdale’s chief executive Steve Rumbelow said: “We acknowledge that, certainly in the case of Knowl View School, there were significant failures of leadership and management and a failure to investigate concerns in order protect children.

“While the inquiry found no evidence of cover-ups or political pacts, it is clear from its report that council officers and school staff failed in their most basic duty of care towards children.

“Although the failure to understand the risks at the time was not unique to Rochdale, the consequences of the failures for the children involved were exceptionally serious.

“The council has apologised and acknowledged that children were failed. I repeat that apology today and say again that we are truly sorry.”

Mr Rumbelow said the council and its partners ”regularly review their effectiveness in protecting children” and added: “There have been significant improvements in practice here and nationally since the time of these terrible events so people should be reassured that child protection services and society’s understanding of abuse have already changed far beyond what they were then.

“The council will now consider the inquiry’s report in full and will make further statements when it has had the opportunity to do so.”

The inquiry found that “valuable opportunities” to charge the late MP Cyril Smith for sex abuse during the late 1960s were missed during a police investigation in 1998-1999.

Greater Manchester Police said in 2012 that the victims of sex abuse at the two institutions “were victims of physical and sexual abuse” by Mr Smith.

GMP welcomed the inquiry, adding that it “will look to consult with the inquiry in relation to any possible offences.”

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