What went on at the Knowl View school in Rochdale many years ago has been brought back into focus this week as the child sexual abuse inquiry has revisited the area. This has resulted in considerable discomfort for the town’s council leader Richard Farnell, old friend of now former MP Simon Danczuk, who has been called a liar by one of his colleagues and whose evidence has at times been called into question.
Richard Farnell ... and look who's in the background
Farnell was council leader between 1986 and 1992 - when abuse at Knowl View was in full swing. His deputy leader and education chair Mary Moffat knew enough about the situation to be “deeply concerned”. She was also “very, very well briefed” on the matter. Farnell claims she did not tell him, and suggested that her being an independent kind of person meant that she would not have felt the need to do so.
Fortunately for that line of reasoning, Ms Moffatt has since died, and so cannot contest Farnell’s suggestion. But Peter Joinson, formerly Labour group chief whip, “told the inquiry that he had a meeting with Mr Farnell on 11 June 2014 at which he admitted seeing a draft report, between March and June 1992, written by a sexual health worker warning that children were at risk”. He typed up a note after the meeting reflecting this.
Joinson claimed the meeting lasted 20 minutes, and that he took notes; Farnell countered that Joinson merely put his head around the door briefly and did not. He claimed that Joinson was lying. Joinson, whose demeanour was rather more relaxed, did not go that far, but claimed Farnell was not telling the truth. And one more detail could clinch this.
As the Manchester Evening News has reported, “In 1991 psychologist Valerie Mellor was commissioned to write a report on the welfare of boys at the school, a report Coun Farnell says he knew nothing about … But [inquiry Counsel] Ms Hoyano pointed out the director of education at the time, Diana Cavanagh, had testified that it would have had to have had financial sign-off by the leader …’Mrs Cavanagh testified that the commissioning of the report from Mrs Mellor and the appointment of a headteacher at Knowl View had to go through the policy and resources committee, chaired by Mr Farnell, because it involved financial expenditure which was basically off-budget,’ she said”.
Richard Farnell would have seen the fact of the report being commissioned - he had to, as that would come before a committee he chaired. But instead, he has claimed that the first he knew of the Knowl View scandal was when his pal Danczuk revealed it as part of his now-discredited book on the town’s former MP Cyril Smith.
Worse for Farnell, Ms Hoyano also told that “Mrs Cavanagh had ‘no motivation to lie to this inquiry … On the contrary, she was candid in admitting her own failings and did not attempt to evade any personal responsibility’”. Farnell, on the other hand, has been evasiveness personified. And if he already knew, who else did?
Meanwhile, Rochdale’s Momentum group has called for Farnell’s resignation. After his testimony this week, and assertions that he has been part of a cover-up over Knowl View, it can only be a matter of time before he follows his old pal Simon Danczuk out the door.
The time of Richard Farnell at Rochdale Council was for a time, but not for all time.