Monday, 19 October 2015

'Inaccurate Journalism' from Baker & Danzuk?

by Les May
MEA culpa.  More inaccurate journalism I'm afraid.  In my article 'The martyrdom of Simon Danczuk', I suggested that Mr D's story of a man emerging from the shadows to warn him not to mention Leon Brittan at the Home Affairs Select Committee meeting of 1 July 2014, was produced whilst he was being questioned. 
I was wrong; it emerged a few days later.
I realised this as I was reading through the record of what Simon Danczuk said in response to the 31 questions put to him by the Committee.  As with the LBC interview with Ken Livingstone and David Mellor on 10 October none of the questions were particularly searching.  No one thought to ask him about how he had collected his evidence or about its reliability.  I gained the impression that no one had actually read his book 'Smile for the Camera' and it clearly did not occur to anyone on the Committee that one of their own might just be telling porkies.  Sorry, I meant of course 'being guilty of inaccurate journalism'. Or as one blogger put it 'wasting police time'.
Just as I conflated Danczuk's appearance before the Select Committee and his 'man in the shadows' story, Danczuk and Baker conflated two quite separate issues in their book.  The very real problems of just who knew about the high levels of sexual activity between the boys at Rochdale's Knowl View school in the years before it closed and the question of whether Cyril Smith was involved in abusing boys at the school.
Knowl View was a residential school which opened in 1969 and had a troubled history.  In the years following its closure in 1994 it was the subject of claims of a 'cover up' going back to an Independent on Sunday (IoS) article in 1995.  Strenuous attempts are made in 'Smile for the Camera' to associate Smith with sexual abuse of boys at the school.  But they largely rely upon the suppositions and opinions of a single individual, social worker Martin Digan, and it is difficult to find any independent evidence for them.  As is the norm for this book, there is no chronology. 
According to the authors Mr Digan started work at the school in the late 1970s.  In what must surely be one of the most remarkable statements in the book they tell us, 'For many years he was oblivious to what was happening in the school – until he was promoted to head of care and began to realise that things weren't quite right.' 
The authors don't think it necessary to tell us when this was.  But a Manchester Evening News (MEN) article from 2 December 2012 indicates Mr Digan became head of care in 1994.   
So what had  been happening in the school?  What no one disputes is that in 1991 an Aids worker, Philip Shepherd, spent a day in the school talking to staff and then wrote a report, (of which more later) which was sent to the Director of Education, Diana Cavanagh.  In response to what he wrote a clinical psychologist, Valerie Mellor, was commissioned in late 1991 to investigate the reported sexual activity involving the boys at the school.  Mellor's report presented in February 1992 confirmed and expanded upon the Shepherd report.  It included the comment, 'It is very difficult to believe that this behaviour had not come to the attention of at least some members of staff.'   Also in 1991, Rodney Hilton, who lived nearby was convicted of sexually abusing boys at the school.
Responding to a letter sent to her by the Knowl View staff in April 1992 Diana Cavanagh is reported to have been strongly critical of care staff.  With reference to boys aged 11 to 13 at one unit of the school being involved in homosexual activities at the Smith Street toilets in the centre of Rochdale, she is reported to have said, 'Those supervising the boys in the evenings appeared either not to notice that they were missing, or not to communicate their observations.'  and, 'There is insufficient evidence to prove culpable neglect, fraud or incompetence by any single member of staff.'
If, as the authors tell us, Mr Digan had been at the school since the late 1970s, this seems to be an awful lot for anyone to be oblivious of.  As for how Mr Digan had the scales lifted from his eyes you can choose between the prosaic versions from the MEN of 2 December 2012 and 30 November 2013, that he was given access to the reports when he became head of care or the melodramatic version from 'Smile for the Camera' in which he slipped into the headteacher's office at night, 'Then, just as he was leaving, he caught sight of a file of papers spread out on the desk under an adjustable lamp.'
I have a copy of the Shepherd report and the details can be checked in the IoS article from 1995. This is what Mr Shepherd had actually written in 1991:   
'One boy who is homosexual has contact with an adult outside the school. Several of the senior boys indulge in oral sex with one another.   
'Reputedly five of the junior boys have been or are involved in 'cottaging' in and around public toilets. Men as far away as Sheffield are believed to be aware of this activity and travel to Rochdale to take part. 
'One eight-year-old is thought to have been involved. The police are aware of the problem. What action has been taken is not known.
One rent boy has been removed from the school. The suggestion that he may return soon has angered the staff.
'Some boys have been 'forced' to have sex with others.'
and this is what Danczuk and Baker claim it says;
'In matter of fact language, the report described the extreme sexual abuse that young boys had been subjected to. Boys were beaten and raped continually by men as far away as Sheffield who had travelled to Rochdale to take part.'
No it didn't!
A few lines later they quote Mr Digan as saying, 'These boys were sold to paedophile gangs.' Of course neither they nor Mr Digan provide any evidence for this.
A page further on they imply that Cyril Smith's name appeared in the Shepherd report when it did not; 'This file was eventually made public by Digan but Cyril Smith and Harry Wild's names were not mentioned.'   This was the IoS article in 1995.
When the authors resort to misquoting documents in this way, presenting opinions as facts and implying that something is true when it isn't, then it casts doubt on much of their book. It goes well beyond being called 'inaccurate journalism'. 
In 1986 Jeremy Corbyn complained to the House of Commons about the activities of Geoffrey Dickens saying:
'The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth chose, last Thursday, to make a statement to the Press Association, which appeared later in The London Standard. The effect was to make any inquiries difficult to follow, and the estate was besieged by the media, seeking salacious gossip and stories'. 
Making inquiries difficult to follow is precisely what Danczuk and Baker do in their book. Once an accusation is made, the police have to make inquiries. Their story about Smith and Knowl View simply contaminates any evidence which might exist about what really happened at the school. Anyone laying a false trail makes life even more difficult for the police. 

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