Greater Manchester Police is launching a criminal investigation into an alleged cover-up of a 26-year long child abuse scandal at a Rochdale residential boys school.
The force will investigate whether allegations of abuse at Knowl View School were covered up and the way they were handled by the council and the police.
It has referred allegations of police involvement in the scandal to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
The police decided to investigate after assessing allegations made in a book by local MP Simon Danzcuk which alleged former MP Cyril Smith abused boys. In response to the publication, Smith’s family said he had always denied such accusations when he was alive and that they would cooperate with investigations.
The council agreed to police requests to suspend its inquiry, which is being carried out by Neil Garnham QC, ahead of the launch of the criminal investigation.
A spokeswoman for Greater Manchester Police said 18 people alleged they had been physically or sexually abused by adults or by other pupils at the school between 1969 and 1995 when it closed. So far 14 men have been interviewed under caution about the allegations.
Assistant Chief Constable Ian Wiggett said: “The Greater Manchester Police investigation will now seek to identify whether any offences have been committed in the way that previous reports of abuse were handled or allegedly covered up.
“The main concerns relate to the response to child abuse over several decades connected to Knowl View School in Rochdale.
“We have consulted with the Home Office in relation to the national inquiry that has been announced into how organisations responded to child abuse, but as these matters relate to criminal allegations in the GMP area, the responsibility to investigate them falls to the Chief Constable.
“We are aware that some of the allegations relate to the past involvement of police officers, and therefore we have referred those matters to the IPCC. In addition, we have established an independent oversight panel to demonstrate the independence and rigour of the investigation that we will be conducting.
“If there are further allegations that relate to the conduct of police officers, these will similarly be referred to the IPCC, as we are required to do.”
Linda Fisher, acting chief executive, Rochdale Borough Council, said: “The historic activities at Knowl View and any subsequent accusations of wrong doing must be fully examined and Rochdale Borough Council very much welcomes the investigation by GMP police. We will continue to co-operate fully with the force’s inquiries making all information available. This is a positive step on the road to resolution and we are pleased the force has acted swiftly to launch a criminal investigation.
“The people of Rochdale, the council and most importantly the victims, need to have confidence in the process and faith that the truth will be discovered and any necessary actions taken. Our own independent review, being carried out by Neil Garnham QC, will recommence when this is deemed appropriate and in agreement with GMP.”