Man abused by disgraced
politician calls for apology

Ronald Neal was beatenby late MP Sir Cyril Smith

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A man who suffered historical abuse in a children’s hostel has called for a public apology now that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has concluded its damning investigation of thousands of cases.

When Ronald Neal was just 11 and living in a Rochdale children’s hostel, he complained after a “six-foot-nine, 30-stone fat man” beat him so badly he needed hospital treatment.

Although another staff member, who took him to Rochdale Infirmary in September 1964, told the nurse Neal “tripped and fell”, his missing front teeth, the cut on the back of his head and injured arm were inconsistent with the story.

“She asked me what happened and I told her a big man beat me up. I was an 11-year-old boy and adults didn’t believe kids,” said Neal, who now lives in Rossendale, and is heading toward his 70th birthday.

Force fed and beaten

The “big man” was disgraced politician Cyril Smith, who was in charge of Cambridge House hostel in Rochdale at the weekend. That was the first of three complaints Neal was to make. None were acted upon.

One of 10 children, he had been living in Farnworth, near Bolton, with his grandmother, but just before her death Neal and four of his siblings were moved to a foster home in Outwood near Radcliffe.

There were 26 children in the six-bedroom home and someone had stolen from the foster mother. Neal was wrongly blamed. She slapped him and he ran away. When he was found his foster mother took him to Cambridge House.

Knowing he couldn’t eat meat, Neal questioned the food that was being served, so Smith force-fed him potted meat and Neal was sick over him. Smith then hit him in the face, knocking two teeth out.

“I was 11 years old and he had hands like shovels,” said Neal. “He picked me up and hit me because I had made a mess of his clothes. He then threw a cup at my head, causing a cut that needed stitches and he trapped my arm between a door.”

After treatment at the hospital, he spent a further five days in Cambridge House until his foster carer came to collect him.

Neal complained to Bolton Social Services when asked what had happened to his teeth. He described the “big fat man”, but his foster carer again claimed he had fallen outside.

“They were all working together defending the indefensible and all the time the children were suffering,” he said. “At no point did I cry because I was brought up that lads don’t cry.

“I also made a complaint at Farnworth Police Station, but, because I didn’t know the name of the children’s home and Farnworth didn’t speak to Bolton who didn’t speak to Bury and didn’t speak to Rochdale, nobody joined the dots.”

“Powerful and important”

Two years later, Neal and one of his brothers were temporarily homed with a foster family in Whitworth, Rossendale, and he saw the front page of the Rochdale Observer. There was the “fat man” this time with a gold chain – Smith was mayor of Rochdale.

He told his foster carers what had happened to him and they believed his account but pointed out that Smith was “powerful and important”, before making Farnworth Social Services aware of the allegations.

Finally, in 2010, Neal explained what had happened to him to the then Rossendale and Darwen MP Janet Anderson and in 2012 Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk used parliamentary privilege to raise the allegations in the Commons.

Now, 58 years on, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has been completed, and Neal’s case was included. As well as historic cases, IICSA also investigated exploitation by organised networks, experience of abuse by children outside the UK and the explosion in online-facilitated sexual abuse. It examined 2.5 million pages of evidence over seven years and declared there to be a “global crisis”.

As part of the inquiry, the Truth Project was established to offer victims and survivors the opportunity to share their experiences in a safe and respectful way. Half of those who participated said they did so to stop someone else going through their experience.

There were 325 days of hearings involving 725 witnesses and overall more than 7,300 victims and survivors engaged with the inquiry. Neal was one of them.

“I am not a victim, not a survivor, I am a miserable individual who just wants justice. I will not be seeking compensation. I do not need it. I want a public apology,” he said.

“After all these years, and despite the self-denial of all who were involved in their joint cover ups, we now know the full extent of the lies and disgraceful failures to protect the most vulnerable children and young people from the 1960s.”

Neal received an apology from Bolton Social Services two years ago, but said: “No one from Rochdale Council, Rochdale Social Services or Rochdale or Greater Manchester Police has offered a full and unreserved apology to any of those victims or survivors, which is totally shameful. It is nothing short of being disgraceful. It is a final insult to the remaining survivors.”

Institutional failures

IICSA included the Rochdale Inquiry – one of 19 reports on local authorities in England and Wales to be published. It looked at institutional failures to protect vulnerable boys who had been in local authority care at Cambridge House hostel for boys and men, where Neal stayed, and Knowl View School.

At Knowl View, the report found “staff were at best complacent, and at worst complicit, in the abuse they knew to be taking place”, including by Smith, who died in 2010, aged 82. A former Labour councillor on Rochdale Council, and Liberal MP for Rochdale from 1972-1992, he was awarded an OBE in 1966 and knighted in 1988.

The report says: “Between 1962 and 1965, Smith, who was not medically qualified, conducted ‘medical examinations’ on a number of boys, including of their genitalia. Smith’s prominence and standing in Rochdale in the mid-1960s allowed him to exert pressure on others locally, in particular to keep quiet about any allegations of abuse.

“In evidence, the council leader lied to the inquiry when he denied all knowledge of the issues about child sexual abuse at Knowl View. Police investigations into other individuals involved in the sexual exploitation of boys from Knowl View School in the town centre toilets also resulted in no charges being brought, despite the police knowing their identities and having obtained disclosures from the young victims.”

In line with Neal’s experience, the inquiry findings were particularly critical of the way individuals and institutions thought children were lying when they disclosed what was being done to them. Victims were blamed as being responsible and it was found that, historically, inadequate or no measures were in place to protect children.

Neal say three of his peers have killed themselves as a result of the impact of abuse – grown men with families of their own.

“We now know those who were impacted upon were telling the truth after all, yet all those in a place of trust, the authorities, took their joint decision to defend the indefensible,” said Neal, adding that if he had been believed, Smith would have been sent to prison.

“Shame on them all, now we know the truth. The least they need to do is offer a full and formal unreserved apology for the years of lies and cover ups.

In her foreword, chair of the inquiry Alexis Jay writes: “Above all, I want to pay tribute to the many thousands of victims and survivors who came forward and told the inquiry about the abuse they experienced. As chair, I observed first hand the courage and bravery of so many who spoke candidly about the shocking acts perpetrated against them.”

It now requires parliament to implement the inquiry’s 20 recommendations, which include changes to the law, but Neal said he wasn’t confident it will.

“They will make the excuse that is going to cost too much money but what price do you put on a child’s life?”

You can read our 2017 interview with Alexis Jay in the Features section of

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