The lawyer who represented Knowl View victims at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is urging the Labour Party not to reinstate former Rochdale council leader Richard Farnell.
Richard Scorer’s plea comes after current town hall boss Allen Brett called for his predecessor’s suspension to be lifted after police closed a perjury investigation against him.
The issue emerged after leaked minutes of a Rochdale Constituency Labour Party (CLP) suggested moves may be afoot to lift the suspension of the former town hall boss.
The first IICSA report found Coun Farnell had ‘lied under oath’ when quizzed on his knowledge of events at the notorious Rochdale school, where children were abused over a period spanning more than 25 years.
But last month police investigating allegations he had committed perjury found there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to take any criminal action against him – a decision Coun Farnell claimed ‘vindicated’ his long-standing denials.
He then received the full backing of Coun Brett who described him as ‘a man of integrity and honesty’ adding: “I will be pressing for his suspension from the Labour Party to be immediately lifted.”
This endorsement has prompted specialist abuse lawyer Richard Scorer, head of abuse at Slater and Gordon, says it would be ‘utterly wrong’ for Labour to let Coun Farnell represent the party again.
He said: “Richard Farnell was found to have lied to a public inquiry about his knowledge of abuse at Knowl View. His role in this scandal should preclude him from ever holding public office and positions of authority.
“Given his record, it’s deeply disturbing that some people are manoeuvring, behind closed doors, to reinstate him to the Labour party.
“I will be writing to the party’s general secretary, on behalf of my clients, to object.”
Coun Farnell – who still represents Balderstone and Kirkholt – has always maintained he knew nothing of the failings at Knowl View, claiming evidence proved he and other leading councillors were ‘kept in the dark by officers’.
But Mr Scorer – who once hoped to contest the Heywood and Middleton ward for Labour – says that would still be proof of his unsuitability for public service.
He said: “We always said that, however you look at it, he was unsuitable to hold any role.
“Either he lied to the inquiry as it found or, if the position is, as he claims, he didn’t know anything about the abuse at Knowl View when it was extensively known throughout the authority, he would not be competent to perform any role – especially one involving the protection of vulnerable children.”
The CLP minutes say a letter has been sent to Labour’s regional HQ regarding the status of Coun Farnell’s suspension following the closure of the police’s perjury investigation.
They add: “The information is needed in time for selection meetings in September. Many felt it was unfair to leave him in limbo.”
Asked whether Coun Farnell should represent Labour again, Coun Brett said it was not his decision – but remained supportive of his one-time leader.
“That’s not for me – that’s for the district party to say he is a fit person to go on, his ward to select him and, finally, the electors to vote for him,” he said.
But he added that his predecessor was still ‘doing a lot of work’ in Balderstone and Kirkholt and residents were ‘very supportive’ of him continuing as a councillor.
However, a Labour source told the Local Democracy Service that councillors close to Coun Farnell were behind moves to bring him back into the fold – causing great ‘consternation’ among members.
They said: “It would be an absolute disaster if he was to run for Labour. What kind of message would that send out? Someone accused by an independent panel of lying about sexual abuse standing for Labour? It would be unbelievable.”
Coun John Blundell – press officer for Rochdale CLP – said Coun Farnell’s future would be decided in line with established party procedures.
He said: “The national Labour Party will now follow its processes and I am sure it will consider all the evidence, including the latest from the London Metropolitan Police, who said there was insufficient evidence Richard Farnell committed perjury.
“He must be very relieved for what must have been an extremely stressful period in his life. He has already stated that he was telling the truth and believes this vindicates him.
“As it is not in the CLP’s hands we have to have faith that the national Labour Party’s officers will deal with it in a timely manner and will consider all the facts.”
The LDRS has repeatedly tried to contact Coun Farnell for comment.
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