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EXCLUSIVE: Rochdale council leader personally apologises for the first time to abuse victims

By Daniel Hewitt, Political Correspondent

The leader of Rochdale Council has, for the first time, personally apologised for the abuse suffered by boys at school in Rochdale.

Speaking exclusively to Granada Reports, Richard Farnell said he "deeply regretted" what happened at Knowl View when he was council leader, saying "I personally apologise to what happened to those boys at Knowl View."

WATCH: Richard Farnell is asked eight times whether or not he would personally apologise to victims of abuse at a care home while he was council leader.

The leader of Rochdale Council has dismissed claims he knew about allegations of child sexual abuse in the early 1990s. Mr Farnell, who regained the position of Labour council leader in 2014 after a gap of 22 years, told the inquiry he was never informed of the scandal during his first stint in office between 1986 and 1992.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is examining how the late MP Cyril Smith and others were able to target youngsters at institutions in the town over several decades.

It has heard how serious allegations of sexual abuse involving children at Knowl View School were known about by senior officials within the council.

The inquiry has heard how evidence about abuse at Knowl View mounted from September 1990, when a paedophile had been let in and sexually abused at least one boy.

Mr Farnell said he "was not informed of events at Knowl View during my time as leader" and would not take any personal responsibility for the suffering of boys at a school for which his council had responsibility, blaming council officers for failing to tell him.

The director of social services, director of education, the chief executive, Labour education chair and Conservative health authority chair all knew about allegations when Mr Farrel was leader at the time they first surfaced, but Mr Farnell says they never informed him.

He told the inquiry that "the council should accept responsibility for failings that happened in Knowl View, and individuals must take responsibilities for their own actions," he said.

"I bitterly regret that the senior officers of the council never once approached me to brief me about these matters."

But today, when asked eight times by ITV political correspondent Daniel Hewitt, Mr Farnell said he was "personally sorry", having starting the interview by insisting he had nothing to apologise for.

The barrister acting on behalf of the victims told the national inquiry on Friday that it was "implausible" that Mr Farnell was not aware of the allegations and accused him of "an extraordinary dereliction of duty".

Laura Hoyano said if he was not aware of the allegations, he was guilty of "wilful blindness" and hinted at ‘a cover up at the level of the leadership of the borough council’.

Mr Farnell however told Granada Reports he would stay on as council leader, after the lawyer representing the victims Richard Scorer called for him to resign, and warned against "pre-empting the findings of the independent inquiry."

Knowl View school closed in 1995. Pupils have spoke of the horrendous abuse they endured during the 1980s and 1990s.

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