Scottish Government Pledges to "Shine a Light" in to Historic Cases of Child Abuse with Public Inquiry LED by Top Qc

By Katrine Bussey, Catriona Webster
Daily Record
May 28, 2015

Scottish Government pledges to 'shine a light' in to historic cases of child abuse with public inquiry led by top QC

The Scottish Government has pledged to "shine a light in the dark corners of the past" as it announced a top QC will lead a public inquiry into historic cases of child abuse.

Susan O'Brien QC, who has experience of representing abuse victims, will head the inquiry first announced by Education Secretary Angela Constance in December.

It will cover allegations of abuse of children in formal institutional care including faith-based organisations, children's homes and secure care as well as those in foster care, long-term hospital care and boarding schools.

The Scottish Government said it also plans to lift the current three-year time bar for civil action in cases of historical child abuse since September 1964.

Ms Constance also announced ?13.5 million over the next five years for a support fund for survivors of abuse in care, with a further ?1 million for all victims of abuse.

The inquiry will have the power to compel witnesses to attend and give evidence, and the Education Secretary previously pledged that where crimes are uncovered the "full force of the law" would be used to bring those responsible to justice.

In a statement to Parliament, she said Ms O'Brien would bring "a wealth of experience" as well as expertise in human rights to the inquiry.

The QC has been an employment judge for 15 years and is the only Scottish member of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which looks at complaints about conduct by public bodies.

She was the legal chair for the panel that produced the 2003 report into the killing of Edinburgh baby Caleb Ness, which prompted a major overhaul of social-work services in the capital.

Ms O'Brien said: "I appreciate that no-one can provide full justice for any victim of abuse in childhood, but the Scottish Government is anxious to enable victims to tell us what happened to them and the impact it had on their lives.

"The inquiry panel will try to identify any lessons from past failures which will help to keep our children safe in the future."

The inquiry will cover allegations "within living memory" up to December 17 last year.

Ms Constance said: "It is important to emphasise that no inquiry can right the wrongs of the past. But that is not a reason to fail to act.

"This inquiry will aim to shine a light in the dark corners of the past, to shape how we respond in the present and guide how we go forward in the future.

"We need to learn all we can to ensure no institution becomes a hiding place for those who abuse positions of trust to prey on children.

"We will listen carefully to the inquiry's eventual recommendations and make whatever changes may be necessary to policy, practice or legislation."

She said a consultation on the lifting of the three-year time bar on civil action in cases of historical childhood abuse would take place in the summer.

"To further demonstrate our commitment to this issue, we will also produce a draft Bill by the end of this parliamentary session," she said.

The Government would also listen to views on whether anything could be done to remove barriers to action for pre-1964 cases of abuse.

The inquiry will be established by October 1 with details of hearings made public and an inquiry website to keep interested parties informed of its progress.

Labour's Iain Gray said: "It (inquiry) must be a bright and unfettered light we shine into this dark corner of our nation's past.

"And, above all, the survivors of abuse must have total confidence that we will not flinch and will face that past without fear or favour."

He pressed Ms Constance on whether survivors of abuse were happy with the appointment of Ms O'Brien as inquiry chair.

Ms Constance said she was "confident we now have the right person to chair this inquiry" as she told MSPs that the appointment had been discussed with those affected.

Mr Gray said it had taken a "very long time" for the inquiry to be set up, recalling the Scottish Government had said in 2008 that no such probe was needed.

Fellow Labour MSP Graeme Pearson added: "Survivors have waited for eight years for the SNP Government to make today's announcement. During that time, and in recent months, survivors have died."

Ms Constance said she was was "painfully aware" that a petition calling for an inquiry was brought before Holyrood in 2002.

"If we are to move forward together, united in this chamber, we all have to reflect on the passage of time and how long it has taken to get to this point," she said.








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