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17/12/14 12:46

Inquiry into institutional child abuse

Education Secretary announces public inquiry into historical abuse of children.

A statutory public inquiry will be held to examine historical cases of abuse of children in care in Scotland, the Scottish Government has announced.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, the Cabinet Secretary for Education Angela Constance said the full remit and appointments for the inquiry would be confirmed by the end of April, following consultation with survivors of abuse. Arrangements for meetings with survivors will begin in January.

Ms Constance also announced that the inquiry would be given the power to compel witnesses to appear and give evidence.

The Cabinet Secretary said:

“This Parliament must always be on the side of victims of abuse. We must have the truth of what happened to them and how those organisations and individuals into whose care the children were entrusted, failed them so catastrophically. And to get to that truth we will be establishing a national public inquiry into historical abuse of children in institutional care. And to ensure justice is done, I can tell this Chamber that where crimes are exposed, the full force of the law will be available to bring perpetrators to account. The Lord Advocate has been consulted on holding the Inquiry and measures will be put in place to ensure that the Inquiry does not compromise or interfere with on-going criminal investigations and prosecutions.

“I am grateful to the survivors of institutional child abuse who have taken the time to meet me and other ministers and who have spoken bravely and eloquently about why they consider a public inquiry is needed. Of course, as vital as their voices have been in getting us to this point – and they have been – I am also conscious that there are many more survivors who remain silent; as abused children they had no voice, no-one to cry out on their behalf at the appalling injustices they suffered while growing up, and today they await the right circumstances for their experiences to be heard. I sincerely hope the public inquiry will provide just such an opportunity for them.

“And as a society we have an opportunity to confront the mistakes of our past and to learn from them. It will not be easy but only by shining a light on the darkest recesses of our recent history will we fully understand the failures of the past, enabling us to prevent them happening again and ensure a brighter future for every child and young person in Scotland, today and in the future.”

The Cabinet Secretary also confirmed that work to develop a survivor support fund, a suitable commemoration and to consult on how the dispensation on the time-bar on civil cases is used will continue while the inquiry progresses.

Assurances were given that the inquiry would run in parallel and complement the hearings of the National Confidential Forum, where survivor’s experiences of abuse will be heard.

The Centre of Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland – CELCIS – has been asked to provide logistical support, academic input and expert advice throughout the inquiry process.

The inquiry will be statutory under the Inquiries (Scotland) Act 2005. It will have the power to compel witnesses to attend and give evidence, if needed.

Notes to editors

The Scottish Government announced support for abuse survivors in October as part of its response to the Action Plan produced by the two-year InterAction process. Details of that announcement can be found here.

The National Strategy for Survivors of Child Abuse has now been in place for nine years. Over the next year we propose to review the Strategy to consider what has been achieved since its launch in 2005 and to consider what still has to done. As part of that we will look at other models of care, including some of those that survivors have identified.

A comprehensive apology to all abuse survivors was made by then First Minister Jack McConnell in 2004. This was a key part of recognising the need to reconcile modern society with past abuses in care.

An independent inquiry and systemic review were published, in 2007 and 2009 respectively, and explored historic cases of abuse in care and addressed the particular challenges faced by the care system in Scotland which delivered major improvements in the protection of young people in care.

The terms of reference for the historical abuse inquiry will be set in consultation with survivors. More information and a contact email address is available on the Survivor Scotland website.

Anyone who is or has been affected by historic abuse in care can access support, counselling and advocacy for survivors and their families by telephoning the In-care Survivors free helpline on 0800 121 6027.