Chris Marshall: Sex abuse survivors deserve facts

The setting up of an inquiry is a step in the right direction. Picture: Colin Hattersley

The setting up of an inquiry is a step in the right direction. Picture: Colin Hattersley

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IF, AS expected, the Scottish Government announces an inquiry into historical sex abuse today, it will mark the culmination of a decades-long fight for justice for survivors.

But while it is an undeniably significant step, the setting up of an inquiry is nothing more than that – a step in the right direction.

The difficulties faced by Home Secretary Theresa May in getting a similar inquiry off the ground to look at, among other things, the existence of a paedophile ring at Westminster have been well documented.

That inquiry has already seen the resignation of two chairs – Lady Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf – and the Scottish Government would do well to learn the lesson of properly listening to victims from the outset.

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At the time of writing, it is unclear what powers a Scottish inquiry will have and what it will look at.

There is an expectation it will investigate allegations of historical abuse such as those made by former pupils at the Roman Catholic Fort Augustus School on the banks of Loch Ness and those who spent time in Nazareth House, a children’s home in Aberdeen.

Tied to scandals like these is the issue of record-keeping and whether those in positions of authority were complicit – unwittingly or otherwise – in the abuse.

Campaigners believe there has been a systematic destruction of records going back decades, which has made it difficult, if not impossible, for survivors to find out what actually happened.

There is also some evidence that the bodies of children who died in care were dumped in unmarked graves.

Others hope the inquiry will look at allegations involving the late Conservative MP Nicholas Fairbairn and Robert Henderson QC.

Earlier this year Henderson’s daughter Susie waived her anonymity to allege she had been assaulted by her father and Fairbairn, both now dead, from the age of four.

Henderson had long been linked to the so-called Magic Circle scandal which emerged in 1989 and centred around rumours that a network of homosexual lawyers and judges in Scotland were conspiring to “go easy” on gay criminals.

The rumours led to Fettesgate – where a 1992 police report into the claims was stolen from Edinburgh’s police headquarters – and to an inquiry by William Nimmo Smith QC the following year, which dismissed claims of a conspiracy.

It is to the government’s credit that it will finally appoint someone to examine many of these allegations.

But it is only then that society will be able to properly acknowledge the burden that so many victims have been living with for so many years.

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