Tom Peterkin: Dismay at abuse inquiry handling

Mike Russell: Abuse victims unhappy at departure. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Mike Russell: Abuse victims unhappy at departure. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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ABUSE victims are unhappy with the handling of a planned public inquiry, writes Tom Peterkin

For the survivors of child abuse who have suffered in silence for so long, there was a huge step forward at the end of last year. The Scottish Government’s announcement that it would hold a public inquiry into historical abuse was a major breakthrough.

It has been a very long road for those who have been seeking and desperately deserve justice.

But with the government committed to publishing detailed terms of reference for the inquiry by the end of April, there are signs of unease amongst survivors.

The departure of Michael Russell from the Cabinet was not welcomed by survivors, who had been impressed by the way he had handled the issue as education secretary.

As far as they are concerned, the jury is still out on Russell’s successor Angela Constance, who has displeased them with her response to demands that they believe are fundamental to the inquiry.

A letter from one of Constance’s officials informed Alan Draper, the parliamentary liaison officer of In Care Abuse Survivors (INCAS), that the government was unable as yet to provide an answer on two key demands: for the provision of legal and emotional support.

The letter also said that “ministerial diary commitments” meant that Constance would be unable to meet survivors in the “near future”.

Although the government maintains that it remains fully committed to the inquiry, this has not gone down well with INCAS, which is looking after the interests of several hundred people who have been abused in residential homes and schools.

INCAS wants the government to back legal representation for survivors throughout the whole inquiry, emotional support for those called to give evidence, and cash for those who have suffered the most and may not live long enough to see the outcome of the investigation.

INCAS is also calling for the end of the three-year time bar on civil action against institutions and individuals responsible for abuse.

The tone of recent communication has dismayed INCAS and led to concerns that survivors are being “managed” rather than treated as equals.

Setting up an inquiry into such a complex, damaging and emotive subject as historical child abuse was always going to be challenging.

Inquiries have a nasty habit of creating controversy, as yesterday’s delay of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War so amply demonstrated.

The government did the right thing by pledging to investigate the horrors of the past. But the temptation to chuck the inquiry into the “too difficult” drawer must be resisted.

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