Child sex abuse inquiry planned for Scotland

Investigation would target claims made against schools, care homes and members of the establishment. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Investigation would target claims made against schools, care homes and members of the establishment. Picture: Colin Hattersley
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A PLAN to hold public inquiry into historical child abuse in Scotland is being prepared by the Scottish Government, Scotland on Sunday has learned.

Ministers are looking at establishing a high-profile investigation into allegations of abuse carried out in care homes, educational institutions, by religious orders and by high-profile members of the Scottish establishment.

Discussions are taking place about the remit and timing of an inquiry, which would look at the allegations and how they were handled by the authorities at the time.

This week the education secretary, Michael Russell, will address Holyrood on child protection and will mention the issue of historical abuse in Scotland. His statement on Tuesday is not expected to include an official announcement of a public inquiry – an omission that will dismay abuse survivors who have been campaigning for years for such an investigation.

However, Scotland on Sunday understands that ministers and officials are working behind the scenes to set up a historical abuse inquiry in the coming months.

More work needs to be done to establish the precise nature of the inquiry and ministers are deliberating in order to avoid the problems that have plagued a similar investigation south of the Border.

Last week, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, apologised over the failure of a UK Government inquiry into child abuse to find a suitable chairperson.

Her apology came after May’s second nominated chairperson, Fiona Woolf, stood down because of her links to Lord Brittan, the Tory politician who was home secretary when some of the alleged abuse took place.

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Woolf’s departure followed the resignation of Baroness Butler-Sloss, who resigned because of a conflict of interests arising from her brother Sir Michael Havers’s position as attorney general during the 1980s.

In Scotland, allegations of historical abuse have been made by former pupils at the Roman Catholic Fort Augustus School on the banks of Loch Ness. Hundreds of children are said to have been abused at Nazareth House in Aberdeen. Allegations of cruelty have also been made by those who were at Larchgrove boys home in Glasgow.

The inquiry is also expected to examine allegations involving the late Conservative MP Nicholas Fairbairn and a prominent member of the legal establishment, Robert Henderson QC.

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

She said they were members of an organised paedophile ring which abused her in her family’s Georgian house in Edinburgh’s New Town and other locations. Fairbairn, a QC and former solicitor-general, has already been linked to the Elm Guest House in London – a gay brothel alleged to have hosted parties where vulnerable young boys had sex with influential people, which is now the subject of a police investigation named Operation Fernbridge.

Henderson was at the heart of 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 ultimately led to an inquiry by William Nimmo Smith QC the following year, which dismissed claims of a conspiracy.

The Nimmo Smith report also took in concerns over Operation Planet, an investigation into a 16-year-old boy on leave from a children’s home who was drugged and raped by a group of men at an address in Edinburgh.

It is expected to be a matter of months before the Scottish Government makes the final decision on what form any inquiry will take.

Last night campaigners for an inquiry gave a cautious welcome to the prospect of an investigation, but remained impatient that it was taking so long. Frank Doherty, the founder of of INCAS (In Care Abuse Survivors) said: “We have been begging for a public inquiry for 15 years, but all the government has been doing is stalling, stalling.

“It was the government which put us in these places and when you have been fighting for this as long as I have, you can get a bit cynical. Don’t get me wrong. I would love to see a public inquiry, but we are still waiting.”

Doherty, who was abused in Larchgrove in the 1950s, added: “Everything has been covered up by the establishment – these paedophile rings came from the top of the tree.”

Graeme Pearson, the Labour justice spokesman who has been campaigning for an inquiry, said: “I think the pressure has become so significant and events elsewhere in the UK means that this needs to be done to clear the air. I just don’t know why the government has been dallying so long.”

Russell’s statement on Tuesday will focus on child sexual exploitation. The statement follows a warning from Annette Bruton, chief executive of the Care Inspectorate, that it would be a “serious mistake” to assume that Scotland is immune from the exploitation seen in Rotherham.

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