Lawyer to ‘shine light’ on historical sex abuse

Susan O'Brien QC led inquiry into the death of Caleb Ness. Picture: Contributed
Susan O'Brien QC led inquiry into the death of Caleb Ness. Picture: Contributed
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A SENIOR lawyer has been appointed to lead the public inquiry into the historical sexual abuse of children in residential care.

Susan O’Brien QC will be charged with looking into the treatment of children by institutions – including churches and independent boarding schools – going back decades.

The Scottish Government is anxious to enable victims to tell us what happened to them and the impact it had on their lives

Susan O’Brien QC

Education secretary Angela Constance said the public inquiry – thought to be the biggest ever in Scotland – would be a “massive undertaking” which aimed to “shine a light into the dark corners of the past”.

She also announced plans to lift a three-year time bar which prevents civil actions being brought against abusers, allowing claims for damages in cases which took place after 1964.

And there will be £14.5 million of new funding to help provide support services for those who have been abused.

Ms O’Brien, who led the 2003 inquiry into failings that led to the death of baby Caleb Ness, will begin work on 1 July. Her inquiry is expected to last four years.

Ms Constance said: “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.”

Ms O’Brien, whose 2003 report into Caleb’s death led to a review of child protection measures, said she intended to establish the inquiry by 1 October.

Alan Draper, a spokesman for In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), said Ms O’Brien appeared to have the “right credentials” to lead the inquiry.

He said: “Our preference [for the chair[ was for a judge, but what we asked for was an independent person with expertise in the area who could challenge the government without fear of favour. She [Ms O’Brien)] seems to be that, but we will have to do our investigations.”

However, other survivors expressed their disappointment at Ms O’Brien’s appointment.

One source said: “They can appoint a judge for the tram inquiry, which is spending money like a tap going on and off, but they have put a nobody on Scotland’s biggest public inquiry.”

Labour’s education spokesman, Iain Gray, said: “Central to the survivors’ confidence is the chair of the inquiry, as we have seen all too clearly in England. So we must ensure urgently that Susan O’Brien enjoys the confidence of survivors.”