The abuse of children in care has been described as a source of “overwhelming shame” and “profound regret” as organisations including the Catholic Church and Church of Scotland offered their apologies to survivors.
A number of religious orders and care providers used the first public hearing of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry to put on record their remorse for physical and sexual abuse dating back decades.
But the hearing in front of inquiry chairwoman Lady Smith also heard legal counsel for a number of groups describe the scarcity of written records and the death through old age of members of staff working in the establishments when the abuse is said to have occurred.
The inquiry, which is due to report to the Scottish Government in 2019, is investigating the abuse of children in care within living memory.
More than 60 residential institutions, including several top private schools, are being investigated.
Lady Smith said “many, many” survivors had come forward, with the figure “very far in excess” of 200, a number previously mentioned in the media.
The judge said the death of survivors before the inquiry could begin its work in earnest – including leading campaigner Frank Docherty just a few weeks ago – was a “tragedy”.
In an opening statement on behalf of the Catholic Church’s Bishops’ Conference, Canon Thomas Boyle said the Church had “missed red lights and warning signs”, but had also been “deceived” by the abusers.
He said: “The overwhelming sense of shame that these abhorrent crimes happened is felt by all Catholics. The crimes of the few have obscured the good work of the many.”
He said he wanted to re-iterate an apology made by Archbishop Philip Tartaglia to survivors in 2015.
Laura Dunlop QC, representing Crossreach, the social care arm of the Church of Scotland, said it was “inescapable” and a matter of “profound regret” that abuse had taken place in three of its establishments.
She said: “To those who endured abuse and to others who intend to come forward, the Church expresses its sorrow for what happened.”
There were also a number of “unreserved apologies” from religious order and Quarriers, which ran children’s homes until 1989.
The inquiry was also read a statement from Frank Docherty, one of the founders of In-Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), who died in April aged 74.
Referring to the abusers, Mr Docherty said: “There seems to have always been a bad one in these homes. It was if they had a punisher or sentry.”
He added: “The abuse of children is like throwing a pebble into a pool – the effect ripples through the whole family. My childhood was taken from me.”
John Scott QC, representing Incas, said: “That there was abuse must have obvious even at the time, with no need for hindsight. Much of what happened in the past was wrong even by the standards of the time.
“Today comes too late for those who survived their abuse but are no longer with us. But today is not too late for some accountability and responsibility.”
Mr Scott called on the Scottish Government to urgently consider interim compensation payments for elderly survivors and to address the issue of compensation more generally before the inquiry concludes its work.
The first phase of hearings is taking place at Rosebery House in Edinburgh and is expected to last about seven weeks.