Scandal of video-evidence suites lying idle

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SEX-ABUSE victims are being failed by Scotland's justice system because purpose-built suites designed for video links to courts have never been used.

An investigation by The Scotsman has found studios built to allow victims of sexual assault to give evidence via remote video link have lain empty for years.

The news has prompted fury from child-protection experts, who say the situation makes a mockery of the Scottish Government's flagship policy on vulnerable witnesses.

Burnbank Family Centre in Hamilton, built at a cost of 1.2 million, boasts a state-of-the-art sound-proofed facility with hidden cameras and microphones allowing it to link to the courts, but insiders say it has never been used for that purpose since it opened in November 2003.

Another site in Aberdeen – operational since April 2005 – has had only two sittings, both of which suffered major technical problems.

In Edinburgh, a similar facility became operational only last week after a two-year delay. Campaigners say no witnesses have been able to use the site.

The developments will come as a major embarrassment to the Scottish Government, which has trumpeted the Vulnerable Witnesses Act, introduced in 2004.

A child under 16 is entitled to use a live TV link in another part of the court building. But Sandra Brown, from the Moira Anderson Foundation, a charity representing abuse victims, said witnesses were still being denied.

She blamed a combination of apathy within the Scottish Government and resistance from the Crown and judiciary for the slow pace of change. "It's unacceptable to pay for these sites and find they're virtually useless," she said.

Child-protection experts say witnesses are not receiving special measures because court staff are failing to inform them of their rights.

Anne Houston, chief executive of the charity Children 1st, expressed concern at the gap in services.

She said: "Technically, the Aberdeen site is operational, but it hasn't been used as often as it should have been."

A Scottish Government spokesman said the Court Service had established a network of remote sites and it was not aware of any request made for a link facility not being met.