DCSIMG

Orkney abuse scandal victim to sue for lost youth

Key quote

"I want to see justice and I don't care how long it takes. The people responsible should be made to answer for what they've done." - MAY WILLSHER

Story in full A WOMAN at the centre of Scotland's most notorious child sex abuse scandal is to sue Orkney Islands Council for 100,000, claiming her childhood was destroyed when she was placed in care.

The landmark case is being brought by May Willsher, 24, who was only eight years old when social workers removed her from the family home in November 1990.

The following year, a further nine children were snatched in dawn raids from their South Ronaldsay homes and taken into local authority care.

It was alleged that the children, aged between eight and 15 at the time, had been the victims of ritual abuse, and that there was a paedophile ring operating on the island.

A sheriff ruled later that the evidence was seriously flawed and the children were returned home.

Ms Willsher, who now lives in England, said she was the victim of a "witch hunt" by overzealous social workers who were determined to break up her family.

"We kept telling them that we had not been abused, but they wouldn't listen," she said. "The interview techniques used were designed to break us down.

"To take a child away from her mother at the age of eight is unforgivable. We were part of a normal, happy family and suddenly we were shattered.

"I want to see justice and I don't care how long it takes. The people responsible should be made to answer for what they've done." The young mother, who claims she was sexually abused while in foster care, is seeking damages against Orkney and Shetland Social Work Department.

Lawyers acting for Ms Willsher will claim the authorities were negligent by acting on the flimsiest of evidence.

The 1980s had seen a revolution in child protection work, when people became more aware of the sexual abuse of children and began to discuss the problem openly.

However, critics claimed that Orkney simply did not have the staff or resources to tackle such a sensitive issue.

The Orkney sex abuse scandal resulted in a judicial inquiry by Lord Clyde, who criticised social workers, police and child care agencies.

A further report in October 1992 produced almost 200 recommendations for changes in child care practices.

Sheriff David Kelbie, who threw out the original case, said the children had been subjected to cross-examinations designed to make them admit to being abused.

Last night Ms Willsher, who has applied for legal aid to fight the case, insisted that no abuse took place on Orkney.

She remains deeply critical of the interview techniques used and said she was under intense pressure from social workers to give them the "evidence" they wanted.

She claims to have been subjected to hours of intense questioning and was bribed with sweets to tell social workers what they wanted to hear.

Cameron Fyfe, the woman's solicitor, said his client had suffered severe emotional damage as a result of the six years she spent in care. Ms Willsher may have a claim for loss of earnings as an adult.

Mr Fyfe said: "We will lead expert evidence to the effect that the social workers were negligent. I am sure that the council will vigorously defend the action and this is set to be a long and difficult case.

"My client is the first to come forward but there may well be others who take the same route."

In 1994, a government report based on three years of research said there was no foundation to the plethora of satanic child abuse claims.

However, Jeanette Chisholm, one of the social workers involved in the Orkney case, claimed in a recent documentary that a child's denial should not be taken as proof that abuse did not take place.

"As long as it's a secret, denial will come," she said. "And the denials come for the same reason that the secrecy is there. They're keeping something safe."

The Orkney children's removal came in the wake of similar cases involving ritual abuse allegations in Rochdale, Cleveland and Ayrshire.

Families caught up in the Cleveland affair accepted an out-of-court settlement of about 1 million as compensation for their ordeal.

Officials with Orkney Islands Council declined to comment on the legal action.

But Harry Garland, the director of social work with the council, said: "There have been a huge amount of changes in social work since the Orkney inquiry.

"The Orkney inquiry was an agent for change. It has helped to move practices on."

 
 
 

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