Chris Marshall: Time for Scotland’s abuse inquiry

The Home Secretary's decision to establish an inquiry is to be welcomed. Picture: PA
The Home Secretary's decision to establish an inquiry is to be welcomed. Picture: PA
Share this article
Have your say

WHILE the decision to appoint Baroness Butler-Sloss to lead an inquiry into historical child abuse may have seemed eminently sensible to the Home Secretary, it’s easy to see why it caused so much disquiet.

An establishment figure with links to the Tory party and an esteemed career behind her, the former judge would have been an obvious choice for Theresa May.

Yet the baroness’s establishment connections were ultimately what did for her, leading her to step down as the head of the inquiry.

Butler-Sloss’s late brother, Sir Michael Havers, was attorney general in the 1980s, a time associated with claims of paedophile rings within Westminster and high-level cover-ups.

Labour MPs were among the first to raise objections to Butler-Sloss’s appointment, but it was concerns from victims, who will clearly play a crucial role in the inquiry, which made the former judge’s position untenable.

But while she erred in her choice of its head, the Home Secretary’s decision to establish an inquiry is to be welcomed. The high-profile cases of Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris have shown how survivors of abuse can find the strength to come forward when a spotlight is shone on the darkest recesses of the past.

The work of the inquiry will be difficult and it is likely to unearth yet more painful truths not only about the perpetrators of abuse, but those who seemingly turned a blind eye and allowed it to continue.

Sadly, there is currently no inquiry into such abuse in Scotland.

While the Westminster inquiry will look into allegations the Home Office failed to act on information provided by the late MP Geoffrey Dickens, it will not look at systematic abuse which took place over decades in Scotland’s institutions.

Both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have already set up such inquiries, which have now begun to take evidence.

The time is now right for Scotland to follow suit.

According to reports at the weekend, the Scottish Labour Party has committed itself to a full public inquiry when it next gains power.

It follows on from the work of Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, a former police officer, who has repeatedly raised the issue of securing accountability for survivors of abuse.

While the Scottish Government has been proud to go it alone on significant areas of policy in the past, this is one area where it should follow the lead set by administrations elsewhere.

It is now a decade since then first minister Jack McConnell made a national apology to child abuse survivors.

An inquiry is long overdue.