Tom Peterkin: Constance get abuse inquiry right

ONE of the more challenging tasks facing the Scottish Government comes to the fore today when the remit of its proposed inquiry into the historical abuse of children is brought before Holyrood.

Pressure is on Angela Constance for there to be an effective inquiry. Picture: Getty

The scope of the investigation and the identity of the individual charged with chairing it will be announced by education secretary Angela Constance.

For the survivors of childhood abuse, who have been fighting for this inquiry for many years, it will be a very big moment – it has been a very long wait just to get this far.

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The survivors, who have been campaigning since at least 1998 for an investigation, will be hanging on Constance’s every word.

Survivors have welcomed the establishment of the inquiry, but on the eve of its announcement there is still great deal of cynicism about how effective it will prove to be.

Alan Draper, the parliamentary liaison officer for the pressure group In Care Abuse Survivors (INCAS), has highlighted what he sees as the unsatisfactory nature of past attempts to deal with this complex and highly sensitive issue.

INCAS wants whoever is chosen to chair the inquiry to be given extensive powers to investigate these crimes of the past. The group, representing hundreds of Scottish survivors, want organisations who have failed children to be held to account and criminal activity investigated.

Amid a great deal of suspicion about organisations destroying records, INCAS wants to see those complicit in cover-ups brought to account. Furthermore, survivors want an end to the three-year time bar in respect of civil claims for damages brought by child abuse victims.

An idea of the scale of the abuse carried out in Scotland becomes clearer when one considers that INCAS is representing victims abused before the Second World War.

In addition, INCAS wants the inquiry to cover claims that scientific experiments were carried out on orphans, as well as the deportation of children to Australia and Canada after the war. There is also the abuse alleged to have been carried out in residential homes, schools and other institutions.

Inquiries have a habit of running out of control. It was not that long ago that the Penrose Inquiry into infected blood products was published. This attempted to deal with numerous difficult and emotive cases of human tragedy – it took six years, cost more than £11 million and was roundly condemned by those it was set up to serve.

Producing an effective inquiry that provides the answers sought by abuse survivors is a tough but hugely important ask for the education secretary.