Leader comment: Abuse inquiry has no need of another panel member

The Scottish child abuse inquiry has not had its troubles to seek. It was always a difficult ask. The public were horrified, quite rightly, by the revelations about Jimmy Savile, and not just the way he was able to prey on vulnerable people as he went about his purported business, but how the establishment failed to investigate or when it did how those investigations did not get to where they should have.
Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry chair Lady Smith speaking at the inquiry preliminary hearing.Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry chair Lady Smith speaking at the inquiry preliminary hearing.
Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry chair Lady Smith speaking at the inquiry preliminary hearing.

The bottom line is the establishment failed those victims. And the inquiries sparked by the Savile scandal have to be driven by the same aim –finding out why the establishment failed victims and whether we are in danger of still not protecting vulnerable children.

Before we all shake our heads and say that it would be impossible for that to be happening now, it is worth just mentioning the unfolding scandal of what happened at some football clubs, and at some of the subsequent revelations about the lack of checking that has been done on adults who are coaching now.

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So it is important that there is an inquiry in to children in Scotland who were failed by the various organisations who were supposed to be looking after them. A greater betrayal of trust is hard to imagine, so it is only right that it be investigated.

Ideally that investigation should not be limited by organisation responsible, all should have equal access to justice. And there should be no starting time threshold – if there are living victims then they should be included in the remit of any inquiry, but the inquiry’s remit has been set, and we need to get on.

But the inquiry should also be held as swiftly as possible, because the longer it takes the more chance there is of some victims not living to see justice. It should also be remembered that one of the main reasons an inquiry is necessary is to give some closure and justice to those who were failed, so the victims need to have faith in the inquiry.

When two of the original panel members left, Professor Michael Lamb and Susan O’Brien QC, it looked like the inquiry was in trouble, particularly when both cited government interference as a reason for their departure. But then Lady Smith, a respected judge, was appointed chair of the inquiry and it quickly got back on track and gives every indication of moving in the right direction.

Now the last remaining member of the original panel, Glenn Houston, has announced he is leaving, and there are fears that will affect the survivors’ ability to find justice. But actually those fears are misplaced. John Swinney is right not to replace him, that might mean further delay and delay is to be avoided wherever possible. It would also be unnecessary, every public inquiry in Scotland since new laws came in to force following the 2005 Act has solely been a chair, with no other panel members. Mr Houston’s resignation simply means the inquiry is now on the proper footing, and there is little doubt Lady Smith will be rigorous, independent and fair.

It is in the best interests of all the survivors for the inquiry to proceed as it is now, and not lose momentum by having to find an unneeded new panel member.