Special teams ‘should probe historic child abuse’

Campaigner Helen Holland: Would like 'a judicial inquiry'. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Campaigner Helen Holland: Would like 'a judicial inquiry'. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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SPECIALISED teams of police, lawyers and childcare experts should be created to investigate historic abuse, a report has suggested.

The Scottish Government should also review time-bar laws so that alleged victims can launch compensation cases, regardless of when offences are said to have happened.

And a National Survivor Support Fund could be created to help victims, a draft action plan proposes.

The suggestions follow “InterAction” meetings involving survivors of abuse in care, as well government, institutions and others, delivered by the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Centre for excellence for looked after children in Scotland.

However, some victims believe the process is moving too slowly – it is almost a decade since then First Minister Jack McConnell apologised for abuse in residential care homes – especially as the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) is under way in Northern Ireland.

The draft action plan, based on views that came out of meetings in February and June last year, indicates victims want criminal justice and reparation.

“The time bar is a real barrier to survivors getting access to civil justice,” the report says.

“Its consequences include survivors being unable to obtain legal aid, which then impacts on lawyers’ decisions to accept cases.”

The report adds: “Should there be a distinct exception for child abuse victims?”

A reparation fund could provide victims with financial support without going through the courts.

South of the Border the National Crime Agency has launched Operation Pallial, looking at abuse in North Wales children’s homes, while in England there have been a series of arrests and prosecutions for sexual allegations in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

However, survivors are pessimistic about the chances of words turning into action.

Helen Holland, 55, who previously brought a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for a forum and compensation scheme, said: “All that has happened in Scotland since survivors started speaking out is we’ve had a lot of commissioned reports, lots of funding for research and academics and absolutely nothing that had had a direct influence on survivors’ lives.

“None of us think criminal proceedings would be easy. What we would like is a judicial inquiry to compel people to give evidence,” she said.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland has held a number of inquiries and reviews into child abuse in care and these have made a significant impact on national policy and practice.

“A consultation on the Action Plan on remedies for survivors of childhood abuse in care, published by the Scottish Human Rights Commission, is still open. Ministers will respond to the report in due course.

“We recognise the need for survivors of abuse to be supported and heard and have invested £6.2 million since 2007 to raise awareness, provide training and fund specialist support to ensure survivors get the help they need.”

A Crown Office spokesperson said: “In 2009 the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service set up the National Sexual Crimes Unit (NSCU). The NSCU has built up an expertise in dealing with all types of historical child abuse.

“COPFS will continue to work with a wide variety of partners to ensure that all crimes, including historic child abuse, are dealt with in the professional, sensitive way they deserve.”