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Delay in public inquiry into child abuse in Scotland was ‘woeful and wholly avoidable’

The delay in establishing the public inquiry into past institutional child abuse was “woeful and wholly avoidable,” the chair of the inquiry has said.

Publishing her findings into the Scottish Government’s response between August 2002 and December 2014 to Petition PE535, and other key issues raised by adult survivors of childhood abuse experienced in care in Scotland, Lady Smith stated that the Scottish government failed to grasp the fundamental importance that survivors needed justice.

Abuse survivor Chris Daly presented the petition to the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament. It had three key aims:

  • The Scottish Government should establish an inquiry into past institutional child abuse
  • An unreserved apology should be made on behalf of the state
  • The religious orders that had run institutions should be urged to also apologise unconditionally.

Chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, Lady Smith, concluded that the delay of more than 13 years in setting up a public inquiry was woeful and wholly avoidable.

Lady Smith said: “For far too long survivors’ voices were not listened to, nor heard; they were treated as if their views did not matter and as if they were not worth listening to, just as when they were abused in care.”

“The Scottish Government failed to grasp the fundamental importance that survivors appropriately and justifiably attached to their need for justice, accountability and redress.

“Justice is not a service, and those who call for it where it has been denied are not customers of a service that may or may not be available depending on the choice of the administration of the day. That key point was missed,” she added.

The Inquiry heard evidence from 12 witnesses including former and current Ministers as well as Scottish Government officials both remotely and in person. The written statements of four witnesses were also produced.

“Officials and legal advisors wielded significant power and influence. Ministers relied heavily on their advice and generally followed their recommendations.

“By following advice and by not questioning it when they should have done, key aims of the Daly petition were resisted for far too long.”

Lady Smith added: “It was clear throughout that the justice survivors were calling for, and was of paramount importance to them, was the need for public acknowledgement of their experiences of being abused as children in institutional care, and the need to hold to account those who did not listen to them when they were children, those responsible for the abuse, and those who failed to prevent the abuse from happening.

“However, between 2002 and 2014, there was no appetite within Scottish Government, at official or ministerial level, for setting up a public inquiry.”

She put the delay down to a number of factors including:

  • Some ineptitude
  • Some confusion on the part of ministers and officials
  • Diversion into areas that were not the subject of the Daly petition
  • Officials urging ministers not to hold an inquiry
  • Officials controlling the process up to the point of trying to prevent there being an inquiry
  • Ministers following the advice of officials while not reading and trying to understand the Daly petition for themselves
  • Both ministers and officials failing to listen to and engage with survivors

“Between 2002 and 2014 when the Scottish Government announced it was going to set up a public inquiry, a significant number of survivors of childhood abuse in care in Scotland died. For them, justice delayed was justice denied.”

Lady Smith will take these findings into account when she analyses all the evidence gathered by the Inquiry and decides what recommendations to make in her final report.

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