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Minister to answer for delay in child abuse row

Iain Wilson, Chief Reporter, the Herald, 09/08/2004

PETER Peacock, the education minister with responsibility for social work, is to be called to account for taking two years to respond to demands for a public inquiry into child abuse.

He will also be questioned over his reasons for finally dismissing the calls.

The victims include former residents of Quarriers who suffered at the hands of paedophiles over many years.

Chris Daly, who petitioned the Scottish Parliament in 2002 to establish causes and extent of abuse in residential establishments over decades, said he was delighted that Holyrood's petitions committee would bring Mr Peacock to account.

Incas, a survivors' group, which suspects the inquiry refusal was down to concerns of a £50m compensation bill for failures to protect children in care institutions, also welcomed the summons.

Mr Peacock rejected a public inquiry earlier this month, arguing it might affect public confidence in the current child care system and reopen victims' wounds without meeting their needs. He argued it would not be in the wider public interest, that steps had been taken to improve child protection in the establishments, and "an inquiry into historical events would not lead to further changes in current practice".

The petitions committee, chaired by Michael McMahon, will seek answers to the two-year delay in reaching those views, and the thinking behind them. Mr Peacock and Jack McConnell, first minister, have apologised to Mr McMahon over "an unacceptable delay" in providing a response.

Mr Daly, 39, of Rutherglen, one of the former residents who lodged claims of abuse against the Aberdeen-based Poor Sisters of Nazareth, still believes there should be a public inquiry, and said: "It appears to me that little was done over the two years it took to reach a decision."

Alan Draper, Incas' chairman and a lecturer in ethics at Dundee University, said it was hoped Mr Daly would be able to speak at the committee hearing on September 29. "We are very keen to challenge the decision."

The survivors' group is especially keen for an inquiry over Quarriers, where four men have been convicted in cases stretching back to the 1960s. At least seven other cases are pending.

The executive blamed the two-year delay on "a sensitive issue which required careful consideration by ministers".

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