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Anger as Quarrier's inquiry refused

Iain Wilson, Chief Reporter, the Herald, 23/07/2004

CALLS for a public inquiry into child abuse at Quarrier's have been refused by the Scottish Executive, causing an outcry among the victims of the paedophiles who preyed on them for years.

Reasons for the refusal include ministerial concerns that an inquiry might affect public confidence in the child care system - and be perceived as an admission there are issues still to be resolved.

Abuse victims yesterday described such excuses as crass, insensitive, and a failure to address their trauma in adult life.

One survivor, known as John, said: "It is time the catalogue of abuse visited on us was dealt with. The executive should have the courage to acknowledge there were mistakes in the first place, and to learn lessons by investigating the past. It seems our experiences are expendable."

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP justice spokesman, has called for at least a Social Work

Services Inspectorate (SWSI) investigation, along the lines of its report into the Borders case of Miss X last year.

It exposed institutional failures after three men, including Miss X's carer, were convicted of raping and torturing the woman with learning difficulties over three decades.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Just because the Quarriers' abuse was in the past does not mean the failures to protect children in care should not be taken seriously.

"There are parallels with the Borders case. People have suffered horrendous abuse, but issues surrounding duty of care have never been investigated. The survivors feel ignored because of no recognition that something went horribly wrong."

Four men, including houseparents Alexander Wilson and his brother-in-law John

Porteous, were convicted recently of molesting children at Quarrier's Village in Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire in cases stretching back to the 1960s. At least seven other cases are pending, including alleged abuse by three former residents.

The inquiry rebuff comes two years after victims petitioned the Scottish Parliament to establish the causes and extent of abuse in residential establishments over decades.

Incas, the in-care survivors' group, fears the refusal is due to fears of a £50m compensation bill for failures to protect children in care institutions.

Alan Draper, Incas chairman and a lecturer in ethics at Dundee University said: "It is not in the public interest to refuse an inquiry. It's a self-interest agenda, and does not address survivors' needs."

Mr Draper, who chaired the Scottish bishops' working party on child abuse within the church, added: "We take executive claims that appropriate legislation is in place with a pinch of salt, and will continue to press for an inquiry. Without one, how can it say the best interests of children are being protected today?"

An executive spokesman said Peter Peacock, the education minister with responsibility for social work, will consider the request for an SWSI investigation.

He has dismissed a public inquiry on grounds that it would not prevent future abuse, or be in the wider public interest, and could reopen victims' wounds without meeting their needs.

He further argued that steps have been taken to improve child protection in residential establishments, and "an inquiry into historical events would not lead to further changes in current practice". Grounds also included the "unpredictable impact" an inquiry would have on public confidence, according to documents.

Mr Peacock wrote: "It might be perceived as a means of ensuring there were no residual issues, but it might be perceived, mistakenly, as an admission that there were issues still to be resolved and lead to an unfair and damaging loss of confidence in existing provision."

In addition, with compensation claims going through civil courts, ministers were unwilling to jeopardise the process with a public inquiry.

The executive has set up a working group to consider what is needed to help survivors, expected to report in the autumn. It has already decided that victims can have access to care files.

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