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Fury as abuse victims denied official inquiry by Executive

By Neil Mackay, Sunday Herald, 08/08/2004

MORE than 1000 victims of institutionalised abuse in Scottish children's homes run by churches and charities have accused the Scottish Executive and the First Minister of insulting and betraying them by refusing to set up a public inquiry into the ill-treatment and sexual assaults they suffered while in care.

Abuse victims petitioned the Executive asking for Scotland to tackle the legacy of abuse in residential care by priests, nuns and charity staff over recent decades by setting up a public inquiry similar to ones recently established in Ireland and Australia. In Ireland, the government apologised to survivors and set about making financial payments to all victims.

However, Peter Peacock, the minister for education and young people, has refused to set up any inquiry, saying that he doesn't believe it would "meet the needs of survivors or be in the public interest".

Survivors of historic abuse at places such as Quarrier's and the Catholic Church's Nazareth House are outraged at the government's response. Some 300 members of the organisation In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas) and almost 1000 clients of the Glasgow lawyer Cameron Fyfe, who were all victims of abuse in care, are demanding the Executive think again and institute a public inquiry.

Alan Draper, chair of Incas and the former special adviser to the Catholic Church on paedophilia in the priesthood, said: "There has been constant denial and minimisation from organisations like the church regarding what happened to survivors. They seem to be blaming victims and have even accused them of being motivated by money. "

Draper, a former social worker and university lecturer in ethics, said he believed the Executive did not want an inquiry as it would "open a can of worms", because of the responsibility the state had to supervise the welfare of children while they were in the care of organisations like the church.

"The old Scottish Office - the Executive's predecessor - was supposed to inspect the places where these children were," he said. "If they failed to inspect these places properly then they were complicit in what happened.

"An inquiry would establish that the abuse took place, acknowledge the suffering of the victims and would also hopefully end in a state apology and the setting up of a means of compensating survivors."

No minister has met representatives of groups like Incas. However, the Executive has set up a "short-life working group" on child sexual abuse, but Draper described it as "wholly inadequate" as no survivors of institutionalised abuse are involved and its remit is not to look specifically at abuse in care.

Lawyer Cameron Fyfe said: "My clients feel they have been branded liars. Apologies and acknowledgement are all they care about - not compensation." Fyfe also pointed out that none of his clients has ever received an apology from the institutions in which they were abused.

Helen Holland, the vice-chair of Incas, was terribly abused as a child while in the care of nuns in Nazareth House in Kilmarnock between 1964 and 73. She was raped by a number of priests, sexually assaulted by a nun and severely physically and emotionally abused as well.

"What the Executive has done is a disgrace," she said. "The 1000 people who want this inquiry are just those who have come forward to tell what happened to them - there are many, many others.

"We were children of the state. The state abandoned us as children and now we are being abandoned by the state as adults. It is as if we are insignificant. If the Irish and Australian governments could address this issue then why not Scotland?

"A public inquiry would help ensure that this didn't happen to children in care today. It is also good for a society to recognise that it made mistakes."

Chris Daly, who initially petitioned the Executive two years ago for a public inquiry, was abused by nuns while in care in Aberdeen. Aged only eight, he was locked in a mortuary with dead bodies and forced to stand in the snow wearing only his underwear. He was beaten and emotionally abused on a daily basis.

"It looks as if the government thinks that we are too much bother to be bothered with," he said. "They obviously just want us to shut up and go away. We are an embarrassment to them. Perhaps the Executive doesn't want to deal with the church because of its political influence?"

The SNP's Linda Fabiani, who represents a constituent affected by institutional abuse, said the Executive was "shirking its responsibility". She said Jack McConnell had made a public pledge about institutionalised child abuse in June 2003 saying he was "determined to support those who have suffered".

"The First Minister made a promise and he has now reneged on it," she said.

Labour's Jackie Baillie, the former social justice minister who also represents Helen Holland, said: "I'm very concerned about the number of people who have suffered from this type of abuse and I urge the Scottish Executive to give them the recognition they deserve and to take steps to ensure survivors are acknowledged."

Peter Peacock said: "We considered very carefully the calls for an inquiry, bearing in mind the needs of survivors and whether it could prevent future abuse. We do not believe an inquiry would lead to further changes than those we have made and it could reopen survivors' old wounds. We have, therefore, decided that holding an inquiry would not be likely to tell us anything we do not already know about these horrendous actions."

Copyright © 2004 smg Sunday newspapers ltd. no. 176088

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